So many people raise their children in opposition to how they were raised. They decide in advance what they will do differently, how their methods will ensure that what happened to them won’t happen to their own child. This is understandable on many levels, but it’s not practical, and more importantly, it’s not fair. You can’t base the parenting choices you make on the choices your parents made when they raised you. I mean, you can. Go for it, but you’ll simply be perpetuating the very cycle of parenting styles you are hoping to break. When you have a child, you don’t give birth to a mini-version of yourself. Certainly, your child might LOOK like a mini-you, but internally, they are their own person, and it’s that person that needs to be raised.

I don’t have children, but I have read more parenting books than most parents. And I’ve done this because I was a panicked-disordered little kid who needed to be raised differently than I was–but how? Parenting books have told me, and I’ve been able to understand what I needed versus what I got. Knowing this has taught me the reasons for some of my disabling fears, and in understanding what I got vs what I needed has been incredibly valuable for recognizing why I am the way I am, and how I can teach myself the things I never learned. It’s also taught me about the fundamental mistakes that parents make and the most fundamental mistake is this:

Parents so often raise the child they want, and not the child they have.

Little Panicker dancing

Here’s what that looks like. Your child is struggling in school. She’s getting bad grades. You ask her whether she can see the board, hear the teacher. She says yes, but just in case, you take her to the eye doctor, and to an audiologist. When everything comes back all clear, you take her for an educational assessment. You’re told she has a learning disability, and so you meet with her teachers to inform them, sit with her while she does her homework, get her a tutor, ask if she can work one-on-one with the teacher after class. These feel like the right things to do, but each one of these efforts has one thing in common–YOU. You are worried. You don’t want your kid to do poorly. You want your kid to succeed and you want to set her up for that success, and so you do all the things a parent is supposed to do to guarantee your child has what you didn’t. In your search for the answer, you are not only ignoring your child who actually HAS the answers for what is going on with her you’re also sending her the message that there is a way to be, and she’s not being it. You are working hard so that your kid matches the kid you expect her to be and not the kid she is.

But she has a learning disability, you’re saying! Okay, sure. She learns differently from you. But guess what? You learn differently from her. So, do you have a learning disability? There isn’t one way to learn. We are not all the same. The way you learn might work better for the type of educational system that we’ve instituted for all our children, but just because it’s not right for her, doesn’t mean she’s the one who’s wrong. We spend so much of our time trying to bend our child to fit the world, and never work to bend the world to fit our children.

When I was little, my best friend was deaf. She could read lips, and she didn’t sign. It was up to HER to keep up with us. But what if we had all learned how to sign? What if we had helped prepare her to be part of the deaf world as well as the hearing world? We would have learned a new language, she would have felt included and she wouldn’t have had to bear the brunt of learning at the same rate as the hearing kids.

Our children shouldn’t have to prove themselves to us. We should be proving ourselves to our kids. I know people who are constantly pushing their kids to prove to adults how well they can read, or how well they can dance. And when the kid doesn’t measure up while “proving” how well she reads, the parent apologizes on her behalf, assuring the audience of adults that she in fact “can read very well for her age, she’s just being shy.” These demands and apologies send the message to your child that the things about her that are valuable are the things YOU think are valuable. What does she value? What does she feel? Why not celebrate those things?

“Children of Langa” byznagelphotography is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Our children have so much to teach us, but when we’re so focused on getting them to fit into the world as we know it, we’re actually overlooking the essence of what makes our kids so interesting and individual. Let’s spend more time allowing our kids to show us who they are, and a bit less time telling them how we want them to be.

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