Learning to be a relativist, as I understand it, is one of parenthood’s most important lessons. I speak as someone raised, perhaps like the author of this sad article, to view the word, applied to political or cultural tastes, as the ultimate put-down; feminism, anti-racism, equal-opportunity projects, even equality itself, all dismissed by my own high-powered-intellectual parent as “relativist.” All men and women created equal?! As if! What ridiculous trouncing of the evidence!
Well, there’s no doubt that his relative parental disengagement facilitated this view. For whoever your child is or turns out to be: sporty or creative or neither; academic or not at all; shy or sociable; extrovert or quiet; tall, handsome or plain, even dark or fair-haired . . . your challenge as a parent is to believe him/her the best possible son or daughter in the world, and you the most fortunate parent who could not have wished for any other. To make your child believe it, you’ll need to believe it yourself; you’ll need to “delude” yourself, if you like; for his or her self-esteem will depend on it. It’s what unconditional love is all about. All must have prizes indeed, for the child ungarlanded even by his parents will live cursed forever; hell, I know!
For some parents it’s easier than others. For some, it’s easier for some of their children. Many, in fact, employing a happy combination of blindness and optimism (fathers, my impression is, are particularly good at this) never doubt for one moment that their favoured offspring is top of every class, despite the evidence of school or other reports. But the closer you get to your child the harder it is in fact to maintain the most obvious delusions about them. It is easier if you start out without them.
In practice, acceptance of your child as he is and not as in your dreams is a gradual process; a slow unfurling of the happy fantasies about his or her genius that effortlessly surround the early, pre-school, preferably pre-verbal years. Actually, my child is not a musical prodigy, just because he could beat time to Mary Had a Little Lamb at eight months. Nor is he going to be a champion athlete, just because he ran before he was one. He may not even be particularly academic, though to me he was always the quickest, most responsive baby in the playgroup. He’ll be who he is, and my job is just to be grateful.