Carolyn Hax: When it comes to our children, can opposites attract?


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My only son is 8 and is all boy — he’s into loud noises, sports and being outdoors, and has no interest in unnecessary chitchat. I wouldn’t trade him for the world, but sometimes I can’t believe he came from me: talker, analyzer, world-class shopper, and above all an indoor girl.

I’m wondering how to stay connected with him as he gets older. I go to his games, but that’s more of a thing he shares with his dad and I feel a bit like an outsider there. Asking questions about his interests has limited mileage because he’s simply not that talkative — he’s more of a doer. How do I stay relevant to a kid who’s the opposite of me?

Maryland

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

So, you and his dad are together? If so, what binds you two together beyond the physical?

Many parents and kids with mismatched interests are tightly bonded through caregiving and, as that need diminishes, presence — in which case your being at his games is no small thing. Plus, there are so many diversions people can share without deep analysis. Music, for example.

Re: All Boy:

Read to him. I was surprised how much my “all-boy” appreciated the time we spent reading the Narnia and His Dark Materials series. He never let on at the time. He’s all grown now and was reminiscing recently. (He’s not a talker either so that was a surprise, too.)

Anonymous

Perfect, thanks.

Also, this mom of sporty boys has found they’re receptive to non-sports when given chances to be, especially one-on-one, especially if the things aren’t pushed on them but instead just left out there to be noticed and joined. One helps me decorate our Christmas trees and has learned how to knit; another is really attuned to nature and science. And on those constant drives to practices and games, we all listen to audiobooks.

It’s also on us as parents to notice and feed subtle interests. One son has a freakish sense of taste and smell, for example, to the point of identifying obscure ingredients by scent alone, so I talk to him about food.

Carolyn:

Yes, his dad and I are together. While being opposites about lots of things initially gave us both pause, eventually it’s what made us irresistible to each other. He taught me the rules of each major sport and I taught him about little niceties like sending birthday cards.

But that seems to have more significance in a romantic relationship, no? While I love how we complement each other, I usually go to friends for deep analysis, and he takes plenty of solo trips to sports bars.

Maryland again

Maybe so, but you and your son can still learn from each other’s differences, still seek common interests, still spend time apart. You can both accept that you won’t get everything you need from one person.

Remember, too, that your son is in just one of many phases. When he starts to care about relationships, he’ll know where to go for expert analysis.

Finally, something I failed to flag the first time: Are boys with flower gardens only part boy, and female athletes part girl? “Boy” and “girl” labels belong on lavatory doors, not on the choices kids make.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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