Label, Labels and More Labels

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.”


10 thoughts on “Label, Labels and More Labels

  1. Wonderful post! When I was working toward my Early Childhood Education diploma, this was one of the first and BIGGEST things we addressed… labeling children. However, I hope that they are covering the labels of parents and parenting styles now too.

    You nailed it in saying that culture could have an impact on the way people parent and parenting can be very misunderstood and misrepresented. I once read a post on a “big” site where the author bashed parenting “trends” (co-sleeping, child-led weaning, etc.). I was sickened and wrote a rebuttal in a comment and surprisingly (or not), the comment was not published.

    We need to support one another and respect our parenting differences. Labels have no use in the parenting world.

    Thanks for sharing (and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop).

    Wishing you a lovely day.


  2. Love this! I try not to label, which is a little easier, I think, when you have one girl and one boy, because there is less to compare in some ways. My mom and her sister were labeled “the pretty one” and “the smart one,” even though both were beautiful, intelligent girls, and it’s interesting to think how those labels may have influenced them. You have a good point about labels for parenting styles, too. It can be too easy to get caught up in “trendy” styles, when everything we do is tailored for our individual kids. Great post!


    • Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I don’t think we’ll ever get away from labelling ourselves or our kids but maybe one day we can give them less weight.


  3. You have nailed the power of labels πŸ™‚ I see each and every one of them you describe in the little ones yet I know that they will generate a million more as they mature. It is a powerful reminder, however, that labelling is all to easy, influential and best avoided as it is completely unrepresentative and as you say ‘a waste if time’. Humans are far to complex to be labeled and to do so prematurely curtails their potential. Hurrah to you for seeing and describing it so clearly!


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