When your kids are very young, the hobbies and interests you can share need to be pretty broad. You may look forward to one day introducing them to camping or fantasy football or subversive cross-stitch, but in the meantime, you have to stick to the basics. Sunshine, or puppies, or … fruit: “I see you’re eating applesauce. Guess what? I like apples, too! Unlike you, I have all my teeth, so I prefer them whole rather than mashed into a pulp, but still—aren’t apples great?”
As your children get older, there’s no guarantee they’ll be as excited about that fantasy football draft as you are. My mom was very musical when she was young, playing the piano and organ and singing in the school choir, while I quit the clarinet as soon as possible in elementary school, after starting it in … elementary school. (My clarinet teacher told my mom I used to cry during lessons.) I was more interested in listening to music than making it, so in high school I became a college radio DJ. Despite the college-DJ cred, I haven’t been able to interest my own kid in the music I like. (A few years ago, I optimistically created “J’s Playlist” on Spotify, gradually adding songs he showed an interest in. It has only six tracks.) I guess you’re supposed to rebel against the music your parents listened to when you were young — otherwise, I would be jamming to Bette Midler right now. (OK, so maybe I’d pay to see her in Hello, Dolly.)
Like most parents, I’ve taught my son about using good manners, calling 9-1-1 in an emergency, and not believing everything you read on the Internet. But I’ve also educated him in Greek mythology, various wild bird species, Marvel superheroes and villains, and the superiority of the Oxford comma. I’m a big Doctor Who fan, but since many of its episodes are likely nightmare fodder for a kid his age, I’ve shown him a few tamer ones and have doled out a few tidbits about the scarier stories. Still, my efforts are paying off—the other day, a man my son had just met said he was impressed with my son’s Doctor Who knowledge. For me, that’s a parenting win.
It’s been harder to indoctrinate—I mean, cultivate his interest in—some of my other pop culture interests. I eagerly read all the Harry Potter books when they came out, and my husband and I read the first one to our son, but I haven’t been able to get him to read the second. I’ve casually suggested it about … 15 times, but he always ends up with another book. Of course, I’m happy for him to read anything, but come on—Harry Potter! I wonder how many times I can bring it up before it backfires. Maybe it’s too late. Should I try reverse psychology? “Whatever you do, don’t read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I’m going to put it right here, but do not pick it up when I leave. Never read this book. OK, see you later—I’m going to go not play the clarinet!”
My son has acquired certain interests on his own, of course, like Minecraft—occasionally playing it, but mostly watching YouTube videos of people playing it. When I compare notes with other parents, we’re all mystified by how Minecraft has become a spectator sport. When I was a kid, watching someone play video games meant hoping your friend playing Super Mario Brothers would accidentally make Mario fall into a hole so you could take a turn. I mean, I like scrolling through my Instagram feed, but I have zero interest in videos of people scrolling through their own Instagram feeds.
Then there are the things that you as a parent aren’t really into but think you should pretend to like for your kids’ benefit—say, eating green beans, or, in my case, being an outdoorsy sort of person. (OK, fine — I don’t like green beans either.) I’m not a big fan of spending much time outside. I’m very pale, so I sunburn easily; and I’m afraid of bees; and I hate hot weather and, well, cold weather. I probably should just slather on the sunscreen and set a good example (while remaining on high alert for bee sightings). No matter what, though, I am not going camping. Hey, I know! I can take my son apple-picking. After all … we both love apples.