The podiatrist greets the moth but before the podiatrist can say anything the moth starts talking. My life is an unending cycle of pain, the moth begins. My job is meaningless and repetitive, my boss is needlessly demeaning. I wake up every morning next to a woman with whom I have nothing in common. We bicker constantly, I can’t remember the last time we had anything resembling a pleasant interaction. She is shrewish and terrible. It is clear that she hates me, would prefer to be married to anyone else.
The podiatrist again tries to disrupt the moth’s breathless monologue, but the moth continues. My daughter is in rehab, it costs a fortune not that she ever expresses any gratitude. My son is marrying a gold digging, low-class bimbo. For the second time! That’s never going to work! How can he be so unaware to marry the same woman again? That’s crazy. If I had the courage of my convictions, I would end it all. And that’s not the worst of it…
The podiatrist gently interjects, Mr. Moth, I’m sorry to hear that. Truly. These are terrible problems. But I’m a podiatrist. Don’t you think you would be better served by talking to a psychiatrist? Why did you come in here?
The moth replies: The light was on.
Needless to say, I love this joke. I love the Shaggy Dog aspect. I love the twist at the end. I especially love the word “podiatrist.” I would argue that any joke that incorporates “podiatrist” is 30 % funnier. I’m going to think about integrating a podiatrist into The Karate Monkey Joke.
But in the meantime, let’s attend to why the moth went to the podiatrist. Is it possible that the moth’s needs were indeed being me? Did the moth benefit from complaining? More importantly, what about our beloved children. How should we respond when they complain?
There are a few scenarios. Not all children grumble. As always, it’s important to understand the why underneath the behavior. Let’s consider each of the possibilities in turn. Maybe your child doesn’t complain because he has nothing to complain about. I’m going to disregard your child being 100% emotionally happy as unlikely. More to the point, you wouldn’t be putting up with my columns every week, these past 12 years if a completely contented child were the case. Instead, you would be hiking in Colorado or being interviewed by the local news: “Completely well-adjusted child who gets along with his parents. Details at 11:00.”
So, either your child has stuff he needs to talk about and they’re coming to you to share their concerns. Or your child has stuff on their mind and doesn’t feel comfortable complaining. This possibility – that your child has stuff going on, but doesn’t talk to you about it – I’m going to call the “Richard Corey“ paradigm. For those of you who were not fortunate enough to be students in my ninth grade English class, I will point out that in the Robinson poem, Richard, Cory, had everything—money, fame, orgies—and then ate his revolver. The poet doesn’t say that the suicide was a result of Richard’s parents not being open to their son’s unresolved issues, but then there’s only so much you can do in four stanzas.
None of which is to say that when your kids come to you expressing sadness that they want you to solve the problem. You may not know the answer. Worse, not every conflict is resolvable. Bullies, social media, not getting a date for the prom, flunking, a driver’s license test, being rejected from a first-choice college—you can’t take care of all of that. You can’t control the weather. But you can listen with an open, loving, sensitive, attuned heart.
Maybe the moth got what he was looking for. Maybe the moth just needed someone to complain to. Even if podiatrist is better than a parent who pretends to know all the answers or, worse, doesn’t have time or interest to listen.