Can you see the real me? Inquired Roger Daltrey in 1975 on Quadrophenia. Teenage angst wasn’t new to muh muh my generation even half a century ago. Not seeing kids for who they are rather than for who their parents want them to be is a recurrent theme in rock music as well as tragic headlines.
If you have an active child, there is no point in wishing you had a calm one. Any more than hoping for an adolescent who is heteronormative if they’re not or neuro-typical rather than learning differenced or right-handed as opposed to left. Sometimes you’re expecting Owl and you get Tigger. It’s just that simple.
I am as big a proponent of “a good dog is a tired dog” as the next exhausted parent, but that doesn’t mean that I despair when my eight-year-old says, “C’mon, dad, one more game of Romp and Frolic, this time you be the shortstop, and I’ll be the parachutist.” It just means that I learned early on that this child was scoring touchdowns even in his sleep and that any and all efforts to inhibit his constant and frenetic movements would be as effective as binding the feet of women in an abusive struggle to make them more attractive.
And I was right. In his late 20s, this very child now seems capable of sitting still for several consecutive minutes. Whereas had I suggested that he put down that ball and come inside at any point before he went off to college, the damage might have been incalculable. Indeed, the injury we do to our children as parents, extended families, and society in general seems to be a direct consequence of forcing round pegs into square holes–resulting in disgruntled pegs.
You can’t “pray the gay away” any more than you can fundamentally revamp an Eeyore. Go ahead. Give Eeyore a facelift and a tummy tuck and see if anybody’s happy about a stuffed donkey with Botox.
Perhaps an example with fewer animals will clarify: do you have a PhD in mathematics? Neither do I. You can coerce, cajole, threaten, reward, of force me to listen to elevator music if only I will get a PhD in mathematics and I’m just not gonna. Certainly, I would like to have a PhD in mathematics. I feel certain that a PhD in mathematics would look spiffy on my shelf next to my 1963 copy of The Amazing Spider-Man, number 5 (first appearance of Dr. Doom, as if you didn’t know) but I just don’t have the ability to take those unpronounceable courses that make me want to go lie down just reading the names in the graduate school catalog.
For forty years as an educator and counselor, I have heard parents opine, he could do the work if he would only try harder. Which is true in the sense that if my grandmother had wheels, she would be a trolley car. Not everyone can get a PhD in mathematics. Some people can’t even get through three semesters of calculus at the undergraduate level. Some people can’t multiply two-digit numbers together in their head. Some people can’t count to 20 with their shoes on. Such is human perversity.
The answer is to accept kids at their word. You can’t get a PhD in mathematics? Okay. That seems reasonable. I believe you. Not everyone can understand non-differentiable topological Moore Spaces in N-Dimensions dressing on the side, whatever those are. Let’s go run around in the yard, inadvertently affirming our connection and our unbridled joy of being outsider together. Rather than communicating, you’re not okay as you are; I would love you more if you had a PhD in mathematics, you can reinforce that your child is just the child you wanted.
Parents are constantly telling me, my child could get an A in AP History, be on honor role, be more involved in student government, have more friends, throw an 85 mph fastball, jump out of an airplane, get a PhD in mathematics, if she would only try harder. Where do you think all that cheating, suffering, conflict, and psychiatric consults comes from? You could be an octopus if you would only concentrate on having eight legs. Except you can’t. (Be an octopus that is. It is no concern of mine whether or not you can devote any time to concentrating on the number of your appendages.)
I’m not trying to cause a big sensation… But your relationship with your kids will be exponentially better if you stop trying to change them into someone who they’re not.
Okay, so maybe the original 1965 lyric was significantly better. But seeing your child for who she is rather than who you want her to be is an idea whose time has come.