Friday’s Essay – Other People’s Children

Boys PlayingI love children.  They’re fun and funny.  They remind me to be open to love and awe and mystery.  I can indulge my juvenile sense of humour when I’m around them.  Being part of their lives is a distinct privilege.  I spent six years as the Director of Religious Education for two Unitarian Universalist congregations. I loved every moment I got to spend with the children and youth I served.  Every single one of them was a fascinating, wonderful, amazing human from whom I learned.  Now, nothing against my own child – I love her with all that I am.  She was truly the first person I fell completely in love with. I have no doubt that I would die and kill for that young woman. She is ridiculously intelligent – reading Western philosophers at fifteen.  I don’t know too many people who are as compassionate and deeply concerned for others’ welfare as my daughter.  She is an amazing human.  Frankly, I’m pretty sure she’s turned out awesome in spite of my parenting skills.  I can say all these wonderful things about her because they are true and because she no longer lives in my house.  For so many reasons I think I might prefer other people’s children.  Other people’s children are far less annoying than my own.  Their idiosyncrasies are endearing.  Their jokes always seem less odd or inappropriate.  Their inability to follow directions is far less frustrating.  They meet expectations far more easily than my own child.  So what is the difference between my child and other people’s children?  Clearly, the common denominator is here me.  Why is it that things that, in my own child, grate on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard, I can find endearing, or at least tolerable, in others?  I know I tried really hard not to compare her to ‘good’ kids.  I never asked her to be more like so-and-so.  Though admittedly, I thought it once in while.  I never really wanted her to be someone she wasn’t.  I always wanted her to be everything I imagined she could be.  So, when she failed to meet my expectations of her potential I was disappointed.  Of course, I don’t have those kinds of expectations of other people’s children.  Even those kids I saw nearly every week could never fail to meet my expectations.  I took them at face value and, I think, had relatively realistic expectations that they could easily meet, even exceed, most of the time.  My own child, though, somehow warranted higher expectations.  My anxieties for her welfare and future probably didn’t help our relationship.  I can only hope that this physical distance between us will actually bring us closer together emotionally in the future.

I continue to volunteer with other people’s children.  The spiritual development of children and youth is really important to me.  I’m particularly interested in the work of recognizing the important rites of passage our society seems to overlook.  And, while I do this I am constantly reminded that each child, even my own, is an individual who deserves love and support whatever path he or she takes.  Our expectations as parents are just that, our expectations.  We need to give our children the latitude we give other people’s children.  So, while I volunteer with other people’s children, and really love it, perhaps I don’t prefer other people’s children to my own.  Perhaps I hope to give them something I couldn’t give my own daughter – the freedom to meet their own expectations and not my expectations.