His own way

My oldest son looks so much like his father, but his personality is a twin of mine. To any who doubt the substance of a zodiac sign, I would argue that there is at least some merit. You see, we share a birthday. We are both cancer, born June 24. Those born under this water sign, ruled by the moon are said to  are loving and emotional, tenacious and strong-willed, nurturing and sensitive, indecisive, moody and intuitive.

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There is no doubt—he’s an emotional, strong-feeling child. He’s also sweet, sensitive, gentle and kind. He has intense mood swings that can be fierce and volatile, and then just as quickly spill with happiness. He plays hard, and cries hard. He’s just like his mother, intense.

And I’m finding it challenging.

As much as he is like me, he is not me. Because I see so much of myself in him I feel compelled to care for him just how I would like to be nurtured. I over-mother, play comfortably to his sensitivities, fuelling and validating his emotional side. It causes struggle between us, and between him and his father. I recognize that an emotional child, whether boy or girl, presents unique challenges. And while our particular struggle has less to do with raising a boy, and everything to do with inspiring confidence and comfort with his emotional side, I fear I’m not doing a very good job of it. I worry about him every day. I see him taking his first tentative steps forward in school and with friends of his own and I want to provide a safe place to land, I want to ensure that his every experience is positive and without strife.

It’s impractical and unhealthy. I’m living vicariously through him, trying to correct the heartache of my past through how I parent him. I’m protecting him from my hurts, instead of letting him live and learn in his own way.

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The painful truth is that I don’t know how else to do it. I see myself in him. I identify with his challenges. I want to inspire his sensitivities so that they stay with him and become a part of the man he will be, making him tender and kind and loving. At the same time, I’m struggling to be firm, to recognize that he is a boy, naturally testing his boundaries, challenging me and his father, but playing to my inconsistencies. He needs boundaries, physical and emotional. He needs to learn what’s acceptable and what’s simply indulgent and inappropriate.

How do I balance the two? How do I raise a boy who is confident enough to be gentle and kind, but strong enough to be confident and self-aware? And how do I do that without emotional baggage so that he can live and learn from the breadth of his own experience, rather than the pain of my own?

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24 thoughts on “His own way

  1. Lindsey says:

    I think you know I relate to this – I don’t have any wisdom to offer, only my companionship on a similar journey. Also, I don’t know your husband, but in that second picture he looks just like you to me!
    xo

  2. Amber says:

    I, too, can relate to this. Emily is only two but our personalities have already clashed. I believe this struggle is paramount to parenthood: How do we encourage gentleness and kindness as well as confidence and the ability to be self-aware? Not many answers from my end, either, but I do believe that you are the perfect parent for this boy and will find a way to make it work. Hopefully writing about it has at least allowed you to put your thoughts down so you can think about it from a different perspective.

    • Christine says:

      Writing is a wonderful outlet for that, to organize our thoughts in a concrete way. But also to share and gain wisdom from the experiences of others. I love hearing everyone’s perspective. Thanks for offering yours.
      xo

  3. Maegan says:

    Oh Christine…I know these feelings all too well. My eldest daughter is very much like me and I find myself doing the same thing. I worried very much when we were deciding to homeschool that I was acting out of fear and hurt from my own childhood and not letting her have her own. But I came across a very good quote in a book I was reading and I will email it to you when I don’t have a sleeping baby in my arms. Basically it suggested that children who are happy and comfortable make good life long decisions…like they don’t need to be constantly challenged in order to learn how to rise to challenges. I’ll get you the quote! xo

  4. Jane says:

    You echoed my own fears/concerns/wishes so eloquently. I have yet to find the answers. When and if you do – promise me you’ll share with us? (Shaking my head here – because the subject of your post is what I worry about every single day.)

  5. Kate says:

    My mom’s and my birthdays are just a couple of weeks apart. We are too similar. And she still conflates my story with hers.
    Being aware of how you see yourself in your son is huge. Really.
    And the struggle to instill strength and kindness, self-assurance and respect, oh dear, only a fool would feel certain.

    • Christine says:

      It became painfully obvious to me over the Christmas holidays as I watched interact with a friend on a play date. His personality was a twin of my own, and I was taken aback. It set me to thinking about the influence we have over their deep characteristics, the qualities they call their own.

  6. Stacia says:

    No answer here, only empathy. I’m in the opposite position with my daughter. She looks just like me but has a personality all her own (and the complete opposite of mine). I’m already having trouble relating to her and understanding what she needs, and she’s only 4. What do I do when she’s a teenager?? Please, someone, recommend a book that will help. Please!

