I contend that ego and parenting don’t mix.
Bear is not an extension of me. He is entirely his own being, and has been since the first slug to the uterine wall. In no way do I feel that he is even remotely responsible for any of my successes or failures. He is a unique and amazing person.
I have tried to formulate this into something coherent, and hit the backspace key so many times. . . To be honest I sort of thought this one would write itself, as it is something about which I am very passionate and vigilant. Interesting, that while ego might not mix well with parenting, it certainly rears its pompous little head when writing. Having now politely told it to “Sod off,” I can move on.
Too often parents express their disappointment in their child because they aren’t the athlete they want them to be, or the musician, or whatever it is. I get it. We love them, we want everything for them, but the number one lesson I’ve learned on this parenting journey is that it’s not about me.
Laura Lavigne tells a great story in her book “Pink Hair and Chocolate Cookies” about two twin girls that had been adopted separately and their respective moms. When they had contact, one complained that her daughter fussed and screamed for cinnamon on everything and the subsequent trauma this caused, while the other mother had figured out the cinnamon thing and kept a shaker of it within reach at the table. Brilliant.
I hear that story and wonder why mom A was so anti-spice. Did she not like cinnamon? Was there some sort of cinnamon trauma in her past and she wanted to protect this little girl from the same terror? Just an opinion, but I don’t think it was about the little girl at all.
Bear doesn’t run amuck. He is not allowed to whack another child upside the head, or draw on someone’s wall while I beam and say “he’s just expressing himself.” There are boundaries and lines of behavior that are not crossed. Behaving in a courteous and respectful manner, and being responsible, are not optional. That’s just common sense, right? Not because of a reflection on me, but because I think life will be easier for him if he has these behaviors while he pursues his life.
It’s a balancing act, one almost impossible to explain. I will say that the more time I spend getting to know my son as an individual human being, the easier it is to parent. His hopes, his dreams, his fears and disappointments are known to me. Attention is paid to the things that bring him down or light him up. Every day there is a conversation about what were his low points was and what his high points. Dave and I strive to know who Bear is – and it’s a crazy kind of courtship building this deep relationship that will change, has to change, as he grows up and goes out on his own.
This was all put to the test not long ago – just so ya’ll know I am not wholly immune to this ego thing. (I said I was vigilant, not perfect.)
Conor’s school was offering a strings program. As most of you know, I am a musician. I come from a family of them. My dad and oldest brother are the only ones who are not actively musical – and even they have both played an instrument. So, music being such a part of my life, some would assume Conor wants that too. Nope.
“Bear, do you want to do the strings program at school and learn violin or something?”
“No thanks.” What? I don’t know what I was expecting. It’s not like I’ve been having to fight him to get my guitar back or anything.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Not really interested in music. I like listening to music and stuff, but I’m not really interested in learning an instrument.” Stunned silence from me, while gasping on the inside. Any dreams of us playing duets…FLUSH!
Two possible reactions here. One, use your imagination, but it involves an unhappy kid with sore fingers and plenty of resentment. Two…
A moment of pause to commend him for feeling safe and confident enough to express his true feelings without being hurtful or disrespectful. . .
“What are you interested in learning, Bear?” I asked him, though I already had an idea.
“Science. Science and Art,” he says with total conviction.
Done. He’s taking after school classes in photography, drawing, and woodcarving. He is a talented photographer, an impressive artist, and a mildly enthusiastic wood carver (but I think the enthusiasm is about using sharp pointy things.) We have new things to talk about after every class, like shadow and composition. . . preventing injury to oneself or others with sharp pointy things. He is happy. (How much is my ego out of it? I let him do his photo story about me before and after coffee. Not pretty, but highly amusing.)
In the end it was a win/win (is that how that is written? no clue.) He has the benefits of learning a skill that will require a level of discipline and practice, skills in themselves, but it’s in an area he chose. Dave and I have the joy of watching Bear as he discovers his talents and passions…
…oh, and the art that will be on my fridge is gonna totally kick ass.