Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Parental Variety

On a daily basis, I sell flowers.
Upon my arrival at work, the first thing I do is the microeconomic equivalent of "stop and smell the roses" - in this particular case, I walk into our giant refrigerator to analyze our inventory position on any number of floral varieties that we are currently stocking, and based on the predicted market for each variety *that day*, I set prices. I then email and fax the price list to our customer base, and the day's commerce immediately begins. Over the course of a year, well over 1,000 varieties of flowers move through our warehouse and alternative distribution systems. To fully digest and be comfortable with the diversity included in those 1,000 varieties takes some breadth of experience and learning.

When considering diversity, one must have perspective. My reference to 1,000 varieties of flowers seems to exist on the outward end of the spectrum of potential diversity. 1,000 varieties? That seems to be so many. Until one compares the number to groups or categories with virtually infinite variation. Such as the group: "Parents".

"Parents" is not just your typical noun. It is tremendously loaded with all kind of culturally predetermined connotations. It is loaded with personal experiential bias. The human experience contains unfathomable variation in range of experience, but all of us are "parented" in our youths. Regardless of whether one's personal translation of parenting refers to biological or institutional entities, parenting happens for all of us. Even the lack of parenting equates to an experience of being parented in absentia. As a result, all of us who then choose to become parents ourselves enter this Faustian Bargain with some bias.

It occurs to me that one of the most powerful determinants of a person's ability to experience life in a positive way is the blend of that person's characteristics with his/her parent(s) characteristics. It does not require a world-class literary critic to notice that I am intentionally using value-neutral language in this discussion. If I were to do so - to assign value to parenting 'types' - the point that I am meandering my way into making would become moot. Or, to restate the issue, assigning value to parental technique would be counterproductive to this discussion by diminishing the fact that parenting is very difficult and very rarely performed perfectly. To offer perfection, therefore, as an attainable ideal, puts this consideration out of the reach of all of us.

I read today a most excellent post by Brett. Brett is a guy who has been there, done that as realtes to parenting. Brett has raised an autistic son who is now 15 years old. I am stealing from his trove of earned wisdom on making some of the statements you are reading now.

Here is one of Brett's statements. "Parenting is hard, mainly because it is a long-term investment of time and effort (and money, of course) with a high degree of uncertainty about the final outcome." This hit home with me. It says to me that parenting, as a long-term venture, does not finish out the way it starts. It does not present opportunites for clear choices, but instead provides endless areas of gray from which to carve out a black and white scenario. Is this different for the parent of a special needs child than it is for a typical child? As a man who fills both roles, I can confidently answer, "NO!".

Parenting can be viewed in so many ways - joyful, impossible, taxing, rewarding, unpredictable, even unavoidable and mundane depending on cultural mores. It can be happy and sad at the same time, difficult and easy in the same day, structured and chaotic in the same hour. Within a five minute time frame we can experience unquenchable enthusiasm for our childs' potential accompanied by paralyzing dread of that potential not being realized.

I cannot thank my own parents enough for the efforts they put forth in raising me. I have a great brother who also benefitted from their exhaustive efforts at providing us with opportunites. Due to our personal shortcomings - none of which could or even should have been perceived through my parents' rose-colored glasses at the time - my brother and I failed to thrive in any number of settings we were placed in. At the same time, we did succeed in other settings. I only hope that I can provide my own children with the same opportunities that I had as a youth, knowing that each one of them will fail at some and succeed spectacularly at others.

Good parenting can sometimes be viewed as less a case of "right and wrong" than it is of parents doing their damnedest to provide the maximum potential of best-case scenario for their kids given the prevailing circumstances. Based on this philosophy, things such as autism, deafness, Down syndrome, ADHD, blindness, MR, MD, etc. should be viewed less as an 'impediment to' good parenting and more as an 'invitation to' good parenting.


Brett said...

"An invitation to good parenting." I like that. And it almost seems like having a 'typical' kid can be the "impediment to good parenting", since it is so easy to not try hard when you think your kid will be fine because he is 'normal'.

Thanks for the kind words about the post.