Saturday, February 12, 2011

On The Importance Of Being True To Yourself

This week, for the first time in The Peanut's life, she uttered a phrase that I had been anticipating (and dreading) for quite some time:
"let's do this so that it won't be weird and, you know, people won't make fun of it because it will be normal instead."
It begins.

I've been trying to find ways to deal with this that will allow her to make her own choices, but that emphasize the importance of being true to her inner self, being an individual and unique, but also not pushing her to be so far outside whatever boxes she chooses that she's ostracized, either.  It's a fine line to walk, frankly, and one that I only learned how to navigate without personal pain far later in life than I would have liked to have done.

It's tough as a mom to want your child to avoid the pitfalls into which you, yourself, fell at a young age.   Because I was bright and eager to learn as a child, and not very savvy about playing it down to make myself more socially acceptable, I got pigeonholed as the one who is "different" and then lived through all the teasing, bullying and what-have-you that can come with that because kids can be mean, even by accident, and that can stick with you for a long, long time.   Square peg in a round hole and all that, right?

I want my child to enjoy being bright and loving to learn, but I also don't want her to spend the bulk of her young life feeling like she's standing outside and looking in, either.

If we can help her to find her own feet, and navigate some middle ground wherein she retains her own individuality and celebrates who she is at her core, but still manages to make friends and be happy, all the better.

Which gets us back to what she said.  She was worried that her Valentine's mailbox would be outside what the other kids would think was okay for her, and she wanted to make something "normal" instead of something "weird."

My first instinct was "It's a box to hold your Valentine's, how much rigidity in what others expect from you can there be at the ripe old age of 7?"   But my question to her was "why do you say that?"  She didn't really have an answer, just a general feeling of wanting to "fit in" with everyone else and feeling on the outside of that.

I remember those feelings all too well from my younger years, and my momma protective streak kicked in at a blazing level internally, but all I said was "you let me know what you want to do, and we'll figure out a way to make it."

As an adult, I see the enormous value in standing out from the crowd, in liking yourself warts and all and in blazing your own path that makes you happy and fulfilled and inspired.  But as a kid?  I could never have seen that coming, partly because my non-cheerleader, non-popular girl self was never exactly what my own mother wanted from me, and so I never quite felt that my true self was good enough, period.

Now I see that whole "popular" thing was so much hokum, but how can you know when you are a gangly 16 year old who feels like a weirdo ugly duckling who sticks out like a sore thumb by winning academic awards instead of homecoming court nods?  How do you bridge that understanding with your child when she's young, so she doesn't go down that path, too?

Thus far, we've worked hard so that she understands we love her unconditionally.  It isn't a factor of grades or awards or popularity, we just love her -- period. 

But I can see we've reached the point where we need to start talking a little more about believing in your own potential, dreaming your own dreams, and not allowing yourself to solely be defined by how others see you -- and what jealousy means and how people act out or say things out of their own insecurities, all the things I've had to learn in my lifetime the hard way.  I want to try and lay a foundation for my daughter so that she has a better understanding of the world around her -- and the motivations of the people in it -- so that she can navigate it without constantly feeling like she's digging herself out.

It's important to be yourself.  Absolutely.  But it is also important how to know how to do that in a way that isn't threatening, in your face, and obnoxious, too.  Or how to deal with people who aren't so supportive or who pretend to be friends when they really are trying to use you, manipulate you or take advantage of your naivete.

That's a tall order of information to impart to a 7 (almost 8) year old.  Especially when she's socially still a few steps behind most of the rest of the kids -- she's a young 7 socially if not academically, let's put it that way.

So if anyone has any tips from their own parenting days on dealing with this, I'd love them.  My instinct is to love her lots, and let her talk about what she needs to talk about, vent what she needs to vent about, and be a soft place to fall with occasional advice where it is appropriate.  But I'd love to hear how you've dealt with this along the way, too...

(Gorgeous photo via mickbis.  Love the color and the pop of this poppy in a field of grain.  Just lovely.)


Cell Phone With Camera Flash said...

What you’re saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what you’re trying to say. I’m sure you’ll reach so many people with what you’ve got to say.

Anonymous said...

if your daughter is like mine, you will "lose" her for a few years when she's madly trying to fit in with her peer group...and then she will return to herself when she goes to college...and become closer than ever to you...because you have taught her the family religion, and she believes in it, because she believes in you.