It’s okay to be weird – raising independent thinkers

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Two of my daughters have come to me in recent weeks in tears telling me that they are upset because “I’m weird, mommy.”

I would ask them, “why are you weird?”

And they would reply, “I am weird because…” and give me a reply.

One time my youngest told me, “I am weird because my brain is the smallest in the family because I’m the youngest”.  (Although, interestingly enough, when asked to write a sentence about why she liked a particular book read on tape, she said, “Because the girl read it fluintly” – yes, my 6 year old daughter used the word fluently in a sentence.  That was weird and awesome).

So, I’ve had to do some self-esteem building lately.  And reinforce the message that it’s okay to be weird.

That weird is AWESOME FUN! (Yes, Rick, I did think of you when I wrote that…).

Like ice cream with sprinkles Awesome!

I still need to help them with that.

I’ve always been weird.

When I was about 10, while my sisters were playing with their Barbies, or their little girl friends, I was hanging out with my next door neighbor Barry chasing lizards and walking on our cinder block fences with him.

(I’m not sure why cinder blocks were used as fences in Alburquerque, but they were awesome to walk on.)

While my sisters hated to read, I read everything I could get my hands on…the dictionary, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the National Geographics, the Hardy Boys books (the originals), We were Five – The Dionne Quintuplets story, and my mother’s copy of The Happy Hooker (what can I say, it was the 70s, my mother was stoned half the time, and didn’t think to move that one off the family room bookshelf).

I am reading a book called Creating Love: The Next Great Stage of Growth by John Bradshaw.  I came across a paragraph that struck me:

I was brought up to believe that love is rooted in blood relationships.  You naturally loved anyone in your family.  Love was not a choice.  The love I learned about was bound by duty and obligation.  You could never not love your parents or relatives, and loving them meant you couldn’t ever disagree with them or want something they disapproved of.

Yep, this is a pretty standard upbringing.  If you want to be accepted into the fold, obedience to familial, cultural, religious and societal rules is pretty much drilled into the children at a young age.  Why is that?  Well, because that’s what’s ALWAYS been done.  The price of acceptance and protection by your herd family was your individuality, or for some in severely dysfunctional families, the price was your very soul.

My great-grandparents did it to my grandparents.  My grandparents did it to my parents.
My mother tried to do it to her children.  It worked on 4 of 5 of her children.

Bradshaw goes on to say,

To question any of these teachings was to risk being labeled a ‘black sheep’ or just plain crazy.  To actually go against them was to feel cellular guilt, the price of breaking a sacred promise you never knew you made.

I know all about that.  I’ve been the black sheep of my family ever since way back when.  I was threatened to be written out of the family a few times…including once IN WRITING by my grandfather.  I had the letter for the longest time.  I’d like to find it and have it framed.  Yeah, I know, that’s weird.  But I’m proud of that, now (even if it did scare me way back when).

I became weirder and weirder by default NOT by design.  Over the years, I became hardened (at least on the outside) to the insults of being seen as weird and crazy by my family.  But I really couldn’t figure out why.  I never ran with the wrong crowd (I had no crowd to run with).  I never got anything other than my ears pierced and never cared to get a tattoo.  I never experimented with smoking or drugs or sex in high school.  I never expressed my individuality by becoming Goth.

I just went my own way, kept mostly quiet and to myself (I had a few other quiet, nice friends), until I reached the age I wanted to go away to college.  And since I didn’t get to go where I got accepted, but had to go where they wanted me to, I stopped being civil.  And suffice it to say, it got ugly.

I was into books.

I got along better with boys than with girls  so I never knew how to be ‘girly’.

I daydreamed an awful lot.

I loved science.

I chose a career path that involved what I was passionate about – biotech.

I have been trying to do things differently with my daughters than my family had with me.

They have a weird mom who used to be in science and a weird dad who was a mechanical engineer-turned-massage therapy student.

I did science experiments with my kids when they were younger.

Instead of taking our kids to the movies (yawn), we take them to historical re-enactments and storytelling fairs.

I like taking pictures of (among other things) bugs.

I BLOG.  That, in itself is weird.

I have four blogs.

