Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Friday, October 17, 2003

I have always despised self-help books. I was surprised, then, when I started reading parenting books--which I won't pretend are anything more than self-help books that focus on just one part of your personality--and actually found a few that I enjoyed. Well, maybe enjoyed is too strong of a word. But I learned from them. Or, at least from a couple of them. They gave me ideas about new things to try when I run out of 'strategies' for dealing with the little people in my home. (Of course, there are some I despise just as much as any other self-help book--in particular, those that come with a rush to judgement about parenting practices that don't fall into lockstep with those they are espousing. I thought that Dr. Sears, for instance, had a treasure trove of information in "The Baby Book," and was a devout reader of it until the day I came to some tiny box on one page where he basically said that if you go back to work when your child is young, they will become a drug addict. Blow me, Dr. Sears.)

But, as always, I digress. I'm currently reading a new parenting book, "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children," by Wendy Mogel. It's everything I should hate in a book. No strategies, lots of comments about what's wrong with our society, lots of finger pointing, lots of judgement. And yet, I'm finding it absolutely fascinating. Chapter 2 is called "The Blessing of Acceptance: Discovering Your Unique and Ordinary Child," and it just resonated with echoes of my personal doubts and fears about things I'm doing 'wrong' with the kids. It's about parental pressure, even when it's put on the child with the best of intentions. She quotes a Hasidic saying: "If our child has a talent to be a baker, don't ask him to be a doctor." (Ironic, that, considering the stereotypes, all true, of Jewish mothers obsessing about their children becoming doctors.)

At one point, she homes in on something I've found to be extraordinarily true...the way so many parents--I probably shouldn't generalize, but it's what she's saying--expect exceptionality (I'm pretty sure I just made that word up) from their children, to the point that if the child is anything less than perfect, they look for a disorder. "A problem can be fixed, but a true limitation requires adjustment of expectations and acceptance of an imperfect son or daughter," she writes. "Parents feel hope if their restless child is actually hyperactive, their dreamy child has ADD, their poor math student has a learning disorder, their shy child has a social phobia, their wrongdoing son has 'intermittent explosive disorder.' If there is a diagnosis, specialists and tutors can be hired, drugs given, treatment plans made, and parents can maintain an illusion that the imperfection can be overcome. Their faith in their child's unlimited potential is restored."

Oh, I know that's over the top. I know there are many children who need the drugs, the treatment plans, the tutors and specialists. But still. It's also so true. I'm so guilty of this with N. I can't tell you the number of times I've gone to one friend or another with questions about what I was worrying might be a 'speech delay' or 'asperger's-like behavior' or even 'motor delays' when he wasn't performing/learning/advancing quickly enough for me. Baroy made fun of me all the time for it, and while I recognized the sort of hypochondria-by-proxy, I didn't really GET what sort of road I was traveling down. This book is making me take a good, hard look at how I'm letting my expectations get in the way of letting my children be who they are.

I even started doing it with E's swimming, taking an offhanded comment about how natural she is in the water and how 'mature,' and how we should be thinking about swim team, and turning that into an increase in interest in her lessons, on my part. Whereas before I was just letting her be, now I'm all over the teachers each time, trying to get her the best teachers for her classes, etc. I'm sure it's putting pressure on her, or will start to, if I don't get it in check. She really doesn't have to be the best swimmer ever to enjoy it. And yet, there were definitely visions of traveling to watch her race in the Olympics flashing through my mind for a couple of days there. Bad me.

There's much more in this one chapter, and I'm not doing it even a bit of justice. But I found it very empowering, somehow. I feel almost as if I've been given permission to let go, to stop constantly looking for signs of giftedness in E, or signs of delay in N. Or vice versa. Maybe they're just average in abilities, or above average in some and below in others. Or whatever. Whatever they are, they're unique, all right. And they're wonderful just because of that uniqueness. I need to start remembering that. I need to continue believing it.

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