A friend of mine is a nurse in a local hospital. She’s a thoughtful and kind person and was saying that one of the hardest parts of her job right now is talking to families. Usually families can come in and see their loved ones and so they know when the end is near; it doesn’t need to be spoken. But since Covid protocols are keeping everyone away, it’s her job to break it to the families.
Whom she’s never met. On the phone. Compassionately. It’s an extraordinarily tall order, and it has taken a great toll on her. Breaking hard truths to people about their loved ones is a hard job.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a teacher I greatly admire. We were discussing a school policy regarding honors programs and I was expressing my disagreement with the criteria used (though my own child met the criteria, I didn’t think it was fair–it was a principle question, not a personal one). I don’t remember if she agreed with me or not, but she explained that sometimes these arbitrary-seeming criteria are meant in part to discourage parents who claim to know better than all their teachers. An extraordinary number of parents –she assured me– are convinced that their children are gifted and must, necessarily, be allowed into whatever upper-level program is available. She noted how difficult it is to burst parents’ bubbles on this front, since they tend to be very attached to their views on their kids and it’s hard to disagree without seeming harsh or hostile or unappreciative of the kids. Breaking hard truths to parents about their kids is a hard job. I was wondering why this problem so common now- according to teachers, it’s much more common these days for parents to have inflated ideas of their kids’ skills and abilities. Parents love their kids, obviously, and of course we parents find our kids cuter and more loveable than others do…but I think something more is at play.
several thousand a couple of theories. One is that it connects to our devaluation of the human person. I can say that my child is wonderful because she exists, that the irrepeatable nature of her being is enough to make her special to me. She is a gift because she *is* (even if her behavior sometimes makes me wonder….). If she happens to be good at something –or even great—that’s terrific, but that isn’t what makes her important to me.
But these days, we don’t really think that people are valuable in themselves. We may say it but we don’t really believe it in our bones. For us, life is precious because of what we make of it, or because of how we live it or what we achieve, but not because we are. It’s all potentiality, not actuality. Existence itself is….just existing. Nothing special in that. And so we are forced to
invent find special talents in our children so that we can claim their greatness. Their existence isn’t enough for us. They have to have *potential* and the only way for that potential to be there is to claim they are gifted, or special—somehow, better than other kids. In this way, many of us parents end up modeling a competitive, delusional, self-aggrandizing model of behavior. And while I don’t think it’s the only reason for the spike in kids’ anxiety these days, I think it’s part of it. Because our kids are required to keep up the appearance of being different, special, better. When they are already a wonder by the very virtue of their existence.