That’s weirder.

I want them to know it’s okay to question authority and their peers.

I want them to know it’s okay to disagree with mom and dad sometimes.

I want them to know they don’t have to love their siblings.  They really don’t even have to love me and Mr. RSG.  My job is only to make sure they get to adulthood with the tools necessary to make sound decisions for themselves.  Loving me and dad is optional.

This has been difficult, because Mr. RSG had been fairly certain, up til recently, that conformity to family rules is necessary.

Yes, we kind of disagree on parenting.  I’m way more permissive and he’s a little bit more authoritarian.  We clash from time to time.  We are meeting a little more in the middle these days.  It helps that I sent him to a gifted parents meeting on PERFECTIONISM (and yes, he’s going to guest post on it for me).

And my own daughters tell me to STOP being weird when I get up to climb on walls or curbs and sing in the car when the radio is on.

And even when you are a nonconforming parent, simply by sending your kids out into the world, they tend to want to conform so they find friends.

Social conditioning SUCKS.

I want them to love themselves.

I want them to LIKE themselves.

I want them to love being weird.

Even if that means they will take the road less traveled and fellow sojourners are hard to find.

I think that’s the best gift I can bestow on them.

But how do I more actively teach my kids that it’s okay to be weird?

To celebrate weirdness.

To revel in the joys of nonconformity (a little anyway).

How do YOU teach your kids that it’s okay to be weird?

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15 Responses to It’s okay to be weird – raising independent thinkers

  1. Phil says:

    Huh! What a weird post… 😉

  2. Rick says:

    God, I mean Casey… 🙂 I run into this every freaking week, especially with my 10 year old, Rose. She is weird. Weird is not bad. Einstein was weird. Dr Seuss was weird. I’m weird.

    The kids who pick on her for being weird are the most boring kids I’ve known. It’s like they came out of the womb, pre-packaged as little copies of their parents’ issues. They have no opinions of their own that aren’t first vetted by their peer group. It’s pitiful, and disturbing.

    I ask my kids for their opinions, and actually listen to them. I offer my guidance, but I almost never shove anything down their throats. Not even religion, and I’m on the board of my little church. I don’t want weak-minded kids. They just grow up into unthinking adults, and we don’t need more of those.

    As long as what they’re into isn’t something likely to emotionally or physically scar them for life, I let ’em do it. And, I try to keep in mind that they’ll change their minds a dozen times throughout their lives. And that’s fine, too.

  3. raisingsmartgirls says:

    “They have no opinions of their own that aren’t first vetted by their peer group. It’s pitiful, and disturbing.”

    Rick, that is pitiful and disturbing.

    I’m glad Rose is weird. And if you, as her father, validate her for being weird, THAT’s going to help ameliorate some of the rough patches Rose goes through.

    My husband is reading a book called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know. He’s realizing the impact he has on his daughters as a father. I think in MANY ways, the respect a girls gets from her father is crucial to her development as a strong woman. She’ll use her relationship with you as a template for what she looks for in her own mate. So…yeah, I’m glad to hear you are encouraging them to think for themselves and that it’s okay to be weird.

    As far as Rose getting picked on, I wish I could tell her that this yucky phase in her life will pass. She might not find healthy friendships until college, when it’s a little more acceptable to be weird.

    I was ALWAYS picked on in school for being weird in the elementary years. I didn’t even mention that in my post. I barely made it through 8th grade. I attended 3 schools in 2 years (transplanted from Albuquerque after 7th, then transferred after 4 months of 8th grade). I was picked on in EACH school.

    High school was better, but only because I was a little more invisible. By NOT having to try and fit in, I talked with all types – the geeks, the druggies, and even brushed elbows with the popular kids when I was in the dance committee.

    I wish I could go back and tell my 13 year old self that it does get better. I think it would have helped.

    I started finding really close friendships with other weird people in college – I hung out with the engineering, math and science majors. It was really nice.

    I finally felt like a kid in a candy store and I ended up making up for lost time – I had a lot of dates. And funny thing, about 14 of us from our group ended up getting married and we were close for many years after college. It was pretty neat.

