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10 Fingers and 10 Toes

10 Fingers and 10 Toes

“Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?”
“I don’t care, as long as the baby’s healthy. I will love him or her no matter what.”

Most parents-to-be experience the above dialogue during pregnancy. It is an exciting time and everyone wants to talk about your little one, soon to be born. You may have a secret preference for a little boy or girl, but chances are you know that you’ll be happy counting fingers and toes in the hospital room and loving your newborn unconditionally.

One of the wonders of children is how early they begin to demonstrate their individuality, with personalities, preferences, likes and dislikes. It starts as young as noticing that one particular toy holds your infant daughter’s gaze longer than any other, or that your little boy will happily eat strained carrots every day, but spinach? Forget it. With each passing year your child develops more into a person of his/her own. They have a favorite color, movie, best friend. No longer infants, they grow, explore, and hone their identities through the years.

It is virtually guaranteed that your growing child will begin to show traits that may be very different from your own. Maybe even develop in ways that go against your beliefs, your traditions, and your culture. I was standing in the grocery store last weekend and a mother and daughter were behind me in line, perusing the array of items set out on the way to the cash register. Next to the People magazines and breath mints was a small assortment of incense. The daughter, probably around the age of 16, took a stick of incense, glanced at her mother, and said “I need this. For my Wiccan practices.” Her mom snatched the incense out of her hand and slammed it back into the display. “Wiccan practices!? You are not Wiccan!! And if you think you are, I will smack you into next week!” Noticing the attention of others in line, the girl’s mother fell silent, pressing her lips together in fury and glaring at her child.

When does our approach to our children change? When are ten fingers, ten toes and a bill of health no longer enough to allow us to love unconditionally? (For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that the kids we are talking about are not criminals or abusing drugs or alcohol, are reasonably respectful, attend school, etc. That is the subject of an upcoming blog post and a much different situation – when a child is genuinely in danger, red flags are a good thing. ) In this case, however, teen or adult children may be expressing themselves in ways which make their parents uncomfortable. They could be exploring lifestyles that don’t fit with the vision the family has held and nurtured all through their childhood years. Your child may have decided that Judaism is worth learning about, and your family is Lutheran. Your child may be drawn to a career which you don’t feel holds much promise. Your child may be gay or lesbian.

What impacts you is the difference from you, your family, your ideals. “How do I know my child will be happy with this life? Is this my fault? I don’t understand.” All of these are thoughts some parents experience when a child grows up to a life which includes beliefs, people, activities, and commitments which are not your own. It is a fearful, uncomfortable feeling.

The good news is not only is your grown child probably okay, but you are as well. Fear often comes from lack of understanding and knowledge. When you feel fearful about your offspring and their wellbeing, primal instincts of protection, anger, and even running from the perceived “danger” are not unusual. Most parents will agree that there is not much more horrible than your child suffering.

But what if they are not suffering? What if they are just not like us in some significant ways?

Differences are not inherently bad. Lack of knowledge can make them seem so. Take a moment to open your heart to your son or daughter. “I want to know what your life is like, who you are. Can you help me understand you better?” Put fear aside and listen. You don’t have to embrace or even accept just yet…just listen calmly and appreciate the moment if your child is willing to be open with you. Openness breeds openness. Keep trying. Be there. Focus on what you have in common. Connect.

If your child has grown in ways that you feel you can’t understand or accept, please take the leap of openness and allow them to tell you about themselves – what they love, what they believe, how they live. Listen with an open heart. Give them the same respect you would give any other adult (or almost-adult, in the case of teens). By being there for them, you allow both of you to grow closer and to learn about the other. You can share your feelings of discomfort and still remain in a positive, supportive place together.

Hopes and dreams and visions of your child’s future filled your heart when you became a parent. 10 fingers and 10 toes – whether they are tiny and new or painted Goth black. Getting to know and accept your child as s/he grows into an independent person can enrich your life beyond measure. A 20-year-old is just as worthy of celebration as a newborn – rejoin the party of your child’s life!

Posted on July 17, 2010 in celebration of Pride, love, and equality.

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