How to Relate?
My mind constantly wonders about what kind of person my daughter will be. For most of the questions, I don’t care about what the answers are specifically. I am just excited to find them out because I look forward to getting to know her as a person. Will she be boisterous like her parents or the opposite of us: shy and quiet? Will her favorite color be something like pastel pink or neon orange? Will she be a picky eater like her dad, or eat anything put in front of her like her mom? Will she be straight or gay? It’s these kinds of questions I look forward to watching her figure out the answers for herself, all the while daddy and me loving and guiding her along the way. But I realistically know it won’t always be that romantic. There will inevitably be questions she answers that we will have to work hard at understanding. Answers that will make us wonder, “Where’d she get that from?” Answers that will cock our heads to one side and crinkle our brows upward, much like this:
What if she has no interest in baseball, but likes football (we’re not at all football fans)? ...Okay, so we learn to like football. What if she doesn’t understand our passion for music and arts, but instead is equally moved by agriculture? …Then we learn about agriculture with her, and encourage the passion even if it’s not our own. What if her favorite band is Insane Clown Posse or she’s into crunk core music? …I have to be honest: I shudder at this one--not sure how to bridge that gap.
It’s easy to fantasize our children-to-be being like us; being interested by the same subjects we are. Partly because we understand no one better than ourselves and partly because it’s romantic to think we’ll relate so intimately with someone we already love so much. Surely we rub off on our kids. For proof, you don’t have to look any farther than the mirror. We have, to varying degrees, already started to become our parents. But it is inevitable that our children will throw us personality curveballs, just as we did to our parents.
The greater question is, “How will I relate to my child’s interest when I’m not naturally interested in the subject?” What efforts will I have to make to relate to Madeline; to get inside her head and more adequately understand where her head is; what she is going through; how she is feeling when I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I’m only 25, and I say all the time, “I just don’t understand kids today.” I sound like my 85 year old grandmother. But it’s the same every time there is a generation younger than another with a culture all their own. We use our experiences to relate to others, but this is a fallible tactic. Our experiences are, more often than not, different from those of others. And instead of trying to see the world from their eyes, we try to understand them from ours.
How many times when you were a kid did you say to your parents, “You just don’t understand?” And how lost and alone did it make you feel? It’s true: they didn’t understand (insert Fresh Prince comment here), and neither will we unless we use a different approach. The thing I will have to remember when I get frustrated because I just don’t understand my child is that when you break it down, she’s going through the same phase that I did: it’s just that she has different influences (parents, friends, culture, interests) that color that phase than I did. A co-worker and friend of mine told me early on in my pregnancy, “Don’t ever forget what it was like to be a kid.” That is quite possibly my favorite advice so far. When I want to say, “Oh grow up,” when she’s being juvenile and trivial, I need to remember she’s trying to (grow up, that is). I need to remember that what she’s going through, no matter how dumb it may seem to me, is a huge deal to her because it’s the biggest deal she’s had to deal with yet. The tribulations of youth pale in comparison to adult responsibilities when you’re an adult, but when you’re a kid, having the right clothes, the right friends, etc. is necessary for survival: emotional survival. Because all you know at that point is emotional survival.
This mentality will also come in handy when all she says is, “No,” and “Mine!” When you are used to the world as you know it (your home and parents) revolving around you, sharing is a strange and frustrating concept to try and wrap your little head around. And although I will persevere in my dominant role as parent, and as impossible as it may seem to keep cool while she goes through her bratty stage, I must remember that the defiant “no” is her exercising her first revelation of free will and independence: qualities I want her to have to become a strong confident woman.