I was driving away from the elementary school when I got a call from my kid’s teacher.
“I just noticed, she doesn’t have her glasses. She says she doesn’t need them, but …”
“Oh, man,” I said, ever the bumbling parent. My kid totally needs her glasses. When we took her in for an eye exam, the optometrists were pretty sure she didn’t know her letters. She was reading 400-page chapter books by then. “I’ll run them right over.”
Sometimes I wish that I was the sort of parent who’d notice whether his kid was wearing glasses. To be able to close my eyes and picture my children’s faces.
My kids have been research subjects for several studies conducted by Indiana University’s developmental psychology program. For one – conducted when my eldest was between nine months and two years old – my kid and I sat at opposite sides of a little table and played with some toys. We were wearing eye-tracking cameras. We were told, “Just play together the way you would at home.”
For two of the sessions, I brought my kid to the psychology lab. For one, my spouse brought her. The researchers said, “Yeah, no problem, data from both parents would be good.”
After the study was finished, they gave us a flash drive with the videos of us playing.
When I was playing with our kid, I only looked at the toys. There’s the little truck, front and center in my field of vision!
When my spouse was playing, she only looked at our child.
At least our kid was normal, looking back and forth as we played. Sometimes focusing on her parent, sometimes on the toy, while we said things like, “See the truck? The truck is driving toward the edge of the table, vroom vroom. Oh no, the truck is going to fall off the cliff! What a calamity!”
Actually, only one of her parents said things like this. The other parent asked whether she wanted to hold the blue truck.
We learned later that they had to throw out all our family’s data.
My children are lucky that my spouse and I have such dissimilar brains.
“Assortative mating” – when animals raise children with partners who closely resemble themselves in some way – probably explains the recent rise in autism rates. Many traits that are beneficial in small doses – creativity, analytical thinking, malaria resistance – make life harder for people who have a larger dose – schizophrenia, autism, sickle cell anemia.
Compared to prior generations, humans travel more now, and we choose romantic partners from a wider selection of people. So it’s easier to find someone who resembles us. Someone who is easy to live with. Easy to love. “We have so many similar interests!”
But children benefit from having dissimilar parents. My kids are being raised by an exceptional empath … and by me. I give them, um, their love of monsters? Lego-building prowess?
And the parents benefit, too. Love is a journey – romance helps us grow because we learn how to love a partner. We become richer, deeper people by welcoming someone who is dissimilar from us into our lives. When everything is easy, we don’t become stronger.
Which is, perhaps, a downside of the artificial-intelligence-based dating programs. These typically match people who are similar. And if things feel hard, well … there’s always another match out there. Instead of putting in the effort to build a life that fits everyone, you could just spin the wheel again.
My spouse and I have a good relationship. We also had years that were not easy.
We’re better people for it now.
And hopefully our kids will benefit from that, too. Even if they sometimes go to school without their glasses.