My then-13-year-old daughter blurted out that question after she had just finished telling me a story about some crazy thing she did.
Boy, was she right. My beautiful, amazing daughter is nothing like I thought she’d be. My imaginary daughter was going to be, well, just like me, of course. A Melinda mini-me. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
But God had already made one Melinda. And He doesn’t duplicate. He’s just so much more creative than that. So He gave me Molly.
She’s outgoing and social, with virtually zero need for being alone. She talks non-stop, with passion and enthusiasm.
I’m an outgoing introvert — I love being with people, but definitely need a fair amount of quiet, alone time to recharge.
She doesn’t give much thought to what people think.
I’m a recovering people pleaser, who still struggles with how people view me.
She’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.
I’m more serious, but with a dry wit.
She’s a risk taker with a rebel streak.
I’m a calculated rule follower.
At first, this was really hard for me. When she was younger, I spent a lot of time trying to squelch her personality and fit her into my box — you know, the one I was comfortable with. I wasn’t sure what to do with this child that was so different than me, so I tried to make her more like me.
I parented my imaginary daughter — the one I’d dreamed up in my head — instead of the very unique child He gave me. I disapproved of behavior and attitudes that made me squirm — the ones that weren’t wrong, but just foreign to me. I tried strategies with her that didn’t fit her personality — and then got mad at her when they didn’t work. It set up some big power struggles and it led her to believe I loved her, but I didn’t really like her.
My son is more like me, but he’s very different in other areas, too. I’ve learned some lessons the hard way over many years that are helping me to honor my child’s unique design:
1. Take interest in what interests your child. I like new things, but I don’t like to shop. I’d order everything — including groceries — online if I could. My daughter loves to shop. It’s her love language — getting and giving gifts. It’s an activity that I’ve tried to do more often, in moderation of course, because it makes her feel valued and it brings us closer.
2. Use strategies that fit your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The other night, my son was really struggling trying to memorize a poem for school the next day. He was so frustrated and obviously tired. I told him to go to bed and I’d get him up early the next morning to memorize it. I told him, “Your brain shuts off at about 8:30 p.m. That’s how you’re wired. What is taking you two hours to learn tonight will take about 20 minutes in the morning. It doesn’t mean you’re not smart. You just have to work with how you’re built.” Sure enough, he learned the whole thing in about 30 minutes the next morning and got an “A” on it!
3. As long as he or she isn’t being disrespectful or rude, allow him or her to express themselves — even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. The amount of energy my daughter brings in with her at the end of the school day is truly shocking. As a more introverted personality, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by it. I want to bring down the enthusiasm level just a tad. But I’ve learned to just go with it. I’m so glad that she wants to share her day with me — both good and bad — and I’m not going to squelch that.
4. Compliment your child — specifically. Tell her the things you appreciate about her. Specifically complimenting and reinforcing your child’s strengths helps them to recognize and realize them more fully.
5. Let go of the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” You know what I mean … She should be able to learn this activity without so much instruction. He should be able to make friends more easily. She shouldn’t need so much alone time. Who says? Just because we don’t struggle with certain things or aren’t built a certain way, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with our kids because they are. When we treat them like we think so, it impacts how they feel about themselves.
Nope, my kids aren’t at all like I thought they’d be.
I’ve quit trying to change them. And accepted and honored the amazing, unique way God made them.
We’re all happier.
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