One thing that has always irked me about our society is how we subliminally emphasize, or even patronize, difference while we are supposedly encouraging acceptance . . . sometimes, I want to see a person with a disability just be another person in the book. Without throwing the disability in the spotlight. I want the muppet with autism to simply be the new muppet on the street.
It’s a common complaint I hear from moms. Not every mom, of course, because not every dad is like this, but often I hear moms complaining about the lack of household chores their male spouse completes. I hear them talk about how taking a day away to be with friends hardly feels worth it when they come home to find the place in a shambles. It’s such a common theme that we can’t even count the number of sitcom episodes that have been based on the presumption of a dad’s messiness and inattention to household details.
I am really not trying to feed into the inept “mr. mom” stereotype. I think most often our men get a bad rap. They are not the bumbling fools media likes to pretend they are. Many men are even better at, and more motivated for, household chores than their female counterparts. However, there were many years of co-parenting with my loveable husband in which I felt the same raging frustration that I hear from other women.
My husband has always taken his role as daddy very importantly. He’s so invested and hands-on that he asked to be the stay at home parent after our second child was born. And he was the primary caregiver while I was working for several years.
And yet, it took me months of him being home before I was able to simply acquiesce to the disorganization and mess that our house became. He isn’t a slob, but he generally wouldn’t be cleaning throughout the day. He wouldn’t notice when a child was growing out of one size of clothing and the next size would need to be pulled out of the attic. He wouldn’t be clearing out the toy box to make room for new toys. He wouldn’t sort through the mail, discard the junk, and file away the other stuff where it belonged. Bikes and scooters and little tykes cars would be left strewn throughout the yard.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I was growing resentful and angry. And we had several arguments because of it. Until one day it dawned on me. I was viewing my husband’s behaviors all wrong. He wasn’t being lazy or maliciously disorganized. He was being a better parent than I often am.
It happened one weekend. The kids had been entertaining themselves for most of the morning, and our youngest came up and asked to play with me. I came up with some excuse or another about how I was in the middle of some chore or something. The kid walked away with a sad look on his face. Jon, who was supposed to be doing some other chore or something, set it down, got down on the floor and engaged in a spectacular creative play session lasting far longer than I ever would have the patience for. There was giggling and storytelling and wrestling and creativity and running around. There was love. There was mindful presence with our child.
I realized in that moment, that my husband isn’t neglecting the household . . . he’s attending to our children. He gets down at their level and engages full-force. They get all of him. He is right there without any other thing pulling his mind away. He is loving our children without hesitation and without distraction. He is giving our kids exactly what I know they need, what every person needs, to be seen and feel valued.
Of course, I’m not saying we should always drop everything for our kids. I’m not saying we should neglect our other obligations. And, please don’t think I’m saying the world should revolve around our kids. I am saying, that my husband, and I’d argue many dads, have this parenting thing nailed. Watching him, I’ve realized just how often I put my kids off, or I cut play time short to run off and finish something else up, or I am only half-heartedly engaged in their play while my mind thinks of the five hundred and fifty-two million other things that are going on.
So, here’s to the hands-on dads! Here’s to the ones who leave the dirty dishes on the counter. Here’s to the piles of laundry in the baskets. Here’s to the popsicle-smeared sticky toddler faces that haven’t been washed off. Here’s to the tumbleweed of doghair rolling across the wood floors. Here’s to the dads who are taking their children’s needs to heart. Here’s to the best one I know and have the privilege of parenting with . . . and here’s to hoping I can be more like you.
You know those rabbit trails of youtube videos that you wander down and find yourself waking up from the droggy blur wondering how you went from checking out the latest Fringy Bit podcast notes to laughing at talking guinea pigs discussing world politics? Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. Well, I was on one of those falling down the rabbit hole toward Wonderland mind-numbing journeys when I found I was watching repeated clips from the Ellen Show.
Many of these clips involved cute little intense and fringy kids. Ellen would ask a question that the adults around couldn’t answer, the child would answer, the audience would applause with amazement, awe, and appreciation.
Later, I was perusing through facebook and saw articles posted across many feeds (some geared toward gifted kids and some not), exalting the achievement of two young brothers who were finishing high school and college years ahead of the typical schedule.
