How well do you know your child or children and how does the truth of the matter measure up against how well you think you know them?
The philosopher Julian Baggini wrote that ‘I’ is a verb masquerading as a noun, and I’m sure that we would all like to think that no matter what the intervening years have thrown at us, we have managed to develop and grow in myriad ways since childhood.
Of course we were shifting most rapidly of all during childhood, and yet we are all guilty of lumping our offspring together as ‘children’ according to breeding, age, geographical location or sundry other groupings according to the situation.
Children change, they change rapidly and in ways both gross and subtle, it can be difficult for the humble adult to keep up!
I’m being glib, but there’s a serious point here.
How many of us have been pulled up by our youngsters when we politely explain that they don’t like orange juice, and been firmly corrected that it is now their favourite tipple. These trivial shifts in opinion are the tip of an iceberg that is anything but stationary.
I first started to double-check myself in this vein when I started working in Special Schools and could see how difficult it might be for adults who had cared for a specific (often non-verbal) individual for many years to adapt to their ward’s inevitable maturation. More than in a mainstream school, it’s tempting to define the children by what they can’t do, to focus on the diagnosis and miss how the child is growing within it. So in this and in other settings, I try to resist the urge to turn a child into a ‘thing’ immutable and dependable, whether it be clever, clumsy or clingy. I have changed, and continue to change with every year, and I must grant the young people I am contact with over any period of time the same right to turn on a sixpence if they so wish - but at any rate to change and grow as they see fit.
We may or may not have some kind of fixed essence that we can call ‘self’, that remains secure throughout our lives, but however we define ourselves, that sense of self is ours to amend as and how we want. Our children should be able to expect our very best efforts to respect their decisions and their fluctuations as they work out who it is that they are trying to be.