My sons, both are wonderful little souls but very very different, each requiring different sorts of parenting altogether. They both act up every now and then, but Alan is very easy to understand when that happens. There’s clear cause and a path, A to B, to a solution. Brian, on the other hand, sometimes he makes me feel like I’m working a rubix cube to figure out what exactly is going on in that little head that makes him do some things.
As my boys began pushing our boundaries, it worried me; acting up and sassing back worried me. Looking back I feel silly, but it did. As a minority family in such a culture, I’m always on the lookout for the fabled signs of how our family makeup affects them. And let’s face it. Almost everyone goes into parenting hopeful, and excited, but also scared to be in control of something more important than you can wrap your head around. Are you up to the job? That job?! Will you inadvertently hurt them? Are you hurting them?
And this is why I love Soccer.
While the kids are out there approximating a competitive sport in the most adorable way, the parents get to talk. At the last game, I was talking to a mother of a classmate; her son comes over for play dates and such more than any other. I opened up about the sort of things I was worried about. She just laughed, and with a “that’s nothing” she listed off what goes on in her home with her boys. A father overheard and started in with his stories, even saying it got to the point where he had spanked his son a couple times, a point we’ve never neared. These are great kids from which I’d never have expected such behavior even in their private home. In short it is, of course, not abnormal.
Finally another mother stepped in and told us she what was becoming clear; I was overly concerned. She retold a conversation with our kids’ preschool teacher on the way to a school field trip. They got to talking about our family (I guess we’re a novelty :-)), and the teacher told her how sweet and well behaved our children were and that, of the parents, we were the most involved in their schooling “as a couple” (this woman was divorced, of course :-)). This teacher, who was a part of the majority culture here and knew our kids well, was giving our family unsolicited praise to other parents. This was, in fact, an account the mother had shared with us before but it was so easy to forget it, that we seem to be doing just fine, better than fine. Sassing back and acting up is more than normal for 4-year-olds, and I knew and know that. In fact, one should probably worry if their kid never tested the boundaries. But I still worried that such was abnormal or could have something to do with us.
Why? Why do I get inordinately worried, and get pleasure from hearing other’s 4-year-olds are more than a little defiant? :-)
Well, this is why I like my volunteer work. I get to interact with all sorts of people, cultures, and minority groups, even in Utah ;-). I’ve often heard my Hispanic and black colleagues express something that rings true for my family. Something like “To be treated as equals we have to be twice as good.” A friend even tells her children this.
In short, I know what people expect from my family. I read the horrible things they predict about my kids, from high drug use to mental problems, in opinion columns and online. I fear for how such expectations will harm my boys; I fear people will treat them like victims or worse. There’s also a part of me that can’t be unaffected by even a baseless warning about my kids. I know our family is both native and strange here; I know we are relatively new and old to our culture. I think I understand how we can live and live well even here… But what if there is something I didn’t factor in to my agonizing and study on becoming parents in such a world? What if the intricate plans I’ve made for us are ruined, by, say, a new law or even a new family in my kid’s school? I’ve got our minority status under control now; everyone is wonderful to us now, but what about then? I’ve come to learn from my friends these are typical fears of a minority parent.
These fears, of course, don’t seem to stop families, and they most often shouldn’t. Even in times when having a child for a minority group meant a clearly horrible future for that child with accurate predictions, people still pushed on. But not without this fear, and fear for your child is like no other. I remember the day I first held them and everything was beautiful, except one speck of a moment. I remember looking down at them sleeping in their twin bassinets, laying there more real than myself, and feeling that fear for them and feeling how motivated I was for them and what I’d do to protect them; it scared me.
I wish such worries weren’t there, but they are and will be for decades, until our families are comfortably folded into the society. I’m also pretty sure all parents feel something similar, regardless of their place in their culture. It goes with the territory.
Regardless of it all though, we’re doing good, by all I can see and by the unsolicited measurement of those who know us. But there’s always that knowledge, that whatever weakness we show as a family it will not be treated the same way as the weaknesses of our neighbors. Any problem in our home will be treated as an inevitable consequence of our family makeup, never simply a random tragedy of human behavior. A temper tantrum for a heterosexual couple is just a temper tantrum; for us, many will tend to look at it in terms of inferior and superior families. I know this; I know my children will be expected to have a deficiency by most, from the average guy on the street to our next president (particularly if it’s Romney ;-)), and that is a threat to them, a worry, one that’s hard to simply let go.
Lastly, I must admit it’s also a worry I’ll fall into that trap too and make them feel they’ll have to be twice as good to be treated as equal. I disagree with my Hispanic friend above; I can’t tell my child that. Right now, they know we’re different from most but they don’t know there’s any political or social fight surrounding our family, and I want to keep it that way as long as I can. I want them to be twice above the average only because they are the most amazing children to ever walk the earth, of course :-).