Raising A Child Who Is Like Me
By Tanya Slavin
I wake up to a steady and dull thump-thump-thump outside. I look out of the window: grey sky and a heavy wall of rain. It’s Saturday morning. I breath a sigh of relief.
I put my head back on the pillow, close my eyes and take in the comforting sound of pouring rain for a few more minutes. Saturday indoors? No pressure to get dressed, get organized, and go “do” things? The complete guilt-free permission to stay inside and let the day spontaneously unfold, guided only by our minute to minute desires? What could be better than that? I know, just as I lay there listening, that somebody else in my house is relieved too. Martin, my 7-year-old son, like me, is delighted at an opportunity to spend a weekend indoors.
Martin is a lot like me in many ways. We both enjoy an opportunity to stay indoors on a rainy Saturday. We both, it seems, need to have a lot time to ourselves, doing self-directed activities. We are both slow to warm up to people, but once we have warmed up to them, are ready to be vulnerable and give all of ourselves. We are both very physical – he needs cuddles, I also crave touch. We are both highly sensitive. We get overwhelmed by crowds, we don’t understand the appeal of large loud events, or the pressure to try and ‘do’ things all the time. The drive to constantly try new things is equally alien to us. We both notice and can get hurt by things that other people don’t pay attention to – a slight rise in someone’s intonation, a wrong gaze. We’re both worried that people will stare at us when we have a new item of clothing or a new haircut (well I not so much anymore, but as a child I did).
It’s a great in so many ways to have a child who is so similar to you. We have this connection going. I understand – no, I often can almost see what he is feeling. I know exactly what he is going through. My relationship with him has made me reconnect with young and child parts of myself – a process that has been both painful and healing. I have grown to understand myself so much more while trying to understand him. Every day he is teaching me how to be the most authentic version of myself. And then the best thing of all in my mind is that we never have to go to Disneyland…
But having a son so similar to me inevitably comes with its own challenges, too. Before I had kids, I imagined that being a mother would mostly involve sitting on a bench with other moms and talking about grown up stuff, while happy boys and girls around us played tag, chasing each other and laughing, climbed trees, had fun on slides and swings, and generally enjoyed themselves in a typical non-self-conscious kid way. My main job would be, just like that of other mothers, to kiss booboos and tape band-aid to scraped knees, dispense snacks and drinks, and help resolve occasional kid quarrels. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that I could have a kid who would be like me when I was little, the non-typical and shy child, who would stand there in the middle of the playground not knowing what to do with himself, and after a while come to me and either ask to go home or ask me to help him introduce him into a group of kids. “Mama, I want to play with that boy over there!” he whispers into my ear, meaning that he needs my help to get the interaction started. In such moments, I truly wish that we were different. That I’d be a confident and chatty kind of mom who could easily help him in new situations and interactions. Instead I curl up into a tense ball inside, make up some kind of lame excuse for why I can’t do that, and pray that the other mom overhears our conversation and takes on the task of initiating the interaction between the two kids.
But, perhaps, the biggest challenge in raising a kid who is similar to you is not to project too much of yourself onto him, not to assume that just because you’re so similar, he is like you in every way. I see that in Martin every day, if I pay close enough attention, his own unique ways of being in the world. I see it in his interests, in the way interacts with people once he warms up to them, in the way his energy takes over the room and engages everyone present when there is something he is excited about. He is a lot like me, but he is not me, I tell myself. He is his own person. And I have to keep reminding that to myself over and over again.
Tanya Slavin is mother of two and a freelance writer. Her essays have been published in Brain, Child, Manifest-Station and Washington Post. Find her on her website, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
photo credit: © Christin_Lola