  7. Hi christine.. great post…
    I too had the exact struggles when my sons were small, especially with my oldest… take comfort in knowing that you can only do what your instincts will tell you in the moment. They do grow up inspite of all our efforts to do it right and they do develop in their own way… I found that with Michael, it became easier to manage his behaviours than his emotions. For example, how he reacted emotionally to situations, validating the emotion, but NOT letting it take over. I also learned to step back by giving him the opportunity to ask for help. Use his words. What I learned with that is that is was-is capable of a thinking process without me, even at a young age. So all in all, here’s the thing… letting your emotions manage the situation is as bad as dealing with his.. staying detached just a little bit, observing before reacting goes a long way to teaching him that you are there, that you willing to help, that you are always in the moment, but he can’t drag you into it… it will also make peace between struggles with his father. Men don’t see it that way, and at the end of the day… you are raising a man!! in my humble opinion… hope this helps..

  8. I can’t believe you share a birthday! Wow. Pretty interesting.

    And I identify with your struggle. My son is a lot like me as well, and I think that’s why I have more patience for his moods than my husband does. I understand him. I also want to protect him from struggles, but I know that’s not possible. It’s hard. One day at a time, I guess….

  9. You just described my own struggle with Miss M. Miss D. is 100% different from me, but I see myself in flashes when I watch Miss M. navigate her way through this life, and I worry. I think the impulse to protect the from your own life’s hurts is natural–but you’re right; we can’t really protect them at all.

    I related so much to this post. Beautiful.

  10. Such important questions for us all. How do we parent our kids when in so many ways we are still kids ourselves, alternately struggling and thriving through our days?

  11. Count me among the friends here who found this post so resonant. How can we best raise our kids when we see so much of ourselves and our struggles within them? And how can we avoid projecting our experience of the world onto them and theirs? Oh my, I wish I had the answer. But I am grateful to you for sharing your experience and your questions. It’s always nice to know that my own issues don’t exist in a vacuum.

  12. Rudri says:

    I understand this as well. My daughter is so emotional and so restless which reminds me of a much younger me. I often clash with my husband on what she exactly needs. Part of me blames myself because I believe she is craving attention and her only two companions for most moments are mommy and daddy. Because of the only child dynamic, I find myself more empathetic to her personality although at times I don’t exactly understand where the angst is coming from.

  13. Belinda says:

    Such important questions that I often find myself asking. I don’t know that there’ll ever be answers as questions tend to generate more questions. If I can remember that I’m doing my best and my best will have to do, then I start to forgive myself when I feel I’m not doing as good a job as I should.

  14. Lisa says:

    It’s funny that you write about this because both of my daughter’s have been told “you are your mother’s daughter” and they always get upset – like it is some sort of bad vibe for them to be/look like me.

    Thanks for sharing this – makes me feel like I’m not alone.

  15. Cathy says:

    I have little bits in all my kids. With my oldest, our personalities are so similar we clash all the time. However, I routinely champion the younger two because I was the younger kid. Nothing irks me more than hearing my oldest “boss” his younger brother(s) around.

    As for protecting, of course you will always want to, it’s so natural. I’ve found over the years that it is easier to let them “fall” when they get a little older. As for the discipline, I think that the matter-of-fact, no nonsense approach (compared with my emotional, ineffective pleas!) is best.

  16. becca says:

    Hello old friend. I am so in the same place, same struggle as you. My dear sensitive, emotional, wanting to please everyone, little girl Hannah is me. I am her. And I feel I’m always giving her what I had always WANTED my parents to give me but it probably isn’t right… I have a hard time Parenting her and a much easier time empathizing with her. I’m not strong with her. I treat her with kid gloves. And it’s just beginning to scare me. Because all of a sudden I’m feeling like I’m losing control.

    I’m working through it. I have no answers for you. I hope that in the END, the way I’m parenting her will make her realize that I’m eternally there for her and I GET her. I never felt Got as a child. Who knows how it will end up. We do what we feel comfortable doing, right? There’s no manual telling us what’s best for OUR child. We need to go with our gut. Which you’re doing.. and you need to feel comfortable it will all work out for the best. xox

  17. Ann D says:

    This really hit home for me: “I’m living vicariously through him, trying to correct the heartache of my past through how I parent him. I’m protecting him from my hurts, instead of letting him live and learn in his own way.” I’ve been there, done that, oh so many times.

    You’ve recognized a parenting approach that isn’t working. Now you can fix it. That’s great news.

  18. Kelly says:

    Oh lady. No advice, but I totally feel this. I see myself doing it with Bella in a same-but-different kind of way. I suppose each of us do it in one way or another. Reading your thoughts has helped me start to solidify my own. Thank you for that.

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