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When Labels Stick

Posted by Patience on September 17, 2010 at 8:27 AM in Connecting with kidslife lessons
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best buds

Fridays are show and tell at school and Jack is always searching for just the right thing to take. He bounded down the stairs with a carefully crafted diamond made out of Legos.

"Jack, didn't you take a Lego creation last week?" I said.
"What can I say? I'm a Lego geek!" he replied.
"Hey, I'm the Lego guy in this family!" Josiah quickly shot in.

My own childhood started gushing in my head the way it does in certain moments of parenting. Everything you have ever thought or felt as a kid is all right there in a flash of a moment. Sometimes this can be painful and we start doing all kinds of projecting but other times it feels more like an opportunity to educate. If ever there was a teaching moment, this was it.

I told them a story about how when I was little I watched my sisters and whether I realized it or not, I gave everyone a job or a label.
Jennifer was a dynamic writer.
Kristen was the smart, witty one. (and she took amazing pictures)
Katie was the charming baby of family who could do anything really.

I told myself all those jobs were taken and I probably shouldn't even try to do any of those things.

"But mom, you ARE a writer AND you take pictures now!" Josiah said perplexed.
"I know and so are my sisters, but it took me awhile to figure out I could." I said.

The "awhile" part was an understatement, try 10-15 years really. What I discovered was that I came from an entire family of creative writers. While each person has their niche, we are each amazing in our own ways and sometimes those abilities intersect. Oh, how I wish I had known this from the beginning. I wish I had never been so afraid to try. So now I do the work of pulling off the labels.

"So I'm wondering if it's possible that there is more than one Lego expert in this family. We would be like a super Lego family, or maybe we are a big jumble of all kinds of things, artists, thinkers, builders, dreamers, you know?" I proposed.

"Yes! That's it, we can be everything!" Jack said.

I wonder if in an effort to encourage our children's individuality we sometimes shut or close off potential interests. Do you struggle with this as a parent? I know I do. How do you handle the labels flying around your kids? Share with us in the comments.


Kathryn writes...

Such an enlightening post . . . . I always thought my sister was the only artistic one in the family. I may have come to it a little late but like you I've realized that the labels we acquire early on shouldn't stop us from becoming more.

Kate writes...

I have a hard time finding the balance because with the bigger family I also want to make sure I protect their individuality. I do feel strongly that everyone has a chance to try everything they like/want to but it's hard. Parenting is crazy choreography - making sure all the steps and rhythms come together harmoniously.

playcrane writes...

This is a very important issue. It is discussed further in the well-known must read parenting book, "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen to Kids will Talk" by Faber and Mazlish.

Amber writes...

My kids are 5 and 2. At this point, I wouldn't say that they have many labels, but maybe that's only because 2-year-olds are just, kind, you know ... 2. Also, because they're opposite gender it almost feels like that's difference enough.

I will say that there was definite labeling with my sister and me as kids. We were closer in age and looked a lot alike, so I can see where it comes from. It was an effort to re-inforce that we weren't the same person. But it's limiting and I definitely try to be label-remover as a result of it.

Manic Mommy writes...

The timing of this post is so appropriate. HRH is my 'brilliant' boy; reading at four, wonderful vocabulary, loved school from the moment he started. Gremlin is my little, well, Gremlin. He is certainly smart but more than anything, he's funny. Like, he gets the joke, understands irony, says things that no five year old should.

The other day, he made some comment. I laughed and completely in concert, he and I both said "Oh, Gremlin, you're so funny!" I do worry about him having to live up to this label. Or thinking that's the only one that fits.

Signed - "The Pretty One"

My sister was The Nice One. Not in my immediate family but extended, but still.

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