What I wanted to write about today is the labels we give our children. Problem child. Terrible two. Golden boy. Genius. Drama queen.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as my older daughter, Louisa, just turned four last month. Lately this girl has been a continual delight. She’s really matured and we don’t have anywhere close to the amount of drama we had with her this time last year. She helps me care for her two younger siblings. She helps with chores. She loves all things creative and girly and brings a lot of beauty to the world around her. And she does (most of) it with a smile on her face.
The thing is, I keep having to remind myself that she is a delight. Because in my head I’ve labeled her as the Drama Queen. And even though that is decidedly not the case anymore, I can’t seem to shake that title deep in my subconscious.
You see, when Lou was born she was strongly bothered by dairy in my breast milk. She spent the first month and a half of her life screaming in pain and crying and just being miserable. When we realized what was happening, I cut out dairy completely from my diet and a lot of her unpleasantness went away. But, even when her tummy didn’t hurt anymore, she had been trained to cry a LOT to get her point across and her first year of life was really a challenge. She became our little “drama queen.”
This was an especially easy label to run with because it contrasted with her older brother, Rock. He had been called “perfect” and “golden boy” and “genius” right from birth. They were fine labels at that time because he was both exceptionally chill and exceptionally smart. So we bemoaned the fact that we were never gonna have it as good as we had it with just Rock and settled into life with our “difficult girl” and “perfect boy.” Of course we didn’t call them that and we always saw good and bad in both of our kids but somewhere deep in my brain those qualities became fixed. And the labels I used not only shaped the way I saw my kids but it effected the way others saw them. Family and friends listened to my complaining about my “Drama Mama” and responded to her in kind. Even now folks are quick to make comments about how she is so melodramatic – even when she’s not being melodramatic. They read that into situations where it’s just not there.
Similarly, we and they attribute good attitudes to Rock when he is being anything but! That’s the funny part, lately Rock has been a moody, challenging boy. There is nothing “golden boy” about his whining over having to practice cello or complaining that we “never do anything fun.” He pulled an epic dramatic fit this past weekend that in hindsight I can see we should have handled completely differently. I am embarrassed to admit we probably would have handled it much more severely if it had come from his one of his siblings. I’m not trying to come out and say we should never label our children. The terms I’ve used above have been 100% accurate for our children at one time or another. But children change. A lot. If you’ve ever been a parent you know that the second you try and adapt your schedule to match theirs that’s when they change their routine! That is the nature of these little beasts.
My challenge to you is to change your labels as your children change. Don’t be like me and get yourself caught in a labeling rut. Continually hit that reset button in your brain. Evaluate your child each day and take the time to truly see them for who they are that day/week/month/year. Feel free to vent your frustrations (away from the ears of your children!) to your friends and family but share the good parts about your kids too. If you aren’t on their side who will be?
I think if parents would take the time to reset their minds more regularly, we’d see that some of these labels we give are just temporary phases. The drama queens can become delightful young ladies, the fussy babies can become sweet toddlers and yes, even the perfect baby boy can become a moody first grader.