    I think it’s cool that you don’t push the religion angle. I know that spirituality is very important to me, but after seeing so much hypocrisy in my own family, I think that the best thing to do is let children be aware of what you as a parent believe, but then be open to their thoughts on spirituality and who “God” is.

    Funny thing is, my middle daughter always has the most interesting ideas about God and Jesus. It’s helping ME to have these discussions with her and I think it’s helping HER when I ask her what she thinks rather than tell her what I think.

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, Rick.

  4. We talk about this a lot and I encourage us all to be weird – different- to be ourselves. So far, my kids are fine with it but I know there will come a day when the peer pressure makes them want to conform, that’s part of life. I think it’s my job as mom to help them have emotional strength to feel their feelings and yet, continue to be true to themselves. It’s hard to watch as your kids suffer but I always try to remember that it will give them the depth of character that is necessary for life.

    • raisingsmartgirls says:

      Hi Melissa,

      I like your site. I’ll have to peruse it more.

      Is suffering necessary for character development? I used to think so too. But, really, I think that view is just a way to make lemonade out of the lemons life can give you.

      Does bad things have to happen in order for us to show us what we are made of? What of those who don’t make it through, but who end up taking their lives because of it?

      Can’t character come from happiness and joy and peace too?

      The Buddhists think so.

      Suffering is optional, I think, but we’ve been told otherwise.

      I’m sure in America and other developed countries suffering is necessary for character development.

      My old mantra was Nietzsche’s “whatever does not kill us, makes us stronger”. And it certainly did give me strength to carry on…at the time. But with everything I’ve been through (which is quite a LOT of experiences most people don’t have), sometimes I think I would be happy with being a little less strong.

      I first started thinking about suicide in 8th grade. I almost acted on the impulse when I was 18. I have had depressive episodes and suicidal ideations off and on for 25 years. It’s just something I go through periodically. I hate it…but it’s a part of my ebb and flow of my emotional states.

      I’d like my daughters to have a better footing than I did, but, I find it difficult sometimes to give them that.

      Thanks for the food for thought.

  5. Heather says:

    Interesting question. I’ve never thought about actively teaching my children to be weird–we just all came packaged that way. The first time my son asked “Mom, am I weird?” I said, “yeah, you are, weird is good.” He bought it. (or seemed to.) I think he will eventually have to develop his own relationship with weird. It took me a while to figure out my own family wasn’t normal, and quite a while after that to come to terms with it.

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Heather –

    Just to clarify, I didn’t say I was going to actively teach them TO be weird, but actively teach them it was OKAY to be weird.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Casey

  7. mysterycoach says:

    Hell yes I teach my daughter it’s okay to be weird … I wrote a blog post on the opposite side of being the black sheep of the family. The one who didn’t like what was going on, the one who blurted stuff out, saw stuff, decided it was intolerable and I disagree with the whole thought process of “blood” relationships being thicker than those we chose in our life. Hmmph!

    By whose standards do we tolerate bad behaviors from “family”. I am not a fan. Then again, I may have a different perspective because I was adopted, so there is the very real fact that I “know” we don’t have to look at family and tolerate certain things, we get to chose. I go with the thought process “Friends are the family we chose”.

    Be weird 🙂 My one co-worker, about a month ago said to me … “Why do you have to be SO DIFFERENT!” I said, “Why are you not thinking for yourself?” Oops, small rant. LOL 🙂

    You know? I lost my place to the larger response I made here… I didn’t click the box so, if you respond I hope I don’t lose my place!

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Mysterycoach.

    I’ll have to check out your blog to find out where that black sheep post of yours is. One of my favorite quotes is “Well-behaved women seldom make history”.

    It’s not so much by anyone’s standards that we tolerate bad behaviors from family. It’s quite simple why we do tolerate bad behaviors from family – because of the child’s deep seated need to be loved.

    In order to preserve love from their parents, many very young children give up the ability to dissent – they literally “lose their voice” and let themselves be sculpted in ways that might be acceptable to their parents. If I behave, if I choose not to “see” what’s wrong with this picture, if I don’t put up too much of a fuss, if I BECOME WHO MY PARENTS WANT ME TO BE, I’ll retain my parents’ love and attention.

