Monday, November 5, 2012


Parenting 201

"You can’t expect your kids to turn out as you planned, but you can be thrilled by how they turn out."
—John Schwartz, author of 'Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality' (out November 8), in a Jane Brody piece about "accepting children the way they are born — gay or straight, athletic or cerebral, gentle or tough, highly intelligent or less so, scrawny or chubby, shy or outgoing, good eaters or picky ones." 


books, parenting

68 Comments / Post A Comment

Porn Peddler

parents, your kids might not be who you expect/want. don't berate them for it or force on them your preconceived notions of who they were supposed to be.

well this is groundbreaking.

Porn Peddler

also, tell me I am imagining the contextual conflation of non-heterosexual kids with non-athletic kids with non-cis kids with non-neurotypical kids.

because this article would not seriously, would it?


@Porn Peddler You say that, but no child of mine is going to be a picky eater.

(Sometimes it's okay to take things in the spirit in which they were intended. Especially on a Monday morning).


Really interesting@t


Playing with Barbies =/= homosexual. UGH.

@iceberg Seriously. SERIOUSLY. Come the fuck on. This kind of bullshit is damaging, not just to boys of ANY orientation or identity who isn't into sports and sports culture (because come ON, the way we coach kid sports these days is ultra competitive and shitty), but to a lot of other people.

"Rather than try to remake him into someone he is not, the challenge for all of us is to appreciate and adapt to his differences, love him for who he is and not disparage him for what he is not."

It is seriously a challenge for these people to appreciate that other human beings are different from them, even though that human being is a blood relative?


@iceberg To some people it's still news that straight, cis, and athletic is not the only good way for a child to be. Better they start to question that late than not at all.


@Fflora Well, this just made me think of my nephew who told me at age 3 that when he grew up he wanted to have "red fing-ers and red yips" (nail polish and lipstick) when he grew up, and he loved carrying around a handbag while wearing washing up gloves. That kid is not gay. Not that it would have been a problem, but the two things are just unrelated!


@S. Elizabeth It almost seems like some of these parents are falling into a trap of overcompensation - like, it's easier for them to say "We're going to be the best gosh-darn parents of a gay kid that we can be!" rather than acknowledging their confusion at a kid who doesn't fall neatly into a gender binary. I can see how people who don't really think of gender/sexuality as a spectrum or Cartesian plane or anything other than a binary would find the "grey area" alarming - not that they shouldn't get over it, though, because you're right that it's damaging. The best thing you can do for your kid is let him or her be who they are and provide a good example of treating everyone with respect and compassion.


@iceberg No, it's true, and that bothered me too. I've seen families try to beat the slightest hint of girlitude out of boys for fear that they will (ugh) "turn out gay", and it's not pretty. Just, some people are starting from so far back that tricky distinctions are beside the point. There's a fine line between showing them the whole truth and scaring them away from taking their baby steps.


@S. Elizabeth It genuinely, genuinely is. Grew up with an extended family like that, and shockingly this extremely rigorous (and sometimes violent) adherence to gender normative behavior is just one facet of multi-generational terrible parenting.

Springtime for Voldemort

@S. Elizabeth Sometimes, though, I do worry: what if my kid (that I will never actually have) turned out to be a racist, homophobic, sexist bigot? What if they became a member of Westboro Baptist Church? What if they became president of the National Right to Life Committee and were bffs with Tim Tebow?


@Springtime for Voldemort For all the stuff I worry about, I had NEVER CONSIDERED THIS. Thanks a lot.


@S. Elizabeth Yes, it is a huge challenge for a lot of people. And while no, playing with Barbies doesn't equal gay, for a lot of people, that equals NOT A NORMAL BOY so just as "bad." I remember when I went to a friend's kid's birthday party once, and one of the little boys there was playing with her play kitchen -- the kid's dad freaked out. He was 2! Or another friend's mom had a fit when her 3 year old boy wanted a manicure like his mom and sister. I think for a lot of people, behaviors like that may be even harder to deal with and tolerate for little boys than them being gay.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Ophelia My superpower is the ability to create, within myself and others, freakouts about worst-case scenarios. (Out of kindness, I left out the actual worst-case scenarios.)


@Springtime for Voldemort I do worry about this a lot (even though I don't plan to have kids). This is pretty much who my mother wanted me to be, or at least marry, and I think if I could turn out the exact opposite of how she was trying to raise me, how easy would it be for my kid to be the opposite of how I would try to raise them.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Chel I am similarly rather terrified (and also proud of) how much I deviated from my parents' vision for me, and what that would mean for the lack of control I have over my own kids. (Or, alternatively, the immense power I have as a parent to accidentally turn them into a monster.)

Springtime for Voldemort

See, you guys? It's a superpower.


