The first rule of nursery school is:
You get what you get and you don’t get upset.
The first rule of nursery school isn’t just for kids. It applies to parents as well, especially when it comes to what you ultimately end up with in life’s great grab bag of kids.
Ideally there would be a sort of Match.com application process for having kids, an OKCupid interface bursting with algorithms ensuring a good fit.
“It says here you’re morally opposed to Nerf guns and lean heavily toward the arts but also favor team sports. Our ground-breaking interface indicates you’d best be suited with a language-oriented female with the potential for a minor social handicap which will give her access to experiences needed to enrich a life in the arts. Room 297 down the hall…don’t forget your receipt for tax purposes…”
Despite the genetic lucky dip we parents play, we end up loving the results all the same. Unconditionally, unequivocally, undeniably. But loving your kid and liking the person they are at the moment or are gearing up to become is not always a given, and it’s not always a constant.
Sometimes the kid doesn’t match up with the image you have. Sometimes it’s big, important stuff. Sometimes that big, important stuff is easier to absorb because it triggers the Mama Lion/Papa Tiger instinct. I’m not talking about struggling to love a child who is gay or transgender or a daughter who thinks she’s a cat, (true story). Today I’m talking the fine print stuff. The non-life-threatning or life-changing, the when-you-come-right-down-to-it’s-really-pretty-dumb stuff.
See, I’ve set quite a neat little fine-print trap for myself recently.
I’ve never really imagined my kids to be a certain way. I don’t have careers mapped out for them, or envision them attending a specific college or even going to college at all. For the most part, my images don’t extend much past ten p.m., when I tuck them in and feel guilty over something I did or said then remind myself how lucky I am and how they’re pretty great kids. It’s easy to do that when they’re asleep. The point is, I didn’t think I had pre-conceived notions about who my boys would grow up and in to.
So it’s been a real slap in the face with a bucket of cold water to examine my feelings surrounding my older son’s identification as a ‘gamer’.
Honestly…if he came home and told me he identified transgender I think it would be easier. If he told me he fancied boys, no biggie. Those are the things that trigger the sprouting of wings to protect. It’s not the geeked-out aspect either. If he had a keen interest in science I’d happily buy him a bunsen burner. If he was a music geek I’d gleefully attend the show-choir competitions. But no…it had to be computer games.
I hate computer games. I don’t understand the appeal of them, I think they’re lame and yes, I confess, nerdy. Sheldon and Leonard from the The Big Bang Theory can pull off nerdy because, well, they’re physicists. If my son ends up working with gravitons and those spinning proton things, if he starts making jokes about the Higgs boson particle, I’ll gladly forgive him his tweenage aberrations.
Some of it is justified concern about socialization and the atrophy of life skills. Some of it is my adamant belief that life in front of a computer screen is, indeed, a life more ordinary. And if I am brutally honest with myself, I have a stereotypical view of a gaming life as an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle choice. It makes me think of words like slow and flaccid and pasty and socially awkward. You don’t need to point out the similarities between gaming and sitting down to write a blog or a book or a series of articles, I’m well aware of the irony.
Perhaps it’s because gaming is the first thing my son has shown real interest in that I or his father haven’t introduced him to or suggested, haven’t pre-approved or perpetuated a rule of forced participation in. Maybe it’s just my distrust of computers in general. And if I am even more honest, my (somewhat) biased and (probably) snobbish refusal to understand the appeal of the gaming world surely plays a (rather) large part.
The thing is, all of this is my problem. Not his. As I’ve become increasingly irritated with him for what I see as a narrowing focus of interest, I realized I am actively profiling my own kid based on a series of preconceived stereotypes.
Well, I’ll be damned. Fuckity, fuck, fuck and all the rest.
Contrary to the old adage, this sudden understanding does not make me feel better. Far from it, it makes me feel worse. Because with this recognition comes the sinking realization that it’s not him who has to change. It’s me. And that means I have to do all the work rather than just setting screen time limits and insisting he get some fresh air.
If his interests continue, eventually I won’t be able to dictate how much time he spends in a dark boy cave with a calloused thumb. I won’t be able to stop him spending his allowance and birthday money on ‘gaming’ accessories. And I know, deep down, that I probably shouldn’t be now.
But I am and I do and I’m not perfect.
It seem like such a when-you-come-right-down-to-it’s-really-pretty-dumb thing to think about. But at the end of the day, the things that force you into a warrior pose of self-examination, the things that make you a better person and by default a better parent don’t have to be life-changing. Maybe they’re just the battery-changing things after all.
It will take a while for my emotions to come around to where my brain’s already got to; to look past a label he’s chosen for himself, to see beyond my own out-of-the-box notions and just see him as him. The same kid I tuck into bed every night and think is pretty great.
