“All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves.”
I read these words in the description of Andrew Solomon’s latest book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. I haven’t yet read the book, as it just came out, but it’s on my list. In it, Solomon (who won the National Book Award for The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression) draws on interviews with over 300 families in which the children were profoundly different from their parents. He spoke with families dealing with schizophrenia, deafness, and other disabilities, as well as those with transgender children and prodigies. (For more information, you can also visit the book’s website.)
The quote above caught my attention, as it is one that I struggle with on a regular basis, in small and big ways. My daughter doesn’t seem interested in math and science, but that would be a good career for her, so should we push it? She’s an anxious child; do I embrace the anxiety (a genetic gift I gave to her) and make life easier when I can? Or do I push her to face it, and hopefully overcome it? And of course, there is the obsession with Hello Kitty and the Disney Princesses. Do I accept my fate (and their love of all things girly and pink) or push forward with my wish for them to be strong, independent girls, unphased by the glitter and glam of pop Americana?
And what about the bigger questions, the future? As much as I’d love to tell you that I don’t have plans for my daughters, that I am willing to follow them on whatever path they may choose, it’s not entirely true. I expect them to be healthy and functional, contributing members of society. I hope they get an education, find life partners, start families, and work hard at careers that inspire them. I want them to be happy, and make the world a better place.
Now that I’ve written it all out, it seems like an awful lot to expect of another person. And yet, I can’t imagine wanting anything less for them.