Since our children were babies, my husband has often commented how one of our daughters is like him. They are both observant, detail-oriented, and have a similar way of processing their feelings. Every time he mentioned these similarities our daughter puffed up with pride. I wanted to feel joyful about this bond that clearly brought them closer together. What I often felt instead was a growing distance between me and my girl. Instead of enjoying the sweet commonality she shared with her daddy, I thought of how different she and I were. It made me worry we wouldn’t connect well or share easy communication as she got older.
It took me some time to recognize that my perception could actually hurt my relationship with my daughter. Thankfully, I realized the danger before I caused a real rift between us. But my experience taught me how parenting a child who is different than you in personality or interests can cause unwanted distance. Different personalities, especially, takes some navigating. Here are a few tips on how to bridge the gap before it becomes too wide to cross.
Notice the similarities
You and your child may be more alike than you realize. Perhaps he is a bookworm and all you’ve read lately is email. That’s okay—differences and similarities can exist side by side. If you focus on how different you are, those differences will feel monumental. But maybe your bookworm and you share a similar sense of humor, a common interest in hiking or like values show up when you discuss current events. My daughter and I observe the world and express ourselves differently, but we both love music, enjoy playing board games, and share a common faith. The bonds that tie us are far stronger than any differences that divide.
Admire the strengths
When you notice how your child differs from you, consider how they may be exhibiting a unique strength. My daughter is very social and her ability to make friends reminds me how shy I felt as a child. I can dwell on those feelings of loneliness or I can choose to admire her magnetic personality. (Pick one of these compliments to tell your child today.) I can even observe her with others and learn to be more outgoing and inviting. When we see our kids’ unique traits for the strengths they are we are more able to connect with them, even when those traits are not ones we share.
Learn to collaborate
Families that pool their strengths and draw on each other’s talents build unity and appreciation for one another in their differences. Your different-minded child may be just the one to help you solve a problem you’ve been stuck on or help you out of that rut at home or work. We each have unique gifts to share for the benefit of all. Sometimes looking at life through someone else’s eyes is just the change of scenery you need.
Call out the good in differences
In a culture of comparison (one of the 4 self-destructive traps for moms), sometimes we equate differences with deficiencies. We see people with talents we don’t have and wish we could run their race instead of our own. But the world needs differences and our kids should hear us say so. The Apostle Paul, in describing a group of Christian believers, describes them as one physical body with many parts, all working together for the benefit of the whole. When the computer stops working and your tech-minded child knows how to fix it, be thankful they’ve got talents you don’t have! With our differences we enrich one another, bringing depth and color to each other’s experiences.
Tell us! What gift, talent or character trait does your child have that you admire?