Although if your child is just a straight-up terrible person, maybe you should probably try to change them then?

fondue with cheddar

@teenagewerewolf If your child is just a straight-up terrible person, you're probably just a straight-up terrible parent.

RK Fire

@fondue with cheddar: Unless you've unwittingly given birth to a sociopath. Remember the hairpin post about whether or not you can diagnosed kids as psychopaths?

fondue with cheddar

@RK Fire Good point. Sociopathy is certainly not an acceptable personality trait. But it could be the result of either nature or nurture.

And besides, aren't all kids psychopaths?

RK Fire

@fondue with cheddar: Kids and cats.

fondue with cheddar

@RK Fire Haha. Some cats, definitely. I'm lucky enough to have two who are not. Or at least one who isn't, I'm not 100% sure about the other one.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@RK Fire I'm overly fascinated by sociopaths, because I just really don't get it. If I knew how to link to articles, I would, but here's a good one from 2008: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/10/081110fa_fact_seabrook?currentPage=all

fondue with cheddar

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose I'll check that out. I'm especially interested in sociopaths and people with other extreme personality disorders now because my boyfriend's ex wife is one. She hasn't been diagnosed because she won't see a doctor, but she's got textbook borderline personality disorder. As someone with a pretty normal and healthy childhood, surrounded mostly by pretty normal and healthy people, I find her behavior disturbing and fascinating. I'm also quite afraid of her but I'll never let her know that.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@fondue with cheddar I think fear in a situation like yours has to do with acknowledging the unknown. I feel the same pull to read about personality disorders like these because I really, really don't understand how they happen or how it would feel to have one. Therefore, to reduce my uncertainty, I read about them a lot. (I do the same thing with reading about serial killers.)

fondue with cheddar

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose It's actually not the unknown I fear, it's the known. I'm fully aware of the kind of person she is and the kinds of things she's done. I fear she will try to harm him again and/or harm me.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@fondue with cheddar Oh, yeah, I totally get that. I guess mine's a more abstract fear, because I'm not dealing with a person like this directly. I'm sorry you are. Do you have any legal recourse, a la an order of protection?

fondue with cheddar

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose If she chooses to do anything, then I certainly will. But she's behaved herself thus far, probably because they're still in the process of divorce. They separated the summer before last, but she's drawing it way the fuck out because it's a way to toy with him. She knows that she will lose their youngest son if she steps out of line so she's being pretty careful about what she does. It's all mind games and sleazeball lawyer tactics at this point, but once the divorce actually happens (or if the case tips in his favor) I don't know what will happen.

Springtime for Voldemort

@fondue with cheddar Part of a personality disorder is that they can't really diagnose you with it until you're an adult, because up until then, your personality is still forming. It's ok that 3 year olds are totally selfish, but it's not ok when a 50 year old acts like a 3 year old. And they are usually a combo of nature and nurture working together.

My biggest fear about parenting is that because my mother was Joan Crawford to me, and her mother might have been Joan Crawford to her, that I will be Joan Crawford to my kids, and they will be Joan Crawford to their kids, and then several generations on down, one of my descendants will become a fanatical, if charismatic, leader who sets out to exterminate all wire hangers.

We should all form a Judith Lewis Herman fangirl club.

fondue with cheddar

@Springtime for Voldemort The fact that you're aware of it and don't want to perpetuate it is exactly what will help you break the cycle! There's no such thing as a perfect parent, but it's probably a good idea to see a therapist when you start a family just to make sure you don't fall into any unhealthy patterns.

My boyfriend fears that his children will continue the cycle, which was begun by their mother's mother (and who knows if it even started with her). It's hard to tell now because they're all still young (15-21) and not yet parents, but I have good reason to believe that they will not perpetuate the cycle (or at least not all of them). They grew up in hell but they're mostly good kids.


@Springtime for Voldemort Yes! That's why it's so important to address personality development in children. Basically, the only time to reverse most PDs is in childhood, because they become part of a growing person so permanently.

@fondue with cheddar I just wanted to mention, BPD is highly treatable, but usually occurs with the patient wanting to seek treatment and hurting themselves more than others. Are you sure that's her diagnosis? There was a thread on the FOT on this topic, if it interests you.

EDIT: I talked a lot on it, so it might have got boring.

Springtime for Voldemort

@fondue with cheddar Well, they have you in their life now, so hopefully that'll help.

@Bloodrocuted I did not see the BPD/DBT thread on FOT - link me please?

fondue with cheddar

@Bloodrocuted Unfortunately she has no interest seeking treatment, because she doesn't want to be branded as "crazy". It was never been officially diagnosed, but the marriage counselor they saw for a short time did tell him her behavior was consistent with the disorder. He ended up seeing a counselor himself because he was having such a hard time living with her, and now she's claiming he is an unfit parent because he has "a history of mental problems". Ugh.