    There are roles children adopt (or is thrust into) in order to cope with family dysfunction:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family

    The Good Child (also known as the Hero): a child who assumes the parental role.
    The Problem Child (also known as the Scapegoat): the child who is blamed for most problems and may be partly responsible for the family’s dysfunction, in spite of often being the only emotionally stable one in the family.
    The Rebel (against parental authority): Somewhat similar to the problem child, however, he or she is at least part, if not all, of the cause of the family’s dysfunction.
    The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
    The Lost Child: the inconspicuous, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden.
    The Mascot: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.
    The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members’ faults in order to get whatever he or she wants. Often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.

    I think these roles are not static either and I think a child could have one or more roles…and I think these roles can shift over time too.

    ***
    I hope you didn’t lose your place either, but I’m not entirely sure if you did or didn’t. 🙂

    • mysterycoach says:

      http://mysterycoachdsi.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/1292007-black-sheep-of-the-family/ It was an old post so I thought I would look it up for you. It’s from my network back in 2007 when I originally wrote it.

      I’m not sure if I’m confusing you with another person with comments or… what I’ve done.

      In reading the list you put up (thank You) I’m trying to remember what role I had myself. If any specifically. In reading it I can identify with various roles above (I know we’re not talking about me but I always find these things interesting to read) No, I don’t think they’re static either, I agree with you because as the family dynamic changed (as mine did greatly time and time again) so did how I dealt with what was going on within the family.

      I had a perspective of when I’m bigger, you’re not doing any of that to me. In the meantime I’ll do what I need to do, help out, etc., but I would stick up for myself regardless and those were some arguments my dad and I had later on. I was indifferent to my parents because I disagreed with what they were doing. I didn’t agree with their child rearing ideas at all. Which were abusive and severely lacking as far as I was concerned.

      It was a very confusing household for numerous reasons. So, it’s interesting how we can go from one thought process to the other throughout life and due to different situations within the home. Thank you for the link I’ll have to read that later on.

  9. Oh, that’s okay if you confused me with someone else. Sometimes I confuse me with someone else too. No worries. 🙂

    Thanks for the link to the blog post, I do appreciate it.

    Anyhow, not to send you on another tangent, but I do have a post you might find interesting, there’s some background info about me as well as a summary of a great book called If You Had Controlling Parents…How Do You Avoid Becoming One.

    https://raisingsmartgirls.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/if-you-had-controlling-parents-how-do-you-avoid-becoming-one/

    I don’t think I was as confused with my family as much as I was angry and argumentative all the time. I was frequently told I should have been a lawyer (which was actually kind of plausible since we already had 2 lawyers in the family – an uncle and my grandfather. Incidentally, my younger brother ended up being the lawyer).

    I think where my confusion came in was when I realized, to other adults who were outside my family’s influence I was viewed as very mature, very responsible and caring, but my family’s view of me was immature, irresponsible and selfish. I am only now believing that some major projection was going on. I wasn’t those things…they were.

    I wish I could have been indifferent to my parents behaviors. I couldn’t. I had a deep need to correct their impressions because they got me pegged so wrong. I tended to fight for the right to be heard, even though it had really bad consequences for me.

    This is why it’s so important to me to accurately reflect my daughters’ perceptions, to validate their feelings (even as some of the stronger emotions challenge me), and accept that they need to develop their own voice.

    And it’s important to me to keep these lessons foremost in MY mind, when my children challenge
    us as parents.

  10. Christine says:

    I’m so impressed she used the word fluently! That’s awesome 🙂

  11. Lisa says:

    I just looked the word weird up in the dictionary. Its one of the ways I keep myself informed of the true depth of its meaning. Not a bad name to be called!

  12. Decci says:

    Reblogged this on The Life of Decci and commented:
    “If you want to be accepted into the fold, obedience to familial, cultural, religious and societal rules is pretty much drilled into the children at a young age. Why is that? Well, because that’s what’s ALWAYS been done. The price of acceptance and protection by your herd family was your individuality, or for some in severely dysfunctional families, the price was your very soul.”

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