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Hug your children and appreciate them for the unique talents they each have

Not too long ago, a friend sent me a picture of some artwork her son had expertly sketched. The fruit, shaded with a pencil or some kind of charcoal, looked like actual fruit. The shadows were perfectly cast.

I praised his work and then promptly compared his talent to that of my own children: Mine came up lacking.

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My friend’s 4th-grader is not only a budding artist, I thought, he also plays two sports, is progressing through the levels of some kind of martial arts I’ve never heard of, is nearly fluent in Mandarin and sails!

In what may be my most cringe-worthy parenting moment to date (and this is saying something), I decided to share these thoughts with my children over dinner.

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“Hey, you guys know [my friend’s son]?” I said, trying to sound casual. Then I proceeded to list out his accomplishments.

“So what are you trying to say, Mom?” one son said.

“She’s trying to say we’re losers,” the other one chimed in.

“No, no, no,” I protested. “I’m just trying to show you what kinds of things you can do if you don’t spend all day playing Roblox.”

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“Soooo…you’re trying to say we’re losers,” he deadpanned.

His brother put his fork down and set his jaw. “How are we supposed to sail? We don’t have a boat. How are we supposed to do sports and all these other things when you haven’t signed us up? We can’t do this stuff on our own. We’re kids!”

He pushed himself away from the table and stomped off: “I’m going upstairs!”

The baby girl, emotionally mature for her years, said, “Mom, I know you want us to grow up to do great things, but it really hurts when you compare us to other people.”

Immediately, I was chastened. Each of my children handled differently having their feelings hurt, but they all showed me right away that my actions had hit a nerve.

To my (small) credit, I quickly apologized; and I meant what I said. I was sincerely sorry for hurting them, for insinuating that someone else’s child was better than they are. My son’s friend is very accomplished – and a sweet, smart and mannerly boy to boot— but I know better than to compare one human being to another. It was a low blow and sloppy parenting.

I thought about how I would feel if my husband did something similar to me. Imagine he nonchalantly ticked off all of a favorite co-worker’s admirable qualities — making special effort to highlight all the things I am not. “Hey, did you know Suzy Q is a gourmet chef and her house is spotless? Also, I’m pretty sure she lost 10 pounds over quarantine. And have you seen how thick her hair is?”

If that happened, he might lose a limb or have to sleep in the car. I’d be mad for days.

But my children have not yet learned to hold grudges or be spiteful, and so after I apologized and hugged them and assured them that there are no children in the world I’d rather have as my own, they said, “OK!,” hugged me some more, and went back to whatever it was they were doing, no questions asked.

I’m embarrassed that I made such a textbook parenting mistake. I’m chagrined that I put my own insecurities about my parenting before their feelings.

But I’m also proud that my children are growing up in a family where they feel free to express their emotions. I’m impressed that my youngest already understands how to plainly frame feedback and say exactly what she means. And I’m tremendously grateful to be so loved by little ones that they generously offer their forgiveness —and their hugs — even when I have behaved badly.

I don’t deserve them.

Not to mention, I just read an article, “Parental restrictions on tech use have little lasting effect into adulthood,” which basically said kids who spend a lot of time with technology don’t necessarily grow up to be sloths who live in their parents’ basements.

So keep on playing Roblox, kids! You’re already better human beings than most adults I know (including myself). And I love you, all three of you, just exactly the way you are.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Constellation. She and her husband have twin 10-year-old sons, an 8-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanikawhite@gmail.com. Her column appears monthly.

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