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When You Know Your Kid Isn't You

Father and Son

The other night I asked my daughter if she felt badly about something that happened earlier that day. I would have felt badly about it, after all, so I assumed she did.  “Does that sound right,” I asked her, “or am I making that up.”  With hardly a sigh she said, “No, mommy. You’re making that up.”

Every day our children remind us that they are not us in a million ways, big and small. In a recent blog post on the New York Times, writer David Marcus describes coming to terms with the fact that his teenage son Benjie will not be like him in his professional life or Ivy League pedigree.

I could get extremely cynical about this emphasis on name brand education, but there’s no need. Marcus himself gives talks to parents whose kids are applying to college, urging them to take the process in stride. He writes: “Help your children find their hidden talents, I advise parents. Teach your children to be independent. Don’t live your dreams through your son or daughter.” Marcus then tells us he struggles to follow his own advice. His son doesn’t get good grades, they’ve fought over homework since the fourth grade, he’s open about his anxiety over his son’s educational achievement.  Marcus also describes the ways  Benjie seems to be thriving socially and emotionally in spite of all his fretting over good grades and life choices.

While we don’t know what the future holds, we know what’s worked for us, and so it’s natural to try to make that work for our kids.  But our kids aren’t us. They’re them.  But I have to give myself little reminders of that basic fact — they are not me — all the time.  Last week, my son told me he wants to go to the college I went to — but I went to a college for women, so at least on that front, I’m off the hook.

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