Ellen and Sam fell in love. No surprise there. They had worked together for years, were friends before they started dating. They had everything in common: careers in education, commitment to community service, even a shared fondness for miniature labradoodles.
Sam was 45, Ellen 29. But the difference in their ages wasn't a problem. Sam is in great shape physically and, in his own words, "completely committed to being immature." Ellen was an old soul, firmly established in her career, making as much money as her husband. Not only that, they had nothing to argue about. Quarrels about money, sex, and religion are the three predictive factors for divorce. Sam and Ellen had no problem with any of these potential land mines. They even liked one another's parents. In short, all the signs were positive. At the wedding, all their coworkers and friends agreed: Sam and Ellen would have long, happy, committed lives together.
Except three years later they were fighting like two cats in a bag. They argued endlessly about anything and everything. The less important the topic, the more they griped at one another. "She is absolutely crazy," Sam confided. "He is incredibly mean," Ellen said. The allegations were as vague as they were unsettling. Crazy? Mean? Nobody at work would associate crazy or mean with either Sam or Ellen. Not in a million years. Both were great people. But now they could not agree on where to have dinner. Chinese or Italian became an hour-long argument. Picking a movie? Forget it. They would discuss what film they wanted to see for such a long time that the theaters would close. They could not make a decision. They could not agree on whether or not to have the couch recovered. Or whether or not to get the miniature Labradoodle's nails clipped.
Only after their divorce and expensive litigation did the truth come out: Ellen had wanted a baby. Sam did not. "I told him I wanted a family when we first started dating," Ellen grumbled. "I told her at the outset that I am too old for children," Sam complained.
I have no insight into who said what to whom and when. I would not presume to suggest whether or not a 45-year-old is too old to become a dad. All I know is that every trivial argument stemmed from the fundamental underlying disagreement about whether or not to have children. Sam and Ellen's disagreement about starting a family ravaged their ability to pick a restaurant or a movie. Even the discussion about recovering the couch or clipping the nails of the miniature Labradoodle were, in actuality, about babies.
What is the fundamental, underlying issue when we are not getting along with our beloved children? Could it be the discrepancy between our vision of what our children should be and the reality of who they actually are?
Consider the quadratic formula. It is likely that every one of my educated readers learned the quadratic formula in algebra one class. It is almost as probable that every one of my readers has long since forgotten the quadratic formula. (If the quadratic formula makes you nervous, feel free to substitute "how a bill becomes a law" or "the difference between meiosis and mitosis." I bet you forgot these too.)
The quadratic formula itself doesn't matter much--even armchair mathematicians like this author seldom use it. But the arguments over learning the quadratic formula may have a lasting impact. What does the quadratic formula represent? In and of itself, not much. But if the quadratic formula stands for anxiety about whether or not my child will be able to go to college, get a job, make me proud, succeed in life, then that is another story.
Is it possible that all the discord in a home traces back directly to a fundamental disagreement about whether or not the child is capable of learning the quadratic formula? Before dismissing this assertion out of hand, consider splits and cut-off's. Think about parents who no longer speak to their children. Could those children not have felt loved unconditionally for who they are rather for what they do? Could all that sadness and separation stem from parents who push too hard, who just couldn't accept the child for who she is?
Nothing seems more important than the quadratic formula to the parents of an algebra one student. Nothing seems less important to the parent of an adult. Not that anybody asked me, but I would rather have a grown child who looks forward to seeing me than a child who feels obligated to call. By accepting my child for who she is--rather than her understanding of the quadratic formula--I increase the chances that our relationship will be strong long after I no longer have the power to influence her decisions.
What are the fundamental underlying assumptions in your home? Would today be a good time to have a conversation about them?

4 thoughts on “Fundamental

  1. Claire Law

    You are so right on, David. There’s something else that’s brewing in conflicts – more than meets the eye. And pressuring kids to be who the parents want them to be e.g. learn the quadratic formula, doesn’t help! Well done! Claire

  2. William

    Caesar, the dog whisperer, said dogs need three things: love, discipline and training. I would say children need the same.
    As to relationships, I was an expert in short relationships until the present one of 16 years duration. Why has this endured since i am no doubt the same jerk or other noun? It must be the woman. She is smart, honest, strong minded as well as health oriented, slender, lovely, frugal. I honestly respect her and LIKE her. We don’t use the word love a lot. But we both like to hug or snuggle and caress. We don’t have friends or relatives interfering in our life as I had in other relationships.
    I would say mutual respect is really important.

  3. Martin

    That is such a cute puppy!

    I am so sad about Sam and Ellen breaking up the home in which their
    labradoodle was happy! If they could take care of a labradoodle they
    probably could take care of and raise a child. As William says, puppies and
    children need basically the same things.

    It would have been so much better if Ellen and Sam could have talked.
    Or if Sam could have had the chance to examine why he felt “too old” at 45,
    when he had a loving, capable woman right there… Did his father die or
    become infirm before age 60? Was he afraid having a child would prevent him
    and Ellen leaving their jobs and sailing around the world?

    Something important was there that did not get revealed. If fear that Sam will
    have lost the chance to find out what it is. The same goes for the unspoken,
    unexamined anxieties that the parents have about their children re the quadratic
    formula. Not that it doesn’t matter, but that the parent is unable to convey to the
    child (because unexamined by the parent, unarticulated) what the parent sees in
    the world–the dangers and the opportunies, the joys and the threats. So it comes
    down to “do your homework” when it could be a more fruitful, loving conversation.

    Thanks for stimulating my thoughts.


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