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The many people our kids might be

A friend and I were talking the other day. I will preface this to say that this friend is fun, funny, outgoing, sarcastic, smart, and a good cook. All the things I like in a friend.

I confessed to her that every time I take one of those personality tests to determine what I should do when I grow up (if ever I grow up), they say that I should be in the category with “rabbi, priest, social worker, therapist.” In other words, nurturing professions where you take care of other people.

What professions have I practiced or considered? Writing, teaching, graphic design, law, music. The only one that comes close to nurturing is teaching, but I should add that before I started homeschooling, I never, ever wanted to teach children! No nurturing for me: just adults who knew what they wanted to be when they grow up.

Back to my friend: She said, “Of course those tests say you should have one of those professions. You’re a people person!”

Back to my description of her: fun, funny, outgoing, sarcastic, smart, and a good cook. Of herself, she says, “I’m shy, I’ve had to learn all the rules of getting along with people as I got older and had to attain those skills.”

In other words, just like me.

What this leads me to thinking about (what else do I think about?) is raising kids. Parents these days (including myself here) are generally pretty analytical about their kids. They watch to see if their babies attain all the milestones, and ponder what it means if they do them early or late. They wonder about the effects of artificial coloring and wheat and high fructose corn syrup. They worry about whether their kids get enough screen time. In other words, they’re paying attention, closer attention than parents probably ever have on the whole. They have a huge amount of resources coming at them over the airwaves. They can find out how people in Tibet parent, how much screentime kids in China get.

We pay so much attention to our kids that we have a good sense of them, often, by the time the start crawling. (Or not crawling: my daughter — and her mother — never did!) We think we have them pegged by kindergarten and we evaluate their potential teachers by the fit they have with our kids’ learning styles. (This is another conversation I’ve had with multiple moms!)

But here we are: my friend and me. We were both shy. I don’t know if this is true of her, but I remember that sometimes when an adult addressed me, I burst into tears. Perhaps this is genetic. My son did, too. Unexpected things, things that made me undefinably uncomfortable. I have pale skin: when I blush, people notice. Sometimes this still happens — it takes me unawares. One time I was asked by another parent to lead a song at a school function; I’m a singer and I long ago got comfortable with the fact that I don’t have a perfect voice. So I said OK. And there I stood in front of all those people, and though I’ve done this on a regular basis since college suddenly I felt that sinking feeling, like I was 13 again and something I was doing just seemed Not Good Enough…

My friend said I’m a people person. And I believe her. But that is definitely not the way anyone would have described me when I was a child. (I recently got back in touch with a close friend from my teen years; perhaps she will confirm this!) I remember myself as awkward and unhappy. I remember that as I got older, I realized what was making me unhappy (self-consciousness and self-critical thoughts) and awkward (worrying about what everyone else was thinking), and I made a conscious decision to change.

And I did. Not 100%. As I said, I stood in front of all those adults, most of whom I knew, and those kids, many of whom I knew, and I had something like a 13-year-old flashback. But fundamentally, I have changed.

And our children can, too. This is what my thoughts led me to: My friend says I’m a people person, and thus I have fundamentally changed. I used to be a cat-person, and a book-person, and a music-person. I was a child who locked herself in a closet with a book and a flashlight. I was a teenager who dyed a lock of her hair pink. I was a 20-some-year-old teaching teenagers and wondering if I had anything to say.

I’ve been many people, while still being fundamentally the same. And our kids will be, too, no matter how well we’ve analyzed them at the age of three. This is my thought for the day.

Posted in Parenting, Psychology.

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