By Lynntia Kir-Stimon Sutton
I recall a mostly unconventional mix of jellybeans that I bravely shared with my child. The assortment contained such flavors as Cotton Candy, Dirt, Grass, Marshmallow, Vomit, Lemon Drop, Watermelon, Earthworm, Rotten Egg, Cherry. And Ear Wax.
So, what if you are a Lemon Drop kind of person, but your kid is all about Dirt? Or Rotten Egg. Or Earthworm. How do you manage a connected relationship when you are so very different from your child? Do you resist their flavor of choice, or do you try and learn to tolerate that new repulsive Earthworm flavor… just for them?
Recently, as I spoke with a college friend, my thoughts were drawn to how such distinct differences can appear in our children at such young ages, and what a challenge it can sometimes be for acceptance and balance within the same family.
My friend shared his story of a pet shop owner who gifted their family a rabbit who was in need of a home. They took the rabbit, but the pet was unfortunately not long for life. My friend described his concern over how this loss, and the ensuing burial, might affect his then 6-year old daughter. His worry for his child’s reaction quickly faded as she commented, “Well, Dad, at least we have a good start on our pet cemetery.” This, he shared, pretty much summed up her [pragmatic] personality at this early age. His child, now in her 2nd year of business school also works part-time in a legal firm and part-time in a bank... and is quite different from his other child.
In contrast, having demonstrated artistic talent at an early age, my friend’s son is now a recent graduate of a prestigious art school. He has experienced some success with his personal artwork and also engages in some alternative art [high-end graffiti] activities. My friend has realistically suggested to this child that saving some of his art sale income as jail bond back-up might be a wise idea.
We all know balancing diverse personalities and interests within a larger family along with healthy management of our own individual relationships with our children can be quite complex. Developmental delays, neuro-diversities, mood disorders or mental illness, physically differently-abled challenges or other can further impact our attempt at family balance. This can become more complicated by the historical family systems we may carry with us. And, if you care to go there with me, many of us believe these patterns re-create well beyond biological boundaries.
Our children may have been adopted. They may have been born into what they’ve discovered is the wrong gender body. They may decide to date or marry a person of a culture or race unfamiliar to us. Perhaps they show early math aptitude when we stumble in that area. It could be your child is an extreme extrovert while you are a complete introvert, or maybe you were thinking engineering or pre-med would be a perfect fit for them, but stand-up comedy became their calling. As individuals, they could be everything or anything other than what you imagined they would be.
As ethical human beings and as good parents, we the people don’t really have an option for choosing a path other than that of tolerance and love.
Yes, it can be extremely difficult to do this when we may have no experience with what our child has chosen or may be experiencing… but isn’t acceptance of your child the greatest gift we can offer? Isn’t this blessing of unconditional love what all religions hold in common, what each of us deserve personally, and what we are ultimately commissioned to do when we become parents?
We can support that our children may prefer Bach over Cubs, and as we share our sports interests with them we can strive to learn a little bit more about classical music ourselves. We can come to embrace them in their choice of gender or career path or religion because that is how very much we care about them and how much we value them as human beings. These things we must do. And, in the end, we might find we enjoy that odd Dirt taste, just because we associate it with the positive connections we have created with our child, with our family.
When is too much and too different, just too much? For me, it comes to hate. Purposeful intent to harm others won’t fly. No hate marches, no destructive condemnation of others, no inflicting of pain, no intent to destroy personal rights. Although we morally can never condone or engage in these actions, even in the face of those who fall into these fear-filled and extreme paths we must somehow find an element of compassion - for we are all human beings.
If hate and destructiveness don’t fit into those categories that make up the “unique” of those I care about, then I will gladly try the Marshmallow jellybean and even warm up to the idea of eventually tasting Ear Wax or Vomit. If support means braving huge self-change or just a little bit of letting our guard down, let’s hop on. Let’s embrace all the odd flavors and see what happens. I suspect it will bring us all closer to laughter and giggling together about all the unusual tastes that life has to offer…