Parenting a Child Who is Nothing Like Me

I was a shy kid. Painfully, awkwardly shy. My preschool teachers thought I couldn’t speak. I could speak, I just didn’t want to, I was afraid to; I was a selective mute until the middle of my preschool year. Throughout school I was a rule follower and what some may disparagingly call a “teacher’s pet” but I would fondly call “a good kid”. I did well in school, got good grades, preferred reading over socializing, and did all that I could to avoid getting in trouble. I was a perfectionist and a high achiever. Typical first born, type A personality. One of my biggest fears was disappointing an authority figure. I was also terrified of drawing attention to myself. So, for most of my childhood, I flew under the proverbial radar, tried my best to follow rules, and kept myself entertained by reading books and writing my own make-believe stories.

Fast forward twenty years. Okay, FINE! Thirty years.  I am no longer painfully shy, but I still prefer some time to myself now and again, and I always enjoy reading a good book. I now have a daughter who slightly resembles me, same blond hair and blue eyes; it is evident we’re related. The physical resemblance, however, is where the similarities between us end.

My daughter is the polar opposite of me. She is outgoing and social; the life of the party. She has the most infectious laugh. She is always looking for a good time. If there is a crowd of people, you will find her in the middle of it. Her reason for being is to socialize and have fun. She is popular and makes friends wherever she goes. Reading? Not interested. Sitting down to journal or write? No way, Jose. She is constantly on the move; athletic; charming. She follows rules sometimes, but doesn’t break a sweat if she gets in trouble for breaking one. She has gotten reprimanded at school for talking many times. “But, Mom! We just had so much to say!” To my chagrin, she doesn’t give much thought to pleasing the adults in her life. She really is the anti-me, the yin to my yang.

Parenting a child who is so different from me can be hard. I think it is human nature to gravitate toward people who are like us. My daughter is someone who, had we been born at the same time, I most likely would not have hung out with at all. Not because I wouldn’t have wanted to, but because I would have been too shy to talk to someone like her. Truth be told, I’m sure I would have looked up to her and wished I could be more like her just like I looked up to the “popular” kids. The ones who didn't seem to feel like they were going to vomit when they talked to others or got called on in class.

There are times when I am in awe of her ease with other people, her total abandon of self consciousness. Other times I am frustrated with her lack of concern for academics or following rules and upset with her sass. And then there are times that I am dumbfounded by how she can actually be mine. Was there a mix-up in the hospital? Was she switched at birth? If not for the physical resemblance, I would absolutely entertain that thought.

I struggle at times with how to parent her. Our basic needs are so different. While I long for solitude and peace and quiet, she wants constant action and time with friends. I have learned that sending her to her room, alone, is the worst possible punishment and that she needs frequent “movement breaks” or she will drive us all crazy.

I worry that I am not as connected to her as I am to my other children whose temperaments are more similar to mine. I worry that I will disappoint her when I do not have the same outgoing nature that she does in social situations. I worry that I will not offer her enough social opportunities because they are not as much of a priority for me. I worry that the skills that I had as a kid that helped make me a good student and a productive member of society are not as evident in her and she will suffer as a result. I worry a lot. Partly because I am a mother and that is what mothers do, but partly because worrying is something that I do. I worry.

And then I look at my beautiful, carefree daughter running and tumbling about with her too loud voice and her amazing, contagious laugh and I feel relief that she won’t worry as much as I do. She is more comfortable in her 8 year old skin than I have ever been in my adult, wrinkly skin. She won’t feel self conscious when she is talking to her peers. She will probably not feel like an idiot when she talks to boys. She may have more opportunities than I ever did because she won’t be afraid to take chances. She will be a leader and she will make sure her voice is heard.

Parenting someone so different from me can be challenging, but I am doing the best I know how. I have a feeling that puberty and the teenage years are going to be difficult, messy, and painful, but we will cross that crazy bridge when we get to it. While I may never know quite where this little one with the big personality came from, and I may not understand her or what makes her tick, I will always know she’s mine and will be proud of the confident, wonderful person she is sure to become. 

photo courtesy of Samantha Lupo Photography