When I was growing up I was the “smart” one. Everyone in my family always told me how clever I was and praised me for doing well in school and piano. I absolutely sucked at sports (my family still says that if I move any slower I’ll be going backwards!) but that seemed to be expected from an academic like me.
My sister was the “sporty” one. She did well in soccer, baseball, tennis, badminton (I came close in that one, the court is small so I only had to move my arms), swimming and track. Nobody said much about her less-than-stellar grades in school, Bs and Cs were to be expected from someone so athletic. She learned very late in her school life that she had dyslexia which helped to explain some of her difficulties. (I have her to thank as inspiration for this post since she was the one who caught my spelling mistake in the title! of my last post.)
It wasn’t unusual in those days for parents to label their children this way. It was done with affection and often with the intent to support a child’s strengths and put a spotlight on something other than their weaknesses. I wonder, though, how much those early labels contribute to what a person will become? My family still turns to me when they have a spelling question and they still turn to my sister when they need someone to catch a ball or move a kitchen table (thanks sweetie!) but my sister is the one with a university degree while I am the college dropout. Not only does she have a university degree but she has also earned a college diploma and started a second career that she loves while I have sat home on my ass for the last four years wondering what on earth I will end up doing with my life.
The latest trend seems to be the labelling of parenting styles. I’ve heard of “tiger moms”, “helicopter parenting”, and recently “dolphin parenting.” For every article I read about these labels there is one debunking the theories or saying how parenting this way is wrong. I don’t think that any of these parenting styles is necessarily wrong, they’re likely wrong for me, or misunderstood in my culture, or just very different from what we’re comfortable with. What’s wrong is the fact that they have been labelled at all.
These labels don’t come from affectionate parents, they come from the media who are looking for a good tagline in their broadcasts. As parents we may have a particular way of parenting that we think will work for us, likely it’ll be very similar to the way we ourselves were raised (or the polar opposite!) but, as every parent knows, it doesn’t always work out that way.
When I was pregnant with my eldest I knew that I wanted to raise him the exact same way that my mother raised me and my siblings (we’re all pretty awesome!) but as soon as I got him home from the hospital all those plans went out the window. While I did use my mother as a role model (still do!) I learned that while every parent has a different style so does every kid! When I brought home my second baby I had to adjust again, he is a completely different person than his brother and I had to work with that and figure out how to raise him in a way that he will accept.
I have been the “helicopter” parent, I have been the “dolphin” parent, I may one day be a “tiger mom” too but if I am, it’ll only be for a minute and then I’ll move on to something else. I have labelled my son a “bruiser” and contemplated his future in the NHL (along with an actual NHL scout, so I had help on that one!), I have labelled him a “sensitive soul” and contemplated his perfect football player body on stage performing Shakespeare, and I have labelled him “smart” and waited anxiously for him to be the next Charlie Epps! (Numb3rs, what a good show!) I’ve labelled the other one a “heartbreaker” and imagined all the girls who’ll fall in love with him, I’ve labelled him “less-than-smart” and imagined paying for tutors all through school and I’ve labelled him “star” and imagined a life of leisure as he rakes in million at the box office. Most, if not all of these labels will prove to be useless and just plain wrong. It’ll all depend on the situation, the circumstances and whatever life throws our way.
That is why I think the whole “label” thing is a waste of time. Life is never going to stay the same long enough for any of us to fully implement one particular parenting style if we chose to (or even could!) and I’m darn sure that my kid is not likely to grow up to be a movie star (although I would love it!) Right now I would actually label them both as “idiot” since they’re running around with their water guns, completely naked in freezing-for-July weather. I know that label will only apply for as long as it takes me to get them into the tub and then into their jammies where they will fall asleep in my arms and I will label them “angels.”