The Anti-Romantic Child, by Priscilla Gilman

As parents, we can probably all admit that we had expectations for our children, at least to some degree.  Intentionally or unintentionally, we imagine our children fitting into the mold we create for them:

I bet she will be good at sports, like her daddy.

Maybe she will love to read as much as I do.

As soon as she is old enough, I can teach her to play an instrument.

For Priscilla Gilman and her husband, both literature scholars, that mold looked something like the romantic child from Wordsworth's poetry.  Considering the parents' background and temperaments, it seemed quite likely they would produce the next in a line of scholars, a child who would embody all the best qualities of the romantic idealization of childhood.

Just as nearly every expectant mother has had some glamorous notion of all the things our children will be, we have very likely all been struck with the realization that our dreams do not determine who our children will be.  It doesn't take long before our children defy our expectations, in one way or another. 

For Gilman, the realization that her first son, Benjamin, may not be the embodiment of the romantic child she imagined was only the beginning of the journey.  In candid and genuine prose interwoven with verses from her favorite poet, Gilman describes the difficult first years of Benj's life--the eccentricities he displayed from an early age, motor delays, unemotional temperament, etc.--and the growing awareness that her son was fundamentally different from other children his age.

This poignant memoir of a mother's journey through grief, acceptance, and celebration of her son's differences is truly "a story of unexpected joy" that will strike a chord with any parent.  I love that Gilman describes how she learned to lean on family and friends for support.  With a determined spirit, Gilman (and Benj's father, who remains very involved in his day-to-day life despite a divorce from Gilman) doggedly advocates for Benjamin's needs and does everything in her power to help him succeed.  What mother can't relate to that kind of love?

My favorite passage in the book comes not from Wordsworth, but from Gilman herself, in summing up her experiences with Benjamin:

...I have had to come to terms with the loss of my romantic vision, my idea of how my child, and my life, were going to be.  But out of the death of that dream has come a flourishing of amazing life.  Being Benj's mother has changed me profoundly, has made me more, rather than less, idealistic; more, rather than less, passionate; more, rather than less, creative...

In parenting Benj, I have gotten more in touch with a profound kind of romanticism; I have been given access to a transcendent sense of mystery and awe and wonder.

Isn't that what parenting is all about?


I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours.  All opinions expressed are my own.


  1. Very interesting for me to think about. I've always known I needed to treat my children as individuals and not live through their experiences and expect them to be a certain way. However, I always assumed my children would be smart and they pretty much prove they are daily. I'm not sure how I would handle if they weren't as smart as they are. Although I do struggle when dealing with my daughter who I don't feel is performing at school up to her abilties, but don't all parents feel that way???

  2. Adjusting to the reality of a special needs child is certainly difficult, but it sounds like Priscilla has come to truly appreciate who Benj is. That must make such a difference in her life!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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