I logged onto yahoo and saw CNN reports highlighting amazing musicians and young entrepreneurs.
I listened to ReplyAll, a great podcast, and heard an interview with a gifted individual, who as a young child was repeatedly interviewed and thrust into the public eye because he acted like a pint sized adult and gave adult-like responses with adult-like vocabulary.
Aside from seeing that I spend way too much time accessing various types of media, I also saw very clearly just how much we like to glorify the outliers. We like to highlight and feign awe and support of our gifted kiddos who perform well in some particular area. And I suppose this is, at least temporarily, nice for the people who are being highlighted and it feels good to be supported, but I find this to be a highly subversive form of anti-intellectualism and to be confusing for the vast majority of our society’s gifted people.
First, it highlights that performance determines value and sends the false message that to be gifted means you have astounding achievement in some area. It sends the message that we’ll value you, if we can be entertained or amazed by your talent.
Second, it perpetuates the false understanding that to be gifted means to be profoundly gifted. Yes, profoundly gifted people exist and need recognition and support. No, most gifted people are not profoundly gifted. When we only highlight the kids who are graduating from college at 14, we neglect a large segment of the population who are differently wired than the majority of people, but are not as extremely differently wired as the people they see portrayed in media, whether fictional or non-fictional. I hear so many people minimize their own giftedness because they are comparing themselves to these media standards. I hear so many people (myself included) who struggle with imposter syndrome because they don’t match up to these intensely intense gifted people.
Third, it creates a performing monkey expectation. We can easily forget that these little souls are little souls. They are people. They are more than their gifts, talents, intelligence, and quirky abilities. It sets us up to enjoy the performance of the individual and lose the individual and their needs. One perfect example of this was in the ReplyAll interview. They played a clip from when the boy was co-hosting an evening talk show and was surprised by something unpleasant. He experienced full on emotional meltdown right there for the world to see, and couldn’t finish the show. This surprise had been planned by the show and the powers that be knew that it would be emotional for him. I just wanted to reach out and hug the poor little guy.
Fourth, the publicized applause and support vastly conflicts with most gifted individual’s daily experiences. Kids learn very quickly that it’s not cool to be smart. They learn to hide their abilities to try to fit in. Many gifted kids get bullied because of their uniqueness. Gifted kids see money being poured into athletics and not into differentiated services for them. 2e kids especially have a difficult time finding people who understand and appreciate the ins and outs of their unique wiring. Seeing kids being praised for their uniqueness directly contradicts most of our kids’ personal experiences. And kids and youth are pre-wired to take these things personally. They are pre-wired to believe that there must be something wrong with them that they aren’t receiving that same notoriety or support.
I generally believe in the goodness of people and that all people do the best they can with what they know. I don’t believe that most people who are perpetuating these special interest stories are trying to promote anti-intellectualism or cause confusion for our gifted kiddos. But, I do think we, as a society, need to figure out how to make some changes. We need to allow people’s talents and achievements to be encouraged, while also normalizing all levels of giftedness. We need to close the gap between what we pretend to think about giftedness when the spotlight is lit, and how we actually think about and treat gifted people in real life.
On those days, when you really don’t care why your child is crying, you just want them to stop, please be gentle with yourself. You are already empty. Throwing some sludge of guilt and shame into the well isn’t going to fill it up with anything helpful. Be gentle. Take it as a sign that you need some time. Time to refresh. Time to be quiet. Time to fill yourself up again.
The motivation and character of our gifted kids is often doubted and questioned. The motivation and character of us as parents of gifted kids is often doubted and questioned. And why are gifted kids and parents doubted? Because anti-intellectualism keeps us from talking about the multiple factors of giftedness.
Whether we are talking about baseball or spelling bees or STEM, large segments of our society maintain archaic beliefs that girls are somehow less than, or can only be good at certain things. Our society continues to be surprised when a female shows gifted leadership abilities or chooses to study engineering or surpasses a male in any area other than the arts or “soft sciences”.
We have never before parented our young amongst so much information and advice. It used to be the irritating next door neighbor or great aunt Mildred were the only advice givers, and we could choose to just avoid them. Now, we have article after article, website after website, giving us advice on how to successfully raise our kids. As far as I can tell, all that this information has done, is create anxious parents, not necessarily better parents.