Embracing children for who they are

Contrary to what some parents might believe or hope for, children are not born a blank slate. Rather, they come into the world with predetermined abilities, proclivities and temperaments that nurturing parents may be able to foster or modify, but can rarely reverse.

Perhaps no one knows this better than Jeanne and John Schwartz, parents of three children, the youngest of whom — Joseph — is completely different from the other two.

Offered a bin of toys, their daughter, Elizabeth, picked out the Barbies and their son Sam the trucks. But Joseph, like his sister, ignored the trucks and chose the dolls, which he dressed with great care. He begged for pink light-up shoes with rhinestones and, at 3, asked to be "a disco yady" for Halloween.

Joseph loved words and books, but "our attempts to get him into sports, which Sam had loved so much, were frustrating bordering on the disastrous," Schwartz, a national correspondent for The New York Times, wrote in a caring and instructive new memoir, "Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms With His Sexuality" (Gotham Books).

"This is not just a book about raising a gay child," Schwartz said in an interview. "It's about raising children who are different," both recognising and adapting to those differences and being advocates for the children who possess them. Citing the novel "The Martian Child," about an adopted son, he said, "We've got to take care of our little Martians."

Adjust Expectations

The goal of parenting should be to raise children with a healthy self-image and self-esteem, ingredients vital to success in school and life. That means accepting children the way they are born — gay or straight, athletic or cerebral, gentle or tough, highly intelligent or less so, scrawny or chubby, shy or outgoing, good eaters or picky ones.

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