Yesterday, I challenged a couple family members to send me 3-5 words to describe my 13-year-old daughter. I wrote down my words and waited to see what the others would say. My husband picked three of the same words I did and while his other two weren’t the exact word I chose, they had similar meanings. It shouldn’t have surprised me that as her parents, we both describe her in similar ways, but it did. When I asked my sister, her words were also nearly the same. This was further confirmation in the strength of my daughter’s traits, that someone whom she doesn’t see every day can have such strong sense of who she is. When her grandmother listed her words, she gushed as only a grandmothers can. And when I finally asked my daughter, she could only give me three words. One word matched mine, one word I didn’t include but agreed with and the third was the opposite of one of the words I chose. What was interesting thing was how all of us used very similar words to describe my daughter and in doing so we all agreed on the words we used to describe her. So, if we have such a clear idea of who our daughter is, why does her behavior sometimes surprise us and why do we think we should try to change it?
Let me give you a very basic example. One word that appeared on all our lists on was artistic. She has always loved to draw and color. Any type of homework assignment where she could add a creative flair is done to the max. Sometimes this means art supplies are strewn out across the table or homework stretches into the night to beautify the presentation of the assignment. It’s easy to get mildly frustrated wondering when she is going to be done, couldn’t she keep her area cleaner and try to encourage her to hurry her process along. However, we all agreed this is who she is, why do our reactions ignore this fact? Who are we to stifle any kind of creativity that is obviously so intrinsic to who she is?
My list also contained the word studious. The others chose similar words including intelligent, perceptive and smart. Whatever adjective we chose, we all agreed she enjoys and does well in school. Our challenge as parents comes when we see her doing her homework in front of the TV. Our instinct is to ask her to turn it off, so she can focus, which we equate to sitting in a quiet room. However, why do we think that? She is doing just fine. Too often we react without taking into consideration the personalities of the people involved. Why do we feel the need to impose “our way” onto her when we all agree it comes naturally to her?
One of the words her dad and I matched on was friendly. We can’t set foot in a local store without her knowing at least one person. She can hold a conversation with an adult just as easy as she can with a friend and like most teenagers her social circle is very important to her. So, when the mom taxi is on the clock, often making multiple round trips for forgotten items, pick-ups and drop-offs of various friends, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. It’s easy to commiserate with other parents about the constant shuttling and a social calendar busier than most adults. To some extent we know this is what we are signing up for, but somehow, we are always surprised and often exasperated by it.
In her first book, The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali explains “You are raising a spirit throbbing with its own signature.” As a first-time parent I was surprised when my newborn baby showed us her unique personality from day one. I think we believe their personality comes later, when they are a little more grown up, but we quickly realize it’s in them from the start. Dr. Shefali goes on to describe an interaction she had with her daughter when she was small, she says “I find myself so conditioned to sermonize, so oriented to teaching, that I am often insensitive to the wondrous ways in which my child reveals her uniqueness, showing us she’s a being unlike any other who has ever walked this planet.” I relate to this so much because instinctively I jump to the teaching based on what I think is right, when I have never examined why I think it’s right, much less asked myself the question, is it right for my daughter?
No matter what age you child is, take a couple minutes today and think of the 3-5 words you would use to describe them. Ask your spouse, co-parent or other family members what their words are to compare. If your child is old enough have them make a list as well. Then find some time to talk about each person’s list, maybe over dinner or before bedtime. The list is a chance to see if how you see your child is the way they see themselves. If there are differences it will give you the opportunity to talk through it and better understand why they feel the way they do. By having this discussion, you will have the opportunity to let your child know you see and appreciate who they truly are. Then as you go about your week, think about whether you have been parenting your child in a way that compliments their traits. This is definitely easier said than done, but if we can align with the unique spirit of our kids we give them the best chance to thrive and in the end isn’t that what every parent wants?
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.