Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Disconnecting the Buttons

A couple days ago at our kid's soccer practice I saw one of their friends run up to his dad screaming and kicking at him. The kid was yelling "I hate you! I hate you!" I'm not sure what the dad did in the child's mind--something about soccer practice--but the father just calmly subdued his son until the kid was ready to talk.

We've never heard those words from our sons, but I've seen enough kids yell in a moment of frustration "I hate you" or "You hate me" or so on to their parent. I have to expect our boys may try the tactic out some day between here and when they wake up from their teens. Kids, they are great scientists at times and will test many hypotheses in order to learn how their parents work, how socialization works (and doesn't).

The odd thing to me is I don't imagine it bothering me much today, and yet I think 7 years ago I'd have said hearing my child say such things would bring me to my knees. Maybe they will at some point feel even that seething rage for us, the sort I saw on the soccer field the other day. But just as that parent seemingly felt, so what? You can't let it get to you, let their experiment work, right?

I know where we stand as parents, and know, at times, they won't like us. Cliche, but it really is not my job to be liked; it's my job to create a healthy happy and ethical adult out of a diaper-wearing, spit-up-spewing, babbling helpless baby. That's a lot of road to work through on its own. We can hope to be loved in return as a side effect, but it's not what a parent should aim for, and so far that's working out great, occasional complaint aside because "we never got any new toys in a long time" (said with a straight face in the midst of their toy-packed room).

Simply, we all know kids sometimes look to push their parent's buttons in hopes of getting what they shouldn't. With us in particular though--and I think this is the reason seeing one of their peers act in such a way stuck in my mind--I also know we, as gay parents, have more potential buttons for them to test than some other couples.

I wonder if the day will come when my sweet little boys will test out such potential verbal nuclear options. Like the stereotype of adoptive families, we may be hit with a "You're not my real father". Or, maybe they'll pull out a "I wish we were a normal family" as you'll hear recounted from some Jewish parents in these parts. Maybe they'll even shoot off a "I wish I had a mother" or a "I never asked to be born" or a "I hate my family". Maybe they'll rebel in their teens and shave a mohawk on top of their tattooed skulls, or, worse, rebel and go to BYU ;-).

Or maybe we'll never hear such words. I never used them as a kid myself and of all the same-sex headed families we know here, we've not got wind of such and we do talk a lot about our particular issues. I don't know--no parent does--but these are the sort of things some kids might try to use to manipulate their parents.

I guess the point I'm winding myself to with this rambling is that we, as parents and gay parents, should expect this possibility. We should be prepared for it, and be certain those buttons are disconnected from the explosives before they're ever tested, even if they'll never be tested.

It may be easy to say, never having faced it, but, as I imagine how I'd feel if I were that father being kicked and told my son hated me on the soccer field, I'm unexpectedly comfortable with our kids testing those buttons. I know I love them; I know what a real father does; I know who they are better than most anyone they'll ever know. When they fall, I know and they know who'll be there for them.

That's not to say I'm comfortable without qualification. They could hurt me like no other person in all existence, but that's what you pay for parenthood, and it really is one hell of a bargain.


Java said...

All those things you mentioned that kids say, that adopted kids say, I have heard from my children. Except the one about having a mother, as we are an otherwise traditional heterosexual couple. I've been told that I am hated. That I am not their real mother, and their real mother wouldn't make them do this (or prevent them from doing that, depending on his or her point of view). That they hate our family, wish our family was a normal family. One of my biological children said, in the presence of his adopted sibling, "I wish we had never adopted this kid. Can we give him back?"

Parenting isn't for sissies. I take these expressions in stride, though, knowing that the children are blowing off steam, and are still in the process of learning how to appropriately express frustration. I also use these instances as teaching moments for all involved. And I pray that all of us will survive their childhood. Some days the prospects look grim.

Anonymous said...

going back, if i could just eliminate one work from ever being said in my house, it would be "hate."

Scot said...

I'm sorry to hear that, Java. You're such a sweet person and, I'm sure, parent. Surely they're using such words as tools, not truth; nevertheless, it's got to hurt.

When our boys start resorting to such tactics, can we send them to you for a month or so to deal with it? ;-)

Santorio, I hear ya. Even when it's hate for asparagus we give them another word.