I suffer from a serious condition: excessively high self-esteem. There is no cure. I hate to toot my own horn (okay, fine, this is a lie, I absolutely love to toot my own horn), but I always thought my eccentric personality and quirky traits were delightful and charismatic. That is, until my son started exhibiting those same characteristics, and I began to think of them as aggravating and obnoxious instead of charming and adorable. The tricky part of watching my child morph into a miniature version of myself was realizing that my traits were not, in fact, as endearing as I once believed.
You would never guess my three kids are biologically related because they look nothing alike and have entirely different personalities. Despite, or perhaps, because of their uniqueness, I am besotted with them. My oldest is a clone of his father; they’re analytical, practical, and high achievers. My youngest seems like he is the spawn of Care Bears — easy-going, happy-go-lucky, and affable. Parenting these two is not without challenges, but overall, I find it simple because they’re straightforward and largely uncomplicated.
Then there’s my middle child.
He is my twin, both in physical attributes and personality. We are very porous, highly sensitive souls. I am a deeply feeling adult who suffers from anxiety, and he is a deeply feeling kid who, you guessed it, also suffers from anxiety. We experience the world in a similar way: heightened senses, overthinking, and propensity to worry. We feel things intensely. Therefore our expressions — joy, sorrow, frustration — are also more intense.
Many of his characteristics drain me, and he triggers me a lot. His behaviors easily push my buttons, and I inevitably lose my cool with him, more so than with his brothers. One day in particular, I was just plain worn out with him over some issues we were working through that, despite all our best efforts, never seemed to improve. “Why does everything have to be so difficult with you?!” I said, exasperated. I sat down, completely exhausted, and closed my eyes when it hit me like a thunderclap: I was struggling because this kid is exactly like me.
The more I thought about it, it all started to make sense: Those of us who are deep feelers are complicated, so it should have been no surprise that parenting a kid like this would also be complicated. Unfortunately, parenting books don’t necessarily prepare you for kids like this.
Over time, and with the benefit of therapy and self-examination, I’ve realized my pattern with him is endlessly frustrating and counterproductive because my internalization and interpretation of his behavior are actually the problem.
He triggers me because his behaviors reflect the unresolved issues I have in my own life. I am easily frustrated with him because he exhibits the parts of myself that I am uncomfortable with. My loss of control of his behavior feels incredibly defeating, triggering more anxiety. He reminds me of the very things that I don’t like about myself, which leads me to unfairly resent him for it. This kid has forced me to hold up a mirror to myself and acknowledge my flaws and come to terms with things I both admire and dislike in myself, which has been simultaneously enlightening and terrifying.
Knowing all the challenges he will face with his particular personality is tough. Watching my son grapple with the anxiety I’ve dealt with all my life is hard because I’m acutely aware of the figurative beast he’s up against, plus I feel guilty he inherited my neuroses. And I know his life will be inherently more difficult as an over-thinker.
But when I start to get down, I remind myself that he also has my quick wit and that his inherited emotional complexity can be an enormous asset. He is highly empathic, and his regular examinations of life lead to astute (and hilarious) commentary about the absurd world around us.
Being deeply feeling is a superpower that he and I share. We both have deep and fulfilling friendships from being perceptive and highly attuned to others’ feelings. Our constant introspection makes us profoundly reflective, which has served me well as a writer and a human.
Through parenting him, I have finally come to an understanding of our shared characteristics, and now I can truly appreciate him (and me) for who we are. I’ve made peace with his (and my) quirks and even learned to recognize and embrace them as the unique gifts they are. Now when I feel triggered by him, I am working to view us as a team battling our shared challenges rather than me versus him.
The immense privilege of raising this precious and complex child has become a journey back to loving myself again (I guess now I can resume my horn tooting). It’s certainly not easy, raising a tiny version of myself, but the biggest blessing he has inadvertently bestowed on me is simply being who he is, which is multi-faceted and magnificent. Just like his mama, who loves him intensely and immeasurably.
Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast, and mom to three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical) and trying to keep goldfish alive. Her words have appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford