REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish News, pp. 15, 22.

Congratulate me! I’m a grandma again. And for those of you who haven’t tried it, I recommend it. Seriously. Heck, adopt a grandchild if you have to. It’s sweet.

But, I’ll tell you, I am perplexed about this “common enemy” thing. You’ve heard that joke, I’m sure, the one that goes: What do grandchildren and their grandparents have in common?—A common enemy. (The parent to one, the child to the other.) Ha, ha.

Maybe you can help me out. Please. Write; call. I need to have this explained. What am I missing?

When I think of my daughter, the new baby’s mom, my heart melts. It always did. She is the nicest, sweetest, smartest girl. Maybe you know her. If so, you’d surely agree. So how could she be my enemy?

And my sons, when they have children, will they turn into an enemy, too? I don’t think so. I can’t imagine it. So what gives, here?

My Kids Missed Adolescent Rebellion, Too

You know, come to think of it, I remember being in this same confused place not so long ago. Just a few years ago, I had four teenagers living under my roof. At one time. And I distinctly remember people telling me about their teenagers undergoing “adolescent rebellion.” And I kept looking for it, but it didn’t happen. Each of my adolescents went on to develop a full-fledged personality without ever going through what people like to call “rebellion.”

As a matter of fact, if we’re going to plumb my memory banks, I can’t say my children were “terrible” when they were two. They were cute. Okay, challenging. But not terrible. Okay, they kept me busy; kept my weight down. But not terrible. Definitely not terrible. In fact, the new baby’s older brother is 2½ and what a cutie! Even his mother—this supposed common enemy—tells me at least twice in every phone conversation just how cute he is. So, clearly, it’s not about my having a rose-colored memory bank; she’s in the here and now, and she’s saying it, too.

Since Everyone Has Good And Bad In Them, We’d Better Focus On The Good

I think the key is attitude. How do we perceive our children? Are they blessings? Are they treasures that God gave us because we are so good that we deserved them?

In other words, what is our focus? Do we focus on the good or the bad? Certainly, each child will be a combination of both. If we were perfect, we’d be angels. Our job here on Earth is not to be perfect but to strive towards it. Our job here on Earth is to never be satisfied with the level we have attained but always to want to be better. And, if that’s the case, then our job as parents is to inculcate in our children that same goal.

The question is: Do we see the road our children haven’t yet traveled with a mixture of frustration and weariness or do we see it with excitement, joy, hope, and belief—in them and in the portion doled out to them in this life?

Do we see our job as a challenge that we must rise to meet or a yoke on our backs? Because the truth is: how you see it is how it will come out to be.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Have you heard of the Self-Fulfilling Prophesy otherwise known as the Hawthorne Effect? If you Google it, you’ll end up with an interesting group of stories of how this piece of research got started, but here is one version, probably just folklore, but it serves the purpose of making a point. Apparently, a class of third-graders with roughly equal intelligence and abilities was randomly divided up and the teacher was told that one half of the group was extra bright and the other, a bit slow. Now, remember, all the children, across both groups, were actually about equal. Well, by the end of the year, the children in the ‘bright” group were doing wonderfully and the children in the “slow” group were not.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

What happened? To answer this, let me deviate a moment. A research scientist in the advanced stuff of particle physics named Heisenberg figured out something fascinating about the attempt to learn about the speed and location of an electron: You can’t find out both at the same time because if you’re trying to track down the location, the very act of measuring it alters the speed and, by the same token, tracking the speed loses the location. In short, the presence of the scientist must be accounted for in the measurements because he or she actually affects those measurements.

This rule, which became called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, is so very applicable to human relationships. There is no such thing as a neutral “observer.” Or neutral parent. It is imperative that the parent, or the teacher in the Hawthorne research described above, be figured into the equation. We don’t merely have “good” children or “bad” children. We have children in constant dynamic interaction with us, and how they develop—good and bad—will depend to a very large extent on how we see them. Our perception of them, after all, affects how we treat them. And as the Hawthorne Effect and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle show, our perception also has a powerful influence on how they behave.

I can hear you complaining right about now. You’re probably wondering why am I making such a big point, such a serious point, over a joke? It’s just a joke, after all.

But it’s not.

Jokes, as you very well know, are thin disguises for our true beliefs. Unfortunately, too many people, way too many people, have walked into my room with anger, resentment, and what looked to the children like hatred in their hearts towards those very children. Where could those bad feelings come from? After all, newborn babies are totally innocent. It’s only how we, the adults, respond to those children as they grow that influences how they turn out.

This particular “joke” is a sad veneer over bad parenting. The grandparent didn’t see his child in a positive light; the child then grew up to not know any better about parenting (because all we can know is what we experience ourselves), so he didn’t see his child in a positive light either. To me, it’s sad, not funny.

But here’s a funny one, the one about the six-year old who noticed a white hair mixed in with her mother’s brown hair. “Mom! You have a white hair!” she said. “What happened?” Her mother, taking an opportunity to educate her child a little, replied, “Every time you upset or aggravate me, it’s going to give me a white hair,” she replied. Her daughter was thoughtful for a moment and then said, “Wow! Grandma’s hair is ALL white!”

Okay, maybe I did get a few white hairs from my kids, but enemies?—Never!

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