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This one really resonates. My sporty, dynamic, social kid has turned all his attention at age 15 to be a ‘gamer’. And this induces feelings in me of guilt (it’s my fault), shame (everyone else kids have other ‘healthier’ interests – not true), irritation (why isn’t he spending more time with his parents – duh!), fright (what is this doing to his malleable brain?) and sadness (i don’t understand this so I’m upset that he has chosen it). But you know what I’ve now realised? He is still sporty, dynamic and social – and he’s a gamer as well. Who isn’t at his age? Not many I would guess. I think this is possibly one of the biggest shifts in adolescent behaviour since Elvis and the Beatles spawned the teenager generation. I bet those parents felt guilt, shame, irritation and sadness as well for a lost way of life. It’s ours to deal with and I don’t think its going to change any time soon.
Oh Rachel, you bring up so many interesting points here! But the one that stood out to me the most were the comments about guilt and shame, because there is definitely some of that mixed in there as well. And it’s odd when you think about it isn’t it? If your son was obsessed with a sport, we wouldn’t fee that same sense of shame. Why is it there with computer gaming? It’s an interesting emotion to examine.
Not only is my son a gamer but so is my husband. Thankfully they both have other interests as well. My son is a musician and he knows that school and guitar all come before gaming but I know if left to his own devices, he would probably just sink into that big black hole as well.
That ‘big black hole’ is exactly what scares me. Mostly because I can’t/won’t/he doesn’t want me down there. We have fairly strict limits (or at least I think they are) and same as you, school/sports/homework/chores come first, but what niggles at me is the pull it seems to have. Like you say, given the choice, it would almost certainly be the computer/x-box.
Yes, for sure. It is scary!
I totally understand where you’re coming from here. I think the whole gaming and teens thing, is for me, inextricably bound up with the kids I’ve known who have gone 100% down the gaming tunnel…one of whom ended up killing himself, and one who threatens to do so regularly. That’s totally unfair, because it’s not the gaming that’s causing the mental illness issues. And it’s perfectly possible to be a gamer and also be extremely healthy and well-rounded. Our son is nuts about a couple of games and spends way more time on them than I would like, but thankfully he’s also extremely involved in a number of “out-in-the-world” activities, as well.
I suppose, as with all parenting issues, it’s a matter of not overreacting, staying as close to them as possible, and always being supportive. Just as you say.
I think part of the ‘foreignness’ for me is that is seems to be such a ‘male’ thing. Obviously there are female gamers (more and more, I’d imagine), but it the ‘gaming tunnel’ as you put it so aptly, seems to be more of a male phenomenon. Boys seem to have a much harder time switching off, turning away, letting go. And that is what scares me the most, that I can’t relate to to it–not the interest, the pull, or the addictive aspect of it. We are very careful to pad out our lives with what I can only hope are well rounded activities. But it worries me it’s his go-to 9 times out of 10. But it’s my gut reaction of ‘no screens whatsoever!’ when I get freaked out that I need to adjust. And that takes work. And time. It’ll be interesting to see what effect the digital age and gaming has on the tweens/teens/young adults we are raising.
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I think you make a good point about the difference between male and female reaction to gaming. Obviously it’s not a statistically significant piece of data, but our two girls, who while over their lives had had an interest in certain games, can get up and walk away at any point. Our son gets sucked in and completely removes himself from the world, for what can seem like an infinite time. He simply cannot peel himself away. Actually, my husband is the same with his laptop, though for him it’s getting sucked into the tunnel of research and reading. And since both of the two males in our household have ADHD (husband severely, son moderately), I’ve always felt their diagnoses play into that phenomenon. Again, completely anecdotal with a hopelessly small sample, but that’s what I’ve experienced.
My experiences are only anecdotal as well, culled from my own boys (2 kids and a husband) and my friends. Almost all of them who, like you, have mixed-sex families report the same thing: girls have no trouble with limits, boys do. I think we are, to use an appropriate digital metaphor, hard-wired differently. No ADD or ADHD dx here–but a similar experience, though I imagine like everything else, there is a spectrum of behavior. The kicker is that I know parents who have boys who struggle with social skills (those on the spectrum and not) and they maintain that gaming is a lifesaver for their kids in terms of social interaction, as in, it allows them to have it. So as with everything, a totally mixed bag, right? Which makes it harder to police in the long run!
I have no interest in video games either, and it IS an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle IF it becomes an entire lifestyle. It doesn’t always. It seems like it will be, when your kid is in the highly addictive, escapist preteen/teen years. This, by the way, is a major reason parents don’t like dealing with teenagers–their seeming inability to do anything in moderation. Argh!
Both my kids had their video addiction stages, and both came out of them. My son is still sedentary and unhealthy, but video games are a symptom, not a cause. He’s also immature in other ways as well. I think (hope) one day he will make the connection between getting his butt off the sofa and feeling well in other ways. I do see some positive signs in this regard.
My (older) daughter has successfully relegated games to a a few hours on the weekends and does a pretty good job of taking care of herself. In other words, she’s grown up.
What I’ve learned is that our kids are ultimately going to do what they are going to do–the best we can really do is model healthy behavior and hope it eventually takes. The person your kid is at age 14 or 16 is not the person they will eventually become. Hold on to that thought and breathe 🙂
Yes it does show that even when you think you have no preconceived ideas for your kids there is always something in the back of your mind.
I don’t get the (predominantly) male infatuation with computer games either.