Parenting is not easy

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We are moving towards a new phase of parenting, and that is the adolescent phase. For fun I have been reading Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour. Seven? I’m supposed to make seven transitions? I’m pretty sure that most of the women that I know forgot one or two.  (Also, why is ‘through’ capitalized on Amazon? asks the woman who still has a copy of her high school grammar textbook upstairs on a shelf.)  If you want to earn even more gratitude from your adolscent girl, leave this book out. Hah! No, seriously, it’s good so far. I’ve learned a lot, which is helpful, since I knew nothing before.

And also my attention was brought to the Wells for Boys skit on SNL. This is genius. Genius. So I had to do a small but deep dive, which led me to this small thinkpiece about it. My favorite part?

I had this little Barbie wedding dress that I really liked, and because I used it so much, it was raggedy. I loved how torn it was, and I would put a Barbie with no shoes in it and have her wander about the garden, just thinking about what happened to her and how she got to this point.

Parenting a sensitive boy is funny because you want to love them just as they are, even when society doesn’t. I tried to encourage my kids to be athletes, but no matter how many natural gifts they may be blessed with, they will run away when I kick a soccer ball at them.

Another friend recently sent me this NYT article on telling kids about serious illness. I liked the article so much that I went and read the Lancet review that it is based on. The point of the article seems to match much of the advice that I’ve been given about parenting, which is to be open and honest with your children. This is extremely convenient because I am a terrible liar.

But if I can pick a bone here I will point out that reviews are not always great. The fact is, that much of this advice is based on studies of the families of HIV patients, as well as those with all kinds of cancer. The funny not-for-me line was the part that said that if you don’t tell your kids what is going on they may worry that it is actually something worse.  Hee hee hee, that was a howler.  I mean, what worse could I have to say that I haven’t already said to them?  Never mind, don’t answer that.

I dislike hierarchies of all kinds, and the review is at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge. Sometimes it’s presented as if we don’t know anything until we have a review of the research. That stinks. Also, reviews are inherently anti-feminist because they are arguing that we don’t know anything until we have a reduction of all of the knowledge available. And the marketplace will decide what knowledge goes into that reduction.

A particularly interesting line, I want to point out, is this one from the Times: “’I would always start the conversation by having the child say to me what they understand, so I understand how they have received information.”  As a patient, I feel like that has become a standard communication technique, asking patients what they know and believe. I think it is advocated as a way of establishing common ground with the patient. Unfortunately, it is often experienced as a way of finding out what the patient knows so that you can tell them why they are wrong.  I don’t have a better communication practice to suggest instead,* so it might be that the question is fine, but it matters what the intention is behind the question. Patients can sense the intention. The question saves the doctor time, so it’s asked for the benefit of the doctor. That’s fine. Just don’t pretend that it’s for the patient. Am I right, patients?

Lately, the media has blessed us with various examples of parenting with cancer. Julie Yip-Williams published a posthumous letter to her daughters. It is truly generous of her to let the world into the experience of facing death with two young daughters, and she is a beautiful writer. At the same time, her life might be not-so-relatable for those of us who are not racing death to finish renovating the Brooklyn condo.  [Actually, it was two condos.] Also, The Historian and I had a little giggle when we saw the line about needing to leave instructions for the private chef and the piano tuner. Now I know I can add “instructions for private chef and piano tuner” to my to do list.

One dad described what happened when his late wife chose not to tell their three daughters about her breast cancer. She went through chemo-related hair loss and still didn’t tell them, pretending that she was wearing a scarf over her head by choice. Again, not totally relatable. But the description was moving and is another reminder that there is no right way to face illness or death. We all do the best we can, even if it is leaving instructions for the piano tuner.

Not telling my children is not an option for someone who is as bad of a liar as I am. I even gave up trying to pretend to like superhero movies. And that was freeing as hell because I don’t like superhero movies, even if they are my children’s favourite thing right now.

They like Marvel movies even more than they like storytime, unfortunately. I wonder if it’s partially my fault because I insisted that we read Frankenstein. Or because I keep falling asleep in the stories. Then I surruptitiously reread the section the next day when I am awake, fooling no one. (Maybe “Fooling No One” should be the title for this post.)  At least we all agreed that Victor Frankenstein was a hopelessly self-deluded jerk, and the monster was a nice guy. (In keeping with the “fooling no one” theme!)

Now we are reading the edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard that is illustrated by Chris Riddell. I am loving the stories, told with J.K. Rowling’s flair for magical storytelling. While I’ve always loved Riddell’s work, I wonder if the illustrations are not overkill when the language is so vivid. Maybe good readers aren’t supposed to be influenced by the llustrations in their books, but I remember being 9 years old and constantly referencing the illustrations in the thick, classic paperback of Little Women  that I was reading. The favored style was this delicate Victorian line that forever represented the March girls to me. Even before that I poured over Garth Williams’ illustrations in the Little House on the Prairie books. Whatever, we are almost done with Beedle the Bard with no plans for what to read next. Suggestions?

*edited to add: I may have thought of something! You could say something like, “When I think about your case, what I [think about/wonder about/worry about] is x and y. It would help me if you could tell me how you understand x and y. Then I could see if we are on the same page.”