I will look for that thread!


@Springtime for Voldemort I'm not sure how to link. Can you Control + F search for BPD?

@fondue with cheddar I don't know the educational requirements of marriage counselors, or the person, so I cannot make an educated guess. She just sounded unfitting of BPD, to my understanding. Maybe BPD with bipolar disorder? They are fairly comorbid.

fondue with cheddar

@Bloodrocuted There's a lot that I'm not saying. If I could just download my brain to you you'd see that she fits BPD more than bipolar disorder (though the latter does fit somewhat). I'm just sort of exhausted right now and describing her typical behaviors to you is more than my brain can bear at the moment. But trust me, nearly everything I've read about BPD sounds like it was written about her.

Here's how to post a link (leave the quotation marks in)!


@fondue with cheddar Oh, I understand not wanting to describe. Also, I like 'download my brain to you', don't we all wish that!
She has a better probability of realizing/admitting sickness than a lot of PD people, and she's capable of remorse and empathy. It is a possibility she will get help and not disturb you more.
It's awful that mental disorders are stigmatized to this point. No one benefits from her being untreated, especially not her.
Thanks for the link help! That goes to specific comments?

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Bloodrocuted Goddamn it, I love it when you comment. It's so interesting. Can I subscribe to your newsletter?


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Gosh, I don't even know what to say.


@Bloodrocuted To link to a specific comment, first click on the "Posted on Whenever at Whatever Time" line. (Or, if it's a comment you made, click on your name to see your list of comments, then click on the one you want to go to it.) Then paste that url into the code that @fondue with cheddar gave you.


@Elsajeni Thanks!

fondue with cheddar

@Bloodrocuted Oh, no...I'm pretty sure she's incapable of remorse and empathy. And I don't think she will ever get help. Her mother never did, and her siblings (who are each fucked up in their own special way) never did either, as far as I know.

It is terrible that mental disorders are stigmatized. They're so COMMON! If people treated problems with their brain the way they treat problems with other parts of their body, the world would be a much better place.

I am looking forward to the day we can download our brains to each other. That would certainly help people empathize with one another.


Picky eaters: one of the (many) reasons I will never be a parent. I don't think I could contain my rage at a kid who wouldn't eat. A friend's nephew was in town recently, and literally the list of foods his mom said he would eat was less than 10 items. Lots of things I have empathy and understanding for, but not that. Hence, no kids for me.


@swirrlygrrl I don't think any kid is naturally a picky eater. It takes work, but any kid can learn to like grown-up foods. Just, not every parent has the time or patience to do that.


@Fflora Lots of kids go through the beige phase when they are 2-4 years old, but you just keep on them and get them through it.


Around age 2, kids really do go through a stage where they refuse to eat just about anything that's not super-bland and super-familiar (from the selection of whatever food culturally happens to be super-familiar to them). It's an evolutionary quirk having to do with avoiding poisons in the environment. It can be incredibly frustrating, and doesn't have to do with how the parents are raising them. Obviously it should straighten out when they grow out of that phase as long as the kid has no autism/sensory issues, but if the kid is a toddler, the picky eating really is a quirk of human biology and is not the fault of the parents.


@harebell It should be noted that it becomes the fault of the parents, barring underlying issues, when the kid is ten and will still only eat macaroni and cheese.

Li'l Sebastian

@Fflora Remember this article on the Hairpin a few months ago? http://thehairpin.com/2012/08/liar-liar-food-on-fire

There are people who have serious problems with expanding their palates, and it's not because their parents are terrible indulgent people or because they (we) are personal failures. I get really sick of people acting like my parents failed or I'm an inadequate person because I literally cannot force some foods down my throat without vomiting.


You don't know about picky eaters until one of your best friends is an adult picky eater and all you want is for her to be happy so your menu options change. It could lead to serious health problems. Not everyone outgrows that phase, and adult picky eaters could soon be recognized as living with an actual eating disorder! The more you know.


@Li'l Sebastian Yeah, I'll admit I thought "it's a normal phase and then your parents make you get over it" until my bestie, who taught me many things about depression and mental illness and is a crazy picky eater told me that 1) she is a supertaster, and things that I love for their tang are so sour they gross her out, hence why she doesn't eat a lot of kinds of fruit, and 2) is super sensitive to texture, has always been a picky eater - potatoes are her favorite food - and couldn't be forced out of it as a child.

I figure if I trust her when she tells me what it's like to live in her depressed mind/body, I should trust her about how she reacts to a lot of foods in her mouth. And be really grateful that my mind and body give me pretty much no problems.


I'm currently watching my six-month-old's personality begin to emerge from the standard-issue new baby packaging. It's FASCINATING and it makes this article even more off-putting. Treating your children with compassion and respect as they develop and grow into their own people doesn't merit discussion - it's the most basic gesture a decent human being can make.


