But... the sum of our parenting choices can make a huge difference. The hard part is that we don't know ahead of time which parenting choices are going to be the big ones.
A bunch of things have combined to make me think about this lately.
I'm reading Bob Sutton's book Good Boss, Bad Boss, which was a follow up to his famous book The No Asshole Rule. And I started to think about where assholes come from. I don't really think anyone is born an asshole. Or more accurately, we're all born assholes (really: newborns are the most self-centered and demanding creatures on the planet) but most of us grow out of it (mostly). So why do some people stay assholes? I suspect parenting has at least a little bit of a role in it. I don't think it is all down to parenting, and if you're still an asshole as an adult, I blame you, not your parents... but if I think about why some people are assholes, I think the answer is "no one taught them not to be," and parents have a big role in teaching their kids not to be assholes.
People like to make fun of the "touchy-feely" parenting approaches, but maybe they're reducing the number of assholes in the world. Or maybe they aren't. We don't really know. Still, I seriously doubt anyone sets out to raise an asshole, so there are probably some parenting choices that matter in this regard.
I also continue to think about the Patrick Blanchfield post about Sandy Hook and privilege that I linked to a few weeks ago. The part that is really sticking with me is the bit about how sometimes the "right" thing to do as a parent is help your kid learn to adapt to the world, rather than forcing the world to adapt to your kid. Of course, sometimes the world does need to adapt to the kid. Knowing which situation you're in is not as easy as I assumed it would be.
And let me tell you, these particular parenting stakes feel really high sometimes, even when you're faced with issues far less complex than what Nancy Lanza was dealing with.
Pumpkin is a wonderful, delightful child. All of her teachers and camp counselors tell us that. She has plenty of friends, and is happy at school. What more could I hope for?
Well, she's also a fairly sensitive kid. Sensitive isn't the right word, but I don't know what a better word would be. High strung is too pejorative, although I will confess to thinking of her as high strung at times. Emotional isn't quite right. Highly empathetic only partially covers it.
Anyway, she feels things strongly. She can get overwhelmed by her anxiety sometimes. She can't stand to watch most movies, because she's worried about the scary bits. "Scary bits" does not mean what you might think: they include most elements of plot. She really wants to go on the Ariel Under the Sea ride at Disney California Adventure, but is worried about the part with Ursula, and is now saying she won't go.
You get the idea.
How much do I shield her from the stuff that bothers her, and how much do I work with her to find ways to handle it? I feel no need to make her learn how to tolerate more movies, but then there's a little bit of rain on the way to school in the morning and she almost loses it over the prospect of having to watch movies instead of having recess, and I wonder if maybe we should be working on teaching her to like movies.
I want to help her find the confidence to risk more and explore more, without making her miserable in the short or long term, and without sending the message that there is something wrong with who she is.
How the hell do I do that? I have no idea. We muddle along, trying our best. Some days, I'm sure we're screwing up completely. Other days, I'm marginally more hopeful.
We have a similar issue with food. We all agree that it would be better if Pumpkin ate more things, Pumpkin included. But getting there is not as easy as you might think. There is a lot of great advice out there for parents of kids who have fairly normal picky eating issues, but less information for how to handle a kid like Pumpkin, who is really afraid of new things. I am sympathetic- I am not that dissimilar- but we're at the point where it is hard to plan a trip to Disneyland (for instance) because of issues with what she'll eat. She knows this, and feels bad about it, and that can start a truly unhelpful spiral of anxiety. So I've been working with her on strategies for finding things to eat when we're out and about. Am I getting them right? Should I instead take a "too bad, this is what we're eating" approach? I don't know. I really don't. I just know that letting her get hangry doesn't seem to do anyone any good, so we tend towards the "accommodate her quirks" side on this one.
We are working on learning to like scrambled eggs, though. I offered a reward for being willing to try something new once a week, and scrambled eggs are what she seems to want to try the most. Will this work? I don't know. All the usual advice says that offering a reward for trying new foods is a bad idea, but those people don't have to try to plan my family vacations and I've tried all the usual advice and it hasn't helped at all.
We are all the products of so many experiences, the majority of which are not under our parents' control. I remind myself of this, and of the fact that I am a picky-eating, movie hating, sometimes overly anxious grown up who still lives a happy life, For the most part, all of our parenting dramas turn out OK in the end. I don't know that I ever ate a vegetable growing up, and now I make salads to accompany dinner most nights. I still don't care for most movies, but those are easy to avoid as an adult.
So we muddle on, loving our quirky kids, trying our best to figure out when to embrace the quirks and when to try to smooth them out, hoping we're doing OK.
|Two delightful, quirky kids, neither of whom has starved.