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Commentary: Turning Humiliation Into A Social Asset

WFAE commentator Jean Roznik hspace=4

I've learned that if you want to make yourself really popular with other parents all you have to do is share some humiliating stories about your children. You'll be amazed by the response to your candid accounts of tantrums, bed wetting, lack luster academic performance and sporting flameouts. Admitting your child isn't perfect is like opening a floodgate. Other parents are so relieved, they can't wait to tell you their own tales of shame, disgrace and utter mortification. Oh sure, there are those who'll never admit their child is anything less than 100th percentile across the board. You know the type - parent and child never put a foot wrong, or have a hair out of place, from the first day of preschool to when they sweep the awards ceremony in grade 12. We may admire these people but we just don't warm to them the same way we do to the people who have wrestled with Individualized Education Plans, school suspensions and juvenile case workers. I wonder what parents of perfect children do with their spare time other than dust awards and trophies. The rest of us spend our recreational time worrying about mind altering substances, the kind of ailments you can pick up at the tattoo parlor and the lure of the porn industry's easy money. When I started out as a parent I thought raising children was a straightforward equation. Raw material + care + guidance = parenting success story. I never factored in the murkiness of the gene pool, my own inadequacies and the siren call of the internet. In days of yore, when parents had a gaggle of kids it didn't much matter if one or two of them didn't work out so well. Every family had its misfit or ne'er-do-well. Nowadays, with most families consisting of two children the stakes are much higher. If one child turns out to be a dud, that's a 50 percent failure rate. Plus, there's no Wild West or understaffed circuses to absorb the familial flops. Instead, like pigeons, they tend to return home to nest on the couch where they occupy themselves texting and pecking on their laptops. Much as our culture loves a winner, it's so much easier to generate a sense of camaraderie with other parents when you talk about your couch dweller versus your self-directed go-getter. Parents smile and pretend they're delighted to hear your 12th grader got perfect SAT scores, led the school soccer team to victory and started a non profit to bring abstract art to dump dwellers in Brazil. But, really, it's an act. Hearing about all that gratuitous achievement only makes the listener feel like a big-time parental loser. If you want to lift peoples' spirits, tell them how your child flunked first grade. Now that's a yarn they will enjoy.