Over the years I have written quite a bit about my family and being a dad. I have shared the good, the bad, and the depressing. So in my own head I think that I have earned the right to gush about Dev’s current successes (Did I mention that my son, after all the years of effort and sacrifice is officially gifted and talented?). We did not come by any of this easily or by chance. We got here through effort and strategy and love. It’s all paying off with an intelligent, novel-reading, swimming, off-the-charts mathematician who is comfortable in his independence. To maintain it all and not fall into complacency will require us to double our efforts. Luckily these years ahead, generally speaking, are the so-called quiet before the stormy years of adolescence. Of course there will be plenty of squalls between now and the teens, but we think we are up for it. Heck, we have to be.
Was that paragraph annoying? Are you telling me right now aloud, directly into your computer screen, with a string of slobber hanging from the corner of your mouth to kiss your ass? Are you asking yourself who does this guy think he is anyway, some magical parenting shaman? The friggin’ kid whisperer? If you are thinking that, I must admit that I understand. I’d bet money that more people threw up in their mouths than cheered. Sometimes it’s hard to hear good things about other people’s kids especially if you are in the often-dark and seemingly endless tunnel of the toddler and preschool years. Even if you emerged from those earlier years unscathed you may be chagrined to find that the school-aged years have gotten off to a rocky start with unwanted peer influences and disruptive classroom behavior. You may even be saying “of course it’s all good for him – he only has one!” I got it. I feel your pain too.
There will always be some kid out there who is super charming where you kid is kind of a jerk. Or a kid who is athletic where your kid is kind of a book worm. A kid you find to be sickeningly adorable. A kid who is so brilliant Oprah invites him or her onto her show. On the other hand there will always be something good we can say about our kids no matter where they fall in the spectrum of personalities and intelligence. We had better be able to come up with something good to say about our offspring. If working super hard as a parent doesn’t give us something to gush about then what’s the sense?
So then why are we so dismissive (or just plain hateful) of other parents when they talk about their kids? Me, I love hearing people boast about their kids. I also have been well trained (shameless plug) to appreciate a parent’s pride. I wasn’t always this way though. When Dev was going through his early days of development I would get down right annoyed by people with well-adjusted kids. I could not stand to hear their cute stories and be around their joy. I am so glad I did not have a Facebook account in those trying times. Nowadays I can’t get enough of the good stories and I also enjoy the rewarding challenge of working with a parent through the tough times and toward the path of finding a little joy again.
Still I understand when you want to counter a good story of mine with a better one of your own. I get it when you want to point out that your kid was potty trained when mine was just testing out his potty mouth. It’s not a competition (not officially anyway) yet we always measure ourselves against other parents because we never know if we are doing it right. When we sense and seize an opportunity to boast about our children it’s because somewhere deep down we understand it to be a moment where we can say to ourselves without reservation that “I’m doing something right!” Usually the sound byte playing in our heads is the one where we are chastising our inner voice with “we screwed that up didn’t we?” Or my favorite “how many years of therapy will it take for him to work through that parenting blunder?”
When you are doing it right being a parent is hard. When you are doing it wrong it’s also hard. I have found that there is a thin line between the two. That’s why we cling to the fleeting moments of joy, relay over and over again the long term successes that were a direct product of sacrifice, and unabashedly talk about our kids as if they walk on water… even if the last thing they walked on was their own feces.