Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Danger of Shaming Our Personalities

I had a short conversation with a friend today. Her daughter is a shy and doesn't seem to have the desire to participate in a program we are doing at church. I asked my friend if she was ok with letting her daughter just not speak if she decided not to. I wanted to make sure she, as the mom, was ok with how I was handling it. Otherwise, I would do what I could to get her daughter up to the microphone. I was happy that she agreed. Let her daughter decide on her own what her comfort level is. Don't we all kind of wish people would do that for us?

We began a conversation that got disrupted, but I've been thinking a lot about this topic over the past year or so. Alex mentioned that extroverts are accepted. They are gregarious, fun, louder, and people are drawn to that. So naturally, we kind of parent our kids...or tend want to mimic those characteristics. We encourage and coach them towards that mold. But what if your child is an introvert? If we are constantly pushing them into a direction that is uncomfortable for them, what are we telling that child? That who they are isn't good enough. But you know what? Introverts have a lot of great qualities we want our kids to have: full of restraint, self-control, reflective, thoughtful. I think those characteristics should be just as celebrated. Those characteristics create quiet leaders who shape the world.

My daughter happens to be loud. Really loud. As she is getting older, she seems to be mellowing out a little bit. I always knew she had tenderness and kindness in her, but what often came out were passionate screams of frustration! I had the privilege of cuddling with her and being with her throughout the day, but it's not what many other family members saw. She is so full of energy and very physical. She's extremely passionate and feels deeply. She's not a "drama queen" necessarily, but she can appear to make things a bigger deal than they are. She's sensitive, but others don't realize just how sensitive she is and how much she internalizes what others say because she covers it up with this louder, more energetic part of her personality. I'm the one who sees her tilt her head, cast her eyes downward, or quietly cry. I see it because I'm with her all the time. But others don't see that as often. And for a long time, I think she was understanding that she needed to change. That was the message.

A couple years ago, after reading a book, I realized that I was often trying to change Callie. I didn't see it that way at first, but I was. I was trying to streamline her...calm her down...just relax. It kind of made me sick to my stomach to realize that I, as her mother, was shaming her, in a sense...and in the meantime missing out on her complete awesomeness. Sure, I'm her mom, so I want to guide her to understand how to get along with others, work with others, express her opinions in a way that others will listen, etc. But her passion will translate to passion for LIFE. She has the potential to change the world with that passion. Why would I ever want to shut that down? Teach her how to use it, but not get angry and make her embarrassed for feeling deeply.

I was our class president throughout high school. I worked closely with our Student Council Advisor, Mr. Chandler...even babysat his adorable kids. I felt more comfortable sharing my opinions and thoughts with him than other teachers, probably because it was the nature of my "job" as Class President. A lot of brainstorming, working through problems, creating opportunities, etc. One day, I had a bone to pick with Mr. Chandler. We were headed to a National Leadership Conference in Arizona and there would only be a couple of us attending and presenting. This decision he made directly affected how my presentation would go. As I expressed why I felt his decision was...well...wrong, he started to smile. I was annoyed.

"What?" I asked. The smile was getting increasingly larger. This wasn't funny to me.
"Why are you smiling?"
"Jenny. You are a very passionate person."
Though I was annoyed that he was off topic, I appreciated his truthful remark. And somehow, my frustration melted away as I said, "What do you mean?"
"You have strong opinions and you feel deeply. That will serve you well."  He thanked me for sharing my thoughts and informed me that he felt like what he had done was the right thing to do, even though it didn't appear to be fair. I was satisfied about the situation. But no one had ever told me that I was a passionate person. Yet, he was right.

I credit my parents for not trying to bridle me while I was too young. I grew up feeling confident in who I was...high energy and all. I was always on the go when I was little. Of course, we had an acre of land and I think the community where I grew up was much more conducive to helping my type of personality flourish. Here Callie doesn't have some of the things I had that helped my creativity and energy. I think a huge yard and some freedom would do her well, yet we are not in an environment which allows for the same type of freedoms I had. It makes me sad. But...back on parents celebrated who I was. Sure I got in trouble. A lot, in fact. Just like Callie, I always had to have the last word, push my mom's buttons, etc. But they really did make me feel like I was good enough. They must have taught me somehow to use my passion for life appropriately, because I look at my life and feel like it's very full. I'm really happy. But it wasn't until Mr. Chandler labeled me as passionate that I realized he was so right. And that passion was a really good thing.

I guess all I'm saying is that I find we tend to like what's mainstream. Anything sitting on either edge is uncomfortable for us, so we either try to change it or ignore it all together. Isn't that what the popularity contests of middle school and high school are all about? Those who don't quite fit the mold are ignored...or far worse. Introverts, extreme introverts...extreme extroverts...whoever we are, my goal is to help my children, and all around me, to realize that who they are is children of God. I would think He embodies ALL the positive characteristics of personalities, so we have greatness in us. Even if we don't like to be the center of attention. Even if we crave the attention. Even if we act out because we haven't quite yet figured out how to express ourselves. We're His. We're great.

Accept that.

I am so grateful for that revelation I had a couple years ago that completely altered my way of thinking and changed my direction. Since embracing who Callie is...her fiery, passionate, loud, and extremely energetic self...we have such a deeper love than we did before. And I honestly think it's because she feels completely loved. She knows that who she who she is supposed to be. And that's completely lovable.

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