Sometimes I feel a good deal of ambivalence when thinking about my children. They are such seething cauldrons of potential, full of change from day to day. And on one hand, I want them to be their own person and an independent soul. On the other hand, I can’t help but identify individual personality traits that I resonate with. Given my own history and childhood, what parts of which child do I encourage? Do I discourage? Parent around? Parent against?
I think it’s most evident right now in Annika, since she’s at such a great age. She’s a chatty 3 1/2 year old, but she has her own specific fears that she’s quick to vocalize and react to. But I resonate with some of her quirks quite strongly, because I can see myself in them. For example, at her cousin’s birthday party the other week, she was the only child who initially refused to participate in a group activity, being “that” child. When the musician/performer called her name, her reaction was to scowl and say “No!” And the other day we had a play date with some of her classmates from preschool at an indoor play area. She was excited yet apprehensive about it, which is befitting her personality. During the play date, she basically followed one of her classmates around like a puppy, while that kid ignored her and followed someone else around. A common enough situation for any child, sure, but boy did I have my own flashbacks.
It is hard not to think about my own experiences growing up as I watch my kids do so. I was a socially awkward child, with friendships and relationships quite the challenge. Friendships in particular puzzled me, being something I longed for yet scary. I can even remember looking for books in the library on friendships, in order to somehow puzzle out their mysteries. There were lots of factors at play besides my personality: an introverted temperament, a tendency to overthink, fear of confrontations, self-confidence, being a child of immigrant parents, birth order, being younger than my peers, etc. Plus, once you are labeled (or label yourself) a certain way, that label itself becomes part of your self-definition. It wasn’t until middle school/high school that I was able to take some awkward steps toward forging the friendships I longed for, even though I definitely made significant missteps along the way. The NYSC experience helped immensely, because I was able to go to a place where no one had any preconceived notions of who anyone was. My subsequent experiences at work and my travels certainly have let myself redefine that part of my personality to a large degree, but when I look in a mirror I still see that socially awkward child.
So now – even as an adult – my almost default stance toward meeting new people is to be pleasant, but with a slight skepticism. Which differs entirely from J, who tends to give new people the entire benefit of any doubt and often gives them many chances. So when Annika clams up at a party when the attention is on her, or to try to wrest control in a situation because she’s apprehensive, I *totally* get her. And when she chases another kid in hopes of finding a friend, I really feel that in my gut.
But on that other hand, kids at this age are changing daily. It’s so tempting to label them -both in thought and word – based on who they are now. It’s such a natural thing to do (“She’s the shy one.” “She’s the easy going one!”) because it helps us make sense of who they are and what they do – at that moment. It’s naive to think that kids don’t pick up on that. We change our kids based on our observations of them (hello Heisenberg). How to give the kids the freedom to be themselves – when “themself” is a think in flux – without passing on your own stuff or limiting them based on preconception?
I don’t have an answer. Maybe that’s why we’re having our third kid – we’ll experiment with the first two and get it right with her. 🙂