I really like the advice below from reader Sarah Natividad about how to deal with not sharing your kid’s passionate interest in a subject. She sent it to me after I wrote about how I don’t care about astronomy, which my kids love. Sarah is speaking as the mother of a child with Asperger’s syndrome. But her tips are for all of us bemused parents, I think. From Sarah:
1. Study up, there will be a quiz later. Just pretend like you’re in college again and there’s this one class you have to take to fulfill some requirement. You don’t have to learn in as much depth as your child does, but you should at least learn enough that you can follow the conversation. You can also ask your child to teach you; this makes children feel extremely important and grown-up, and it takes you off the hook for not having in-depth knowledge of the topic.
2. You don’t have to love the topic, but you do have to love your child enough to care about his interest in his topic. Just like you would for your husband. If your husband worked at a widget factory, you might not like to work there, but you’d know that widgets are made of unobtainium and the Hyphenduphenator breaks easily and needs its flux capacitors replaced, and that if you want anything done you have to be on Pam in HR’s good side. Well, play is a kid’s work. So I suck it up and listen for my kid’s sake; I owe it to him to at least not hold it against him that he likes something I don’t.
3. Knit while you listen. Or some other thing you can do with your hands that will take up the part of your attention that would otherwise be wandering over to, “Why the hell do I have to sit here and listen to this? I have important things to do! I am boooooooored out of my frickin’ skull!” Say nothing more than the occasional “Uh huh,” “Really,” or “That’s fascinating.” (Of course, having a kid with AS makes this trick much easier to pull off; as long as you keep making conversational type noises, they think you’re still interested.)
4. Don’t obsess over the kid’s obsession. While you don’t have a right to only hear things in which you are intensely interested, you DO have a need to not spend all your waking hours pretending you like Bionicles or know something about land speeders. Set aside time for both stuff you like and for stuff your kid likes. Read your fascinating article on companionate marriages-but not during “kid time.”
5. Teach your kid how to get his own answers when he has questions about his topic, so that he’s not constantly coming to you for answers you don’t have. My kids are Wikipedia fiends. My son has literally checked out every book in the Salt Lake City Public Library on the topics of Legos and origami (though not all at once; the library cards have limits).
Photograph of child by Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images.