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Jewish World Review
August 25, 2006
/ 1 Elul, 5766
Don't place your children on a pedestal
I've been watching the trouble brew across the Atlantic for weeks now, and I don't mean a terrorist plot.
I mean the international fallout over the mom who wrote earlier this summer, in Britain's Daily Mail, "Sorry, But My Children Bore Me to Death!" Helen Kirwan-Taylor, affluent London mother of sons 12 and 10, has been the subject of fierce debate on both sides of the pond.
Kudos for being honest? Villified for being selfish?
Kirwan-Taylor confesses to ditching birthday parties (sending the nanny with her children instead) because she preferred having her "highlights" done, and essentially argues that talking to anyone under the age of ten requires a lobotomy. She doesn't care much for cricket matches, and board games send her over the edge.
Well, in some ways, she kind of sounds like my mother. I thought my mom was really cool, but it would never have occurred to me to ask her to play Candyland with me. Let's face it, Candyland should be mind-numbing to an adult. Playing such games is what my friends and siblings were for. Nor did my mother ever take me to the park. She just was not the entertainment committee.
And the minute I, the youngest of five, hit first grade, she hit the books and finished her bachelor's and received her master's degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Even now I can envision my mom bent over her papers late at night, while none of us kids dared to interrupt. Her work was important to her, and for me to see that work as a blessing to her, not just a "necessary evil," is a lesson from which I've benefited to this day.
But I also grew up knowing that my mother's home and her family and her children were her lifeblood. Now that's different than saying her children were intrinsically interesting to her. I never felt she was particularly fascinated by any of us. I sense she saw her job as helping us to become people who would one day become intrinsically interesting.
What a difference from so many of today's parents.
But along the way she did do field trips and scout meetings and sporting events, and I suppose I didn't have the impression those things were always pleasing to her on their own terms, or that she didn't have "better" things to do. Now, as a mom of four myself, I bet she saw some of those things as boring. So what? Memo to Kirwan-Taylor, my mom did those things because she loved us passionately and they were important to us.
Guess what? We also knew she had important things in her life besides us. It's not all or nothing.
Anyway, dare I say my mom "condescended" to us in a way that was totally appropriate?
Today we modern parents have lost any notion of legitimately condescending to our kids, even finding joy and real delight in doing so. Instead, for us, to be a "worthy" parent means seeing our kids as objectively delightful and profoundly fascinating just as they are every moment even when they are not being those things at all in the moment.
How much better to see that while we are crazy about our kids, they are works in progress, and we have our work cut out for us in bringing them up to be people who will one day, we hope, actually be delightful to other people. That's not always inherently fascinating work. Duh.
Sure I'm nuts about my kids. But on the occasions when I do take them to the park, I sit on the bench reading my newspapers while they make their own fun. Sometimes I think about my mom, and I don't feel guilty about it.
My mother died 11 years ago this week. I miss her every day. There are so many great women like my mother, who loved and sacrificed for their families and their kids, but didn't ever feel they had to idolize or idealize them in order to find in them and give to them value and meaning and joy. I think Helen Kirwan-Taylor, and her detractors, and I, and certainly our kids could learn a lot from people like her.
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