My two-year-old didn’t inherit any of my genes. Zip. Zero. Zilch. I’m dark haired with brown eyes, very selective with my words, and always think before I act. I enjoy blending in, and have spent my entire life following the rules. My daughter is light haired with crystal blue eyes, and acts before she thinks. She’s adventurous, and is usually the kid doing things differently than everyone else. My child and I are different. Like, polar opposite different.
We started attending weekly parent-child activities together when she was about four months old. Before she could even sit up on her own, I was helping her to follow the class structure and obey instructions to a T. I applauded her for being just like me, a model student.
Then, she learned to crawl. And I realized that she was only following along up to that point because she couldn’t crawl away to explore yet. I would demonstrate over-the-top interest in everything that the teacher did, attempting to lead by example. But my daughter didn’t seem as impressed with structure as I was.
Two years later, while other children at her gym dutifully walk across the balance beam, my daughter wants to crawl up under the beam to “fix” the screws and other parts she finds. When they’re throwing and catching balls, she’s helping her ball to climb over mats and “swing” from the bars, and enthusiastically clapping and cheering, “Yay, ball!” as the ball completes each trick.
At first, it frustrated me. I found myself saying things like, “No, do it this way. Copy me.” I always assumed my own way was best. But slowly, reluctantly, I’ve changed my mind. As she does things differently than I would have, I’ve realized that more often than not, her way is just as effective as mine. We may be different, but we both get the job done.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want her to be just like me. I want her to be just like her.
Sure, I would love it if she shared my childhood passions for reading and writing. I would stock her bookshelves with The Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew, and let her read some of the “novels” I wrote in fourth grade. Oh, the bonding!
But I don’t want to push those things, or even allow her to think that I’d like for her to like those things. I want to learn what naturally piques her interest.
I’ll always remember the time my mom tried to learn how to play my brother’s favorite video game. She has no coordination in real life, so it wasn’t surprising that she was a terrible gamer. But she tried, and my brother loved it. They laughed together as her character died over and over again, usually due to (a) accidentally blowing herself up or (b) getting disoriented and running straight into the enemies.
I hope my daughter doesn’t like video games. Because I, too, lack coordination.
I really hope she doesn’t like soccer. Long outdoor games in the south Texas heat? No, thank you. But if she does like soccer, I’ll buy one of those huge umbrellas, the camping chair with the best reviews on Amazon, and six different misters to hit me from every possible angle.
I’ll happily learn whatever my daughter loves. Because whoever she is, even if she’s very unlike me, I want to be her biggest supporter. When she “fixes” the beam at the gym, I ask her what she’s doing and act very interested. I cheer on her ball as he commits yet another amazing feat on the uneven bars.
I certainly don’t allow her to disrupt her class. But when she does do things differently, I’ve started asking questions, and trying to see the world through her eyes. And most of the time, I find myself amused and genuinely delighted with her unique perspective. She keeps me young and energetic and optimistic. She opens my eyes to see and appreciate even the smallest of joys.
I’ve become braver and bolder thanks to her. Since her birth, I’ve found myself asking questions like, “Who says I have to do it like that? Why not try this instead? What have I got to lose?” I’ve started to loosen my grip on perfectionism. I’m less afraid of failure, and more afraid of missing out on life and love.
My child and I are different people, but it doesn’t frustrate me anymore. I believe that God has given each of us a unique personality and gifts, and I want my daughter to grow into who she is, not who I am. I’ve decided not to lobby for my own interests, but to discover and support her interests. And in the process, I’m becoming a better person.
If I force her to adopt my own way of doing things, I’m doing both of us a disservice. Instead, I’m choosing to discover who she was created to be. I’m unwrapping the gift of her unique personality just a little more each day. And each day it’s bringing joy, light, and wonder into my own life. I’m raising my polar opposite, and my world is better for it.