“Parenting is hard,” they say. “Damn hard. I don’t really get my kid at all sometimes.”
Don’t I know it—you want to respond.
I get it. You’re overwhelmed, or lonely, or both. You’re confused, and you feel like you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. You look at your child and wonder what planet they were dropped from, because they are nothing—absolutely nothing—like you.
For some parents, the differences might be as straightforward as the classic introvert-extrovert dichotomy. Maybe you’re an INFJ and your child is an ENP on the Myers-Briggs personality test. Or maybe the differences are because you’re opposite genders. Or maybe the differences are far more complex and ambiguous than labels can define. Maybe the differences seem big, and maybe the differences really are big.
Regardless of the reason and how much, you and your child are different.
Maybe you’re an introvert raising a child who is extroverted and outgoing, loud and energetic. You wonder why your kid is the only one who can’t sit still during circle time. You count down the hours until nap time. You look at your child, as they spin in circles squealing and think: Who IS this child? and Why can’t they be different?—which is followed immediately by a heaping pile of guilt.
Or maybe you’re an extrovert raising a child who is introverted and shy, quiet and reserved. You wonder why your kid is the only one clinging to your leg at preschool drop-off. You count down the hours until your spouse will be home from work and you can talk to someone—anyone—who understands what you’re saying. You look at your child, as he sits in the chair and pages through books for hours and think: Who IS this child? and Why can’t they be different?—which is followed immediately by a heaping pile of guilt.
You worry that you’re doing it wrong, that you’re incapable of understanding your child the way they deserve to be understood. You worry about what is “normal,” fretting that because your child’s personality is so unlike yours, you won’t know what is normal-ish and what is not. You worry that your intuition will fail you because your intuition doesn’t work for this type of personality.
You might feel left out and excluded from your child’s private world. But through your child, you will gain access to a whole new way of seeing the world and responding to it. You might learn to trust your spouse a little more, especially if they are similar to the different-than-you child. You will learn to ask questions and seek insight into your child’s idiosyncrasies. You will learn to relish the joy that comes from finally seeing things through the eyes of someone else.
You will learn to appreciate the similarities and shared experiences where they do exist, as odd and surprising as they might be. Believe me, I never thought that hair would be where I found connection with my so-different-than-me son, but when a too-short haircut left him in tears, I could tell him that I, too, had my fair share of bad haircuts. You take the connection where you can find it, and it is all the sweeter.
There are times, too, when you will stand in absolute awe of your child. You might be amazed by your daughter’s athleticism or by your son’s patience, especially if you aren’t athletic or patient, or you might admire your child’s ability to make new friends easily and run headlong into new social situations, wishing that you had one ounce of your child’s confidence.
You might feel alone at times, worried that other parents can better understand the personalities and needs of their own child, afraid that because you have a harder time, there is something wrong with you. But fear not, there are lots of us parents out there. We are here. We see you. Talk to us, because, believe me, we want to talk to you too.
We want to know that we aren’t the only ones who have a harder time raising one child than another. We want to know that we aren’t the only ones who have wished our child could be different than they are, more like us perhaps, thinking for a fleeting moment that if only we could change them, things would somehow be better, easier. We want to know that we aren’t the only ones who have more questions than answers.
There might be days when you are pushed to the brink of self-doubt and frustration. Am I doing something wrong? you might think. Am I inadequate? Do I need to change? Do they? You will question yourself and your child. There will be days when you will wonder how on earth two people so different could be in the same family. Days when, despite the fact that you knew parenting was hard, you never thought it would be this hard. Days when your child’s struggles will leave you feeling helpless and incapable because you feel like you couldn’t possibly understand or know what your child needs.
And then you will remember: Your love is bigger than comprehension, and the only thing your child needs is you.