Don’t Typecast Your Kids

Recently I had a conversation with a mom of two boys, like myself.  We were discussing the differences between the two.  If you have two or more kids, you know that your kids are very different from each other.  And as parents, I think we subconsciously label our kids.  One is the smart one.  One is the adventurous one.  The other is the funny one.  I’m guilty of it.  I have said that my oldest son is the “smart one” because he’s in advanced classes in school, forgetting that my youngest is smart too, just in a different way.

During this conversation that regrettably our children were present for, the other mom began speaking about her children’s passion for what they do.  As some context, before I get to my point, I will say that where passion is concerned, we have always considered our oldest son more timid and cautious, always thinking things through.  Our youngest is the bull in the china shop.  No fear.  

The other mom stated that her youngest son had all of the passion, unlike her older son.  Immediately I found myself agreeing with her.  “Yes, that is how my youngest is as well.”  Then I looked to my right and saw my oldest son just sitting there, taking it all in.  And then I looked at her son, also taking it all in.  I immediately regretted what I said in front of my oldest boy.  I didn’t mean that he didn’t have any passion.  It’s just that my youngest’s passion has always seemed more tangible in a way.

I told my son the first chance I got how sorry I was for saying that, and of course I don’t believe that he doesn’t have any passion for what he does.  He didn’t seem scarred for life like I imagined he’d already be from my hurtful comment, but then, I nipped it in the bud immediately.  I wonder if he sustained an entire childhood of this type of thinking from his parents, who should believe in him more than anyone, how this would affect him as he grew into adulthood.

Well, I can tell you firsthand, it doesn’t end well.  I grew up in a family with a cousin who was a hockey player, a sister who was a competitive figure skater.  Me, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with those things at all.  I was the reader, the writer, the musician, the dreamer.  My sister was deemed to be the athletic and helpful one.  I was the lazy one.  I heard this from people my entire life.  If you hear something enough, you believe it and you live it.  My one attempt to be athletic at 17 was my asking to take tennis lessons in lieu of ice skating.  Guffaws and laughter ensued.  I ended up doing one session and I was pretty okay at it, but it didn’t go anywhere because I didn’t feel like anyone took it seriously or believed in me.

My lifelong dream to be a writer has always been in a way stunted.  I’m afraid to start.  I’m afraid to fail.  I stated out loud as a child that I wanted to be a writer.  It was met with comments like, “You can’t be a writer.  You don’t write every day.  Writers write every day.”  To this day, because I’m too busy obviously to write every day, I’m afraid to even try.  I’m afraid to fail.

This is not to bash my family.  I don’t think it was meant to be hurtful.  I think parents are guilty of being adults and forgetting what it’s like to dream.  I did not dream of growing up to be a court reporter.  It was my realistic job.  It’s a cool job, but it was my “plan B.”  

When you typecast your children, you put them in a category bubble that is virtually impossible for them to break out of.  And then they stop trying.  And when they stop trying, they stop dreaming.  Chances are your kid won’t play for the NFL, MBA or NHL.   They might not be the fighter pilot, doctor, or even the firefighter they aspire to be.  But maybe they will.  Believe in your kids and let them dream their dreams.  Let them find their reality when it’s their time.

As a parent, it’s so easy to beat ourselves up over things like this.  But it’s also important to realize that it’s never too late to live in the moment and actually listen to the words that come out of your own mouth about your children.  They are all ears and those words are becoming engraved on their hearts.  Why?  Because you’re their parent.  They trust you.  You must be right.