There isn't much about parenting that isn't challenging, with the exception of loving your little ones — that part is a breeze, right? Then again, even that comes with its own unique conundrums, like how to foster your child's individuality so they don't get swallowed up by society or sink into a sibling's shadow.
As the mother of a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, I'm acutely aware (like all parents are of their kids) of the things that make my kids unique... not only from each other, but from their peers as well. And since peer pressure is perhaps more daunting than ever thanks to the social media age we live in, I'm always worried my sweet babies will be picked apart for the very traits I adore.
Or, just as bad, they'll pick themselves apart because they don't look or sound or act like their sibling or their friends.
So what's a mama to do? To get our fingers on the pulse of what real moms are doing to celebrate their kids' individuality, we took the question to the people — here's their spot-on insight.
1. Offer the freedom to explore their passions
"First of all, I think flexibility in parenting is more important than consistency! Each one of my children is very different — one is quiet and artsy; one loud, strong-willed, demanding and artsy; one who deals with anxieties over things he can't control but is brilliant; and one who is quirky and imaginative. I have to be flexible to their needs. I think allowing children to express themselves in clothing (as long as appropriate) helps them develop their own sense of style. It's also very important to me to develop their God-given talents. Everyone has some sort of talent, and it's so much fun to watch my four children develop in different areas." — Shannon J.
2. Never compare them to anyone else
"I have three kids who share some similarities... and some big differences too. My middle child, a daughter, is a Type A personality all the way. She was involved in every extracurricular in school, was class president, captain of her sports teams, a straight-A student. The works. Her younger sister was always very smart and talented as well, but she was constantly being compared to her big sis by others, and it had the potential to wreak havoc on her self-esteem. At home, I avoided any comparisons and instead focused on making sure she knew how special she was as an individual." — Marilyn R.
3. Give them time to themselves with intention
"With twin girls, individuality is the daily struggle. For the first time this year, one got into a special chorus program and the other got into the honors program for next year. We are trying to teach them to celebrate each other, which is so hard. I constantly tell them they are two different people with different strengths. Try telling that to an 8-year-old! The struggle is real." — Loni E.
4. Let them explore things you don't understand
"My son is a very quirky kid, and he is really into astronomy. Don't get me wrong; I like the planets too, but he is obsessed and talks about the universe constantly. I've always been more of an art and humanities type of person, so sometimes I find myself trying to steer him towards more creative hobbies like painting. When I catch myself, I always remind myself that his big, astronomy-obsessed brain is beautiful! Our differences allow us to learn from each other." — Melissa L.
5. Make quality time a priority
"I have two boys — 9 and 2 — so I think we celebrate them by giving them each special attention, 'just them' time. So for my 9-year-old, we've gotten a sitter and gone to a movie with him so he has special time with Mom and Dad where he picks a movie and he can do 'big boy' stuff without the toddler, and he's the focus. For my 2-year-old, well, he's a 2-year-old! He thinks everything is about celebrating him, ha-ha." — Brooke N.
6. Pay attention to their likes and dislikes
"It seems like the laundry list of things my kids like and dislike changes daily, and I can always tell when I'm not current on those things that it kind of hurts their feelings. If I assume my son still likes the same music as my daughter, I understand why he doesn't feel like I celebrate who he is as an individual. I try very hard to keep my ears and eyes open as well as pick up on cues so that I'm more aware of the distinctive things defining my kids' taste at any given moment. It makes them feel special when they realize I've taken the time to 'get to know' them." — Sam P.
7. Encourage expressions of identity
"When my daughter wanted to wear camouflage rain boots to school practically every day because she had decided she wanted to be in the Army, I let her. When she went through a phase of only wearing pink, I encouraged that too. I always try to let her express who she is as an individual, because it's important for her to feel like she has a voice." — Kelli S.
8. Share your feelings
"Now that my babies are a little older and can understand more, I've promised them (and myself) that I will sit down with them and have the important conversations when they need to be had. I feel like one of the most important of those conversations is the one where I tell my kids how cool they are and how much I admire the human beings they each are individually. I think kids need to hear not just that we love them, but some of the reasons why sometimes." — Sarah P.
9. Introduce them to role models
"When my son was being picked on in school for being a quote-unquote nerd, I felt like I was at my wit's end. Not only did nothing seem to be being done about the bullying, but my son had really started to withdraw emotionally. In order to help him see how great he was, I started getting him books about famous people throughout history who were persecuted for being too smart or too something." — Becky G.
This post was sponsored by Fruit Shoot®.