@MmeLibrarian That being said, I should probably add that it's also stupid-hard, even with a kid under the age of one ("What? Really? This toy peacock that your grandmother bought is terrifying? Why? Really? Here, just look at it for a second - God, okay. Sorry. We'll put it in the closet. Okay?")


@MmeLibrarian It merits discussion because for so many people it obviously IS hard - just look at how many messed up parents and kids are out there.
The interviewed family aren't presenting themselves as having invented good parenting. They're admitting some of the difficulties (socially constructed ones) of raising a child that they had to try a little bit harder to relate to. It's pretty brave to come out and say "I had a lot to learn as a parent, and I wasn't perfect."


@gobblegirl Yes, and it's really easy to accommodate differences that mesh well with your predilections and temperament, and harder to deal with ones that do not. Spock is very good on this. It sounds like it was probably a lot easier for these people to accept a gay kid than one with, apparently, learning problems. I mean srsly, you develop academic problems from being gay? I hope that's a very bad quote selection.


@gobblegirl Anecdote: our autistic daughter was wrongly diagnosed at age 4 as being "possibly unable to learn basic life routines due to low intelligence." Try incorporating that into your overeducated world view and see how easy you find the acceptance.

(It wasn't accurate. She grew into a rather large vocabulary and fact base and can dress herself. Which doesn't make her an easy person.)


hey does anyone know anybody with some specific opinions on how kids should be raised?? just checking

superfluous consonants

i am currently pregnant for the first time, and work with young children (5-10), so i have a weird middle-ground experience of having spent LOTS of time with many very different kids but zero time with kids who are "mine." my first response to this was, "WELL OBVIOUSLY they are all individuals with various baffling qualities! perhaps instead of breathlessly waiting over our tinypeople in order to label them as soon as possible, we should try to get to know them in an open and less alarmingly oppressive-seeming way?" but then, i don't HAVE any tinypeople of my own, and i wonder how many expectations i will unwittingly bring to them. i know that i do rather expect BabySC to be pretty academic, as both MrSC and i are. but will i be surprised--and put off?--if it's very athletic or popular or unfunny in a way that is NOT like us? how focused will i be on these tiny fractions of a whole human?


wellllll...something tells me you're going to have AN ADVENTURE TIME with them (ur gonna be fine fionna)

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

You'd think this sort of empathy and understanding would be built in for parents, but my partner works with kids whose parents don't really understand that the kids need to be fed and bathed and not told they are "fucking assholes" because they didn't listen. Some people need help parenting (or need to not be parents).


Whenever I read stuff like this I get so frustrated and sad at the binary and insistence that kids be amazing at or totally in love with something. It's always "He didn't like sports like his brothers, oh no! But it's okay, because he love science and is a baby genius." Certainly there are kids out there that think science is neat, but so is basketball, and are kinda okay at both or neither, and those kids are okay too.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@professionalmess Nope. There aren't. Sorry. Binary or bust!

Dirty Hands

Mmmmm, I love that this is under "Recipes"! Tasty children!


@Dirty Hands I've met an unfortunate number of children who have inspired in me an urge to say to their parents, "You shoulda let that one bake a little more."

baked bean

I understand everyone's frustration at these parents, but I think they're trying to do the right thing, right? And the audience for this book would be other people like them who were like them, didn't think about this stuff until it happened to their kid, not people who understand this stuff.

I think we're getting there, folks. Like, it may not be a perfect ride to full societal acceptance, but we're making good ground here. This is so much better than many families in the past or even now who turn to abusing their children rather than accepting them.

Anyway, criticisms of how everyone else does parenting is a huge factor of why I don't want kids. Dealing with my kids' peers' parents. Ugh. Also, dealing with my kid probably not being normal because it popped out of me, which is great, but growing up not normal is hard. Every kid wants so bad to be normal.

I do hate the "OOh we always knew he was gay he wanted girl toys when he was a toddler." So dumb.


@baked bean Those quotes are a little out of context. It's a little clearer in the Fresh Air interview that they had suspicions based on stereotypically gay behaviors, but tried not to assume until it was confirmed when Joe was in middle school. With the sports it was also because his older brother had motor issues that they were told could have been less of a problem if he had gotten into sports earlier, and they were worried Joe might have some of the same issues.

(Note: I happen to know this family in real life and used to babysit Joe sometimes when he was a toddler. Mostly I just remember him being *really easy* to watch, and being a really sweet kid.)


What about people who are just duds? Not sociopaths or anything but just generally suck? I think I know someone who was just born a dud. I know his siblings really well and they're all lovely people but this guy is selfish and inconsiderate and thinks that if he feels something it gives him a pass to act any way he pleases.

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