How Convincing My Kid To Try New Things Forced Me To Do the Same

by Jamie Sumner
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I am not a lover of trying new things. I never have been. I prefer the decades-old cream bed sheets that are threadbare from overuse, the one travel mug that fits perfectly in the car’s cup holder, and the pizza place that knows my order when they see my number. Familiarity is comforting. As a child, I went through a phase when only one particular pair of pants would do. It was the year of brown corduroys.

And while I often hear friends and family comment, “You’ve got a touch of OCD, don’t you?”, it wasn’t until I became a mother that the preference for the well-known became a real hindrance. When my daughter began to show the same fear for newness that I experienced myself at her age, I didn’t know how to handle it. I had never had to navigate these tricky waters from the side.

When she slowly eliminated eating all things orange, then all things squishy, and then all things smelly until all we were left with were squeeze pouches of applesauce and French fries, I began to deliver the same speeches that all parents have given to their picky eaters. I would hold up a bite of green bean casserole and say, “You’ll never know until you try it.” But she didn’t buy it because I couldn’t really sell it. Her lack of enthusiasm for the “different” was a mirror of my own.

When she set aside certain books and clothes and decided those were the only ones she would tolerate, I asked, “Aren’t you tired of these by now?” and she would swear she wasn’t. I believed her because I can name my three go-to pairs of pants in the very same breath. I have my favorites on Netflix that I watch on repeat rather than slogging through a possibly terrible new series. She, like me, likes to know exactly what she is getting.

But change is inevitable and good. It is why we need seasons and sale racks and ocean tides. If I wanted her to become an adult who was willing to enter into meaningful relationships and gain wisdom from failures, I would have to experiment a little alongside her. So we invented three mantras that we would use to practice embracing change together.

You don’t have to love it.

Not everything has to be amazing or terrible. It can just be okay. The big letdown is a large part of the fear for someone like me who hates change — the “but what if I try it and it’s not as great as I hoped?” moment often keeps me from taking the leap. But I took a deep breath and ordered a new drink at Starbucks, while she picked out a new book from the library. They weren’t better than our old favorites, but that didn’t matter. The goal was to expand what we already knew, and we did and continue to do so.

You don’t have to be the best.

I am just now learning how to be comfortable at being a beginner. Very early on, I decided I knew what I was good at and dove headfirst into those pursuits. But there is beauty in letting yourself fumble around in your interests. I began to follow a new cooking blog and experiment with meals. As I did, my daughter agreed to try the experiments. We were test-chef and test-taster. She also agreed to finally try out her new bike that had been sitting in the garage gathering dust since Christmas.

Neither one was an instant success, but it’s been fun trying to make a decent gazpacho and watching her wobble slowly down the driveway. This practicing without having to be perfect eases the pressure a bit, because of course there are people better than us. We’ve only just begun.

Give it at least three tries.

The first two batches of gazpacho I made were inedible — cold, mushy, green goop that looked like a face mask. But by the third try, it actually turned out alright. It is now my one “tried and tested” fancy soup. She hated the bike in the beginning too. She begged me to let her quit after she tipped over into the grass like a turtle with her legs in the air. I made her promise to try three more times and then we would decide.

Sometimes it’s not the thing itself that isn’t good — it’s the overwhelming newness of it, but you can’t tell if you’ll like it until that newness wears off. Three chances were enough to make her more objective and to decide with facts over feelings. It has been a surprising experiment — working on trying new things in order to help my daughter do the same. I’m not sure I would have attempted it if it weren’t for her. But kids do this. They make us evolve for their own good and ours.

And we have a few experiments ahead of us. She plans to try soccer in the fall and I’ve signed up for a cooking class. Slowly but surely, the act of embracing newness is beginning to feel familiar.