I adore my wife. Let’s be clear up front. This is not one of those “my wife doesn’t understand me” clichés more appropriate to a lower class of fiction. My blog is not a dating website. My wife is awesome. All that said, Patti and I did stay at an Airbnb recently and had a minor kerfuffle. Instead of a traditional key and a lock, the door had one of those newfangled numeric keypads. The code was 1861, an easy number to remember. Over dinner, I worked on determining whether or not 1861, in addition to corresponding to the year in which the Civil War started, was also a prime number. Apparently, I got a far-away look in my eye. My wife—ever vigilant to what may be transpiring in my head—asked what I was doing. “I’m dividing 1861 by all the primes up to its square root,” I replied. “It’s an odd number, so1861 is not divisible by two; the sum of the digits of 1861 isn’t divisible by three, so three is not a factor; obviously five doesn’t divide 1861.” Patti continued to stare at me. “So now I’m figuring out whether or not seven goes into 1861 evenly.” Patti’s glare did not waver.
Subsequently, the conversation moved on to the handles we are having installed on our kitchen cabinets. Patti spoke passionately and at length about the shape, color, size, and design of the handles. I listened with all the attention I could summon. Patti showed me several pictures of allegedly different kitchen cabinet handles. I refrained from pointing out that each and every one of the choices looked precisely identical. “Do you like how this one has a beveled edge as opposed to the other one that is more sloping?” she asked. I nodded vigorously. Or as vigorously as a person can nod who neither knows what “beveled” means nor could distinguish one kitchen cabinet handle from another.
Raising healthy kids is not like having a good marriage. But all relationships have commonalities. You have to acknowledge that your adolescent children are going to be involved with some topics in which you, their loving parent, have no insight, experience, or interest. Electronic music, video games, social media, raw cookie dough, cold pizza, lethargy, grunting, and occasional lengthy showers, and otherwise non-standard hygiene are just the beginning of the list. One secret is to maintain a connection with your kids by affecting an interest. Even more important is to walk away from judgment and to let the kids find their own path.
Because you can’t control everything. Your kids are who they are. Many of their interests will not overlap with yours. Somebody likes monster truck rallies; somebody likes opera. Usually not the same person.
Imagine my telling Patti: “all of these kitchen cabinet handles are identical! Two atoms of hydrogen have more differences than these kitchen cabinet handles! What difference could it possibly make? Any one of these indistinguishable kitchen cabinet handles will open the @#$%^&*! kitchen cabinets.” Or envision Patti suggesting to me that “Nobody cares whether or not 1861 is a prime number! That’s not normal! You’re not Rainman! Stop doing arithmetic in your head and order some dinner!”
Parents who try to be involved with each and every thought in their child’s head may see themselves as loving and concerned but may be perceived as overreaching and controlling. Kids need to feel that they are trusted, that no one is checking to see whether or not they have turned in an assignment. Kids need to separate and individuate so that they can lead independent lives. Which they can’t do if mom and dad are in their heads.
Patti doesn’t want to help me try to divide 1861 by 29. I don’t care which kitchen cabinet handles end up on our kitchen cabinets. Yet we get along pretty well. Embrace that which you have in common and can share with your kids. But leave them alone to find some of the wonders of our world on their own.