I often hear pregnant women and expectant fathers discussing what their new arrival might be like in personality and appearance. The conversation always seems to end the same way. “Of course, all I care about is that they are happy and healthy.”
I used to say the same thing myself for the most part, and to be honest, I think it’s time for all us parents to admit to the world that we are lying. I don’t deny that without our medical well being, we have nothing, and that the most important thing for us all is that our children are healthy. I can’t imagine for one minute what parents with truly sick children must be going through, and not for one second do I mean to belittle that in any way.
But even when my baby couldn’t see, and we were concerned about the possibility of fairly serious issues behind his lack of vision, I would not say that “all I cared about” was his health.
Because even if I am only speaking for myself, I want my son to be happy and healthy-sure. But I also wan’t him to be clever. And funny. And popular, and to find love. And to say that the only important thing which contributes to happiness is our health is frankly naive at best.
Perhaps you could say that it’s the happiness part that is the main thing then. All I care about is that my children are happy. After all, plenty of people live with medical issues and health problems and live long happy fulfilled lives as well.
Also nonsense. If someone told me that my son would grow up happily, but unmarried, not interested in Judiasm, and living off unemployment benefits, perfectly content with his lot in life, you would have to peel me off the bathroom floor. I would be entirely miserable, despite his happiness. Because we all want certain things for our offspring. This is the same issue as arguing that you don’t care about your child’s gender. Because you do care. You’re allowed to have an opinion. We all care and we all have expectations about what our children will do or will not do. The best we can do is to manage these expectations and be honest about them.
There is a rumour going around that all parents think their children are beautiful, and clever, and hilarious. I’m yet to find out if this is the case, (as my son really is clever and beautiful and hilarious ;)) but if as I suspect, that when honest we can see our own kids flaws as well as the annoying neighbours ones, I think we could all benefit from being honest about our fears and expressing them as positively as possible.
I am not going to deny that I’ve always worried that I will find it difficult if my children were to end up unintelligent. It’s not something a mother is supposed to admit, that they worry about spawning a dunce, but there we go. I don’t see it as the worst thing in the world. I suppose I feel that the responsibility lies mainly with me. Everything being equal, most children have talents and abilities. Most kids shine at something, as long as they are given the tools. Bringing your kids up with confidence and independence gives them the ability to find their own intelligence. After all, it’s not like I’m dictating that I will be devastated unless they becomes one exact thing, a Brain Surgeon or a Professor of the Fine Arts. After all, I believe it is just as damaging to tell your children “I don’t care about how clever you are” as it is to say “you must get all A’s.” I see so many people, adults and children alike, who are stifled by the wrong expectations, either high or low from their parents, and who I’m sure under a different upbringing could have been just as ‘clever’ or ‘capable’ as someone at the top of their field.
I can’t pretend I don’t want R to be happy in my way as well as his. I can’t tell him I’d be over the moon if he married out of our religion, or decided his vocation was to be a starving artist. Maybe that will change as I watch him grow into his own person not just our baby. But while he is young, all I can do is try to give him the space and encouragement to find out what I’m sure is there. What makes him clever, or funny, or socially capable, and then help him shine. And brag about it of course. After all, I am still his mother.