My summer turned out to be more intense than I expected and what was supposed to be a short break from writing turned into a 3 month hiatus. My apologies to those of you who have been wondering where I have been. And for those who didn’t miss me, well, here I am anyway!
One bit of writing I managed to do was to interview the multi award-winning author, Andrew Solomon, who wrote an amazing book called “Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search for Identity” for an article on The Mother Company’s website about accepting your children for who they are. His answers were extremely insightful and compassionate. I’m very excited to share the beginning of the article here (click over to The Mother Company to read the full piece and if you like it, please share it)!
An interview with Andrew Solomon
Accepting your children for who they are can be difficult. In some cases, parents live vicariously through their children’s successes. Others have a vision for the life their child will lead and struggle when s/he can’t or won’t fulfill that fantasy. My own parents weren’t thrilled with my initial desire to become a fashion designer. Instead, their dream was for me to use my talents to be a “real” artist. This difficulty in understanding and accepting me was a painful one and ultimately caused a rift, taking some time to repair. Understanding and accepting who your children are, as opposed to who you want them to be is fundamental to being a connected parent. I asked Andrew Solomon, award-winning author of Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search for Identity to share his thoughts on this subject.
How can parents come to terms with the fact that the vision they have for their children does not match how the children are turning out?
All parenting involves striking a balance between changing your child and accepting your child. Those are two disparate objectives. We change our children in a thousand ways: we educate them; we teach them manners and character; we vaccinate them; we toilet train them and show them how to brush their teeth. We also need to recognize the qualities in them that are immutable: their basic personality and character, their sexuality, their intelligence. Parents are constantly in what I’ve called the Serenity Prayer bind, trying to figure out what aspects of their child to change and what aspects to accept, because it is often impossible to tell the difference. Parents should understand, however, that they need to achieve love and recognition, and that while love comes, ideally, at birth, recognition takes time. Parents whose children are different from them must consider the child’s interests ahead of their own, and do what they can to ensure that their child has a worthy, joyful, impassioned life, even if that life veers away from the parents’ ideals.
Some parents seem to experience their child’s difference as a narcissistic injury—they see it as changing who they, the parents, are. They don’t see it as the child’s experience separate from them. Of course, our identity is dramatically shifted by our children, so there is a level at which it’s true that children are altering our selves, but we need to avoid seeing the change as primarily a change in us, and to see it, instead, as an essential matter for our children.
What are the best ways for parents to connect with their children when their temperament is markedly different from their own?
The first step for such parents is self-education. Parents should learn about the issue involved. If the child has a dramatic difference or a disability, there is much to be learned from both online resources and print ones. It’s often useful to find parent groups dealing with the same challenge; the company of others helps to clarify the situation, and the stories people tell about bridging the gap can be transformative. The most important thing, however, is to assure this different child that he or she is deeply beloved, to describe and acknowledge the variation in temperament, and to make the child a partner in finding a language in which to understand such difference.
What questions should parents ask themselves to know whether they are truly accepting of their child just as he or she is?
I think of the father of a transgender daughter who was in a counseling session. The therapist asked, “Does it make your child happy for you to persist in calling her he?” The father said it did not. The therapist asked, “Would it make your child happy if you called her she?” The father said it would. The therapist said, “What is it that’s more important to you than your child’s happiness?” I think parents have to ask themselves all the time what their child’s interests are and how they as parents can serve those interests. They have to think constantly of how their ego needs differ from their child’s, and to look at whether their behavior will result in their child’s optimal outcome.