Objectivity in Parenting & Other Things That Don’t Exist (Like Good Bragging).Posted: September 21, 2012
Listening to a parent talk about how talented, smart, good-looking, entrepreneurial, kind-hearted, clever, and/or athletic their kid is is a lot like listening to a politician give a stump speech. You nod your head. You affirm enthusiastically. And you automatically discount everything they’ve just said. Indeed, if you are a cynic, you believe that the kid’s virtues probably lie in inverse proportion to how they are being described. And if you are a true iconoclast, you think the kid must be a total zero and you try to point this out to their gushing parents.
Don’t waste your time. Most parents think that they know their kids better than anyone else in the world. And while most of us know on an intellectual level that we can’t be an impartial judge of our children’s behavior, we still think that our unique perspective gives us the ability to see our kids as they really are.
Most of the time, we are wrong. Some of the time we are right. But right or wrong, the one thing we never are is objective. Objectivity requires a certain level of distance and detachment. And it’s hard to be detached from someone who sleeps in your bed, opens the door while you go to the bathroom, and takes money out of your wallet. It just is.
So we start our sentences with, “Well, I know I’m totally biased but…” Because as much as we know that we’re not a fair judge of our children, that doesn’t stop us from judging. If you’re not a total doochebag, you at least give the appearance of a balanced view– you present the good, the bad, and the ugly about your child. But then there are those who stick to the good, the noteworthy, and the so-impressive-you’ll-start-to-question-your-own-childs-contributions-to-society. This is where the line between “objective” commentary and bragging gets blurred.
The Out & Out Brag
Some parents brag outright. “We suspect Jonathan has a true gift for painting. His paintings are a lot like Jackson Pollack’s early work.” Never mind that the diarrhea-brown mess of splats and drips they use as evidence looks like something your dog hacked up. You dutifully oooo and ahhhh because there is no use in pointing out that their son sucks at finger painting. He’s four and he sucks at an age-appropriate level. What’s the harm in letting them believe they are raising the next Picasso? Reality is the great equalizer and eventually they’ll be forced to see the light at the end of the color-blind tunnel.
The Me-Too Brag
Then there are those who like to work in a brag on themselves while talking up their kids, “Salman just got accepted into the gifted program. I mean, we’re not surprised, both Albert and I were in the gifted programs when we were young.” Or, “Yeah, tennis was always my sport. It’s so gratifying to see Venus showing promise at such a young age.” Puke. Not only do these people feel compelled to brag about their kid, but they also want you know that they too are exceptional.
The Brag in Sheep’s Clothing
Others are subtler. “I can’t believe I have to go in to talk to Simon’s teachers again. He keeps finishing all the books they give in record time! He is going to have to start on War & Peace soon!” This is a brag dressed up as a complaint. Totally annoying. No one is going to feel sorry for you that your son is so bright and is such a fast reader. Boo. We know what you’re doing. A brag in sheep’s clothing is still just a brag… or a braaaaaag. (I know. I’m sorry.)
The Force Brag
I recently had a friend ask me this about his daughter: “Don’t you think that Heidi is an extraordinarily beautiful girl? Like a transcendent sort of beautiful?” Ummm. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I mean I agreed – of course I agreed – she is a darling little thing and I’m not a total monster. But what choice did I have? I would have agreed even if his daughter looked like Quasimodo. What could I say? “No. She looks like she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down?” No one is going to say that. My friend committed the worst kind of brag. It was a brag-by-force – the bragging equivalent of holding a gun to my head. He forced me to brag about his kid. This kind of bragging is really only acceptable between parents of the same child, or if done by grandparents who live out of state, the older the better.
The bottom line is that we all brag about our kids. It’s okay. A little bit here and there is fine – it’s like parent catnip. Parenting is hard and if you find something you want to shout from the rooftops, I say go for it. Just don’t abuse it. And try to recognize that as much as you may think you are presenting an accurate assessment of your child, you’re not. You couldn’t possibly. Remember that sage advice from Carrie Fischer’s character in the movie When Harry Met Sally: “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste. ”
The same can be said about children. Everybody thinks that have an exceptional child and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have exceptional children. Or a sense of humor.
Now excuse me. I have to go pick up my children from the Gifted program and take them to their Accelerated Pogo-Sticking course before we head to the soup kitchen so they can give back to their community in a meaningful way. (They are just so empathetic!)