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Different Children, Different NeedsUnderstanding the Unique Personality of Your Child
By CHARLES F. BOYD with David Boehi & Robert A. Rohm
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 1994 Charles F. Boyd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneParent Pollution
Why can't my mother accept me for who I am? Whenever I'm with her, she reminds me that I can't sew like her, I can't cook like her, and I don't keep the house as neat and clean as she does. She criticizes my lifestyle, and accuses me of being vain.
"She has always tried to make me into somebody I'm not. And every time we're together, she constantly picks at me."
How often I have heard those words! How often, too, I have found a distraught child sitting in my office, seeking help on how to deal with a parent who just doesn't understand what makes him special, what makes him unique. What I find most amazing is that these "children" are often in their thirties and forties and still facing a basic problem that was never resolved when they were younger.
This time the words came from Rebecca. Her eyes filled with tears as her anger melted into hurt. She reached for a tissue and broke into deep sobs. Her most recent collision with her mother had occurred just hours before she came to see me.
Rebecca had won an award for her work in a volunteer civic organization and had phoned to tell her mother the good news. As she begandescribing the awards banquet and the honor she had received, her mother interrupted and said, "I never cared much for those social clubs and that sort of thing. You should spend your time doing something more constructive, rather than flitting around in the limelight. Those kinds of things just give people a big head and they think they are better than everybody else."
Rebecca never had a chance to explain that she had been honored for her volunteer work with children in the inner city. All she heard was criticism. "This was one of the most important days of my life," Rebecca said, "and she could not even say, `Congratulations,' much less, `I'm really proud of you.'"
Rebecca had always been an outgoing child who made friends easily and loved being with people. She was naturally enthusiastic about almost any task she put her mind to, and often was able to persuade others to join with her. She was the type who had difficulty hiding her emotions, a fact which she sometimes hated; but that trait only endeared her to her friends and made them feel they could be themselves around her.
Her mother was quite different. She was a quiet, cautious woman who felt uncomfortable in large groups. She enjoyed quiet conversations, sewing, and good books. She kept her house meticulously clean and felt uneasy when everything was not in its place.
As Rebecca grew up, she found herself constantly in trouble for not cleaning the house to her mother's standards. "I can't tell you how many hours I had to work on Saturdays, dusting the furniture over and over until I wiped off every speck of dust. I could never please her."
In her small town, Rebecca always seemed to find her way into the spotlight. Every time she did, her mother scolded her for developing a big head. When Rebecca performed in a school play, her mother warned that she would grow up conceited if she continued seeking applause. When she made the cheer-leading squad, her mother said, "I can't understand why any sensible girl would think that is an accomplishment."
Rebecca felt like she was a prisoner to her mother's "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." Here she was, thirty-five years old, married, mother of two, and still not free. She couldn't enjoy the recognition she had just received because deep in her soul she thirsted for approval from the one woman who seemed unable to give it.
Rebecca was somewhat surprised that her ten-year-old daughter, Laurie, had a great relationship with her grandmother. "Mother and Laurie get along fine. That girl seems content sitting in her room, reading books or playing with her dolls.
"But I am bound and determined that she will get out and make friends, meet people, and enjoy life."
Note the irony here? Rebecca couldn't see it, but she was repeating the pattern that had caused her so much anguish. The problem had passed on to one more generation.
Bending Our Children Out of Shape
Rebecca was struggling with an age-old problem that I call "parent pollution." We all have inherited some. We also will pass some on to our children.
What is parent pollution? Raising your children the way you think they ought to go ... or want them to go.
That sounds innocent enough, doesn't it? After all, what parent doesn't want the best for his kids? We want them to feel confident, competent, and capable. We want our kids to feel loved, cared for, and valued. We don't set out to intentionally frustrate them or warp them.
Too often, however, we assume that what is "best" means that our children should live their lives according to the script that has worked for us. Without realizing it, we try to create carbon copies of ourselves.
A related problem is seen in the parent who doesn't like certain aspects of his personality or behavior. He doesn't want his children to experience the same failures he has, so if he notices that his children behave like he does, he tries to stamp out the behavior.
In either case, we actually bend our children out of the shape that God has instilled in them. Many problems of low self-esteem and low confidence stem from parents who failed to accept their children for who God had made them to be.
An often quoted Proverb lays a foundation stone for effective parenting:
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
Many Christians assume this verse simply instructs us to take our children to church and keep them in school, off drugs, and out of trouble. Then, even if they stray temporarily from the straight and narrow, when they are old, they will return to the morals and lifestyle they were raised to maintain.
My problem with this popular interpretation is that every child has the capacity to make his own choices. It doesn't take into account the individual will of the child. I've seen too many children who were raised in good Christian homes run wild anyway. Some have never returned to God or their spiritual roots.
The correct interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 has a radically different meaning. The phrase "in the way he should go" does not refer to some prescribed path that every person should follow. In the Hebrew language, the phrase is better rendered, "according to his way." And the Hebrew word for "way" is derek, which literally means bent and refers to a unique inner design or direction.
Therefore, a more accurate rendering of this verse would be:
Adapt the training of your child so that it is in keeping with his natural design; when he comes to maturity, he will not depart from that pattern of life.
This verse actually instructs us to nurture our children according to their nature.
A Metal That Remembers
Recently I watched an episode of "Beyond 2000" on television's Discovery Channel, and I learned about a new type of metal. This "shape memory alloy," as it was called, could be programmed to "remember" a certain shape. If that original shape was distorted in some way (by twisting and bending it with your hands, for example), it could easily be restored by simply passing it through hot water. Imagine car bodies made of a metal like that-if you had a fender bender, you would simply take your automobile to a nearby car wash and it would be good as new!
As parents, we need to discover our children's natural styles and help each one grow up according to his unique, in-born, God-given design. As they experience the collisions of life, they will be more prone to return to who they really are, rather than becoming permanently bent out of shape. Their self-esteem will remain intact.
Training a child according to his bent is not as easy as it sounds. We usually feel most comfortable with people who are like us. Think of your friendships. Chances are that you know people with many types of personalities, but there's a certain type of person you enjoy most. We tend to like people who are like us.
Many companies I've observed tend to reflect the personalities of their directors. If he is decisive and aggressive, his natural tendency often is to view those qualities as essential for leadership. He may view employees who are more cautious or people oriented as slow and ineffective.
Over time, you begin to notice that the people in top positions at a company seem to have the same behavioral style-just like the director's. Sometimes this works, but often it does not because the leader fails to recognize that different situations require different styles of leadership.
It's the same with children. God gives many parents children whose bents seem to consistently bend them out of shape! When their children's unique tendencies rub the parents the wrong way, they try to make those differences disappear and replace them with qualities they value. Often, they try to remake their children into their own images.
If you want to have a meaningful relationship with your children, you must understand who they are as God designed them. You must lay aside what you want your children to become and spend time getting to know who they already are.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting you let your children be in charge and set their own course. They need your supervision and guidance. They need to learn how to live, and how not to live. They need you to help them develop convictions and character.
As you pursue these goals, however, it's important for you to understand how to adapt your parenting to meet the individual needs of your children. On one hand, your job is to bend and shape your children as they grow up. But on the other, your job is to provide the home environment and encouragement that will allow their natural bents to develop.
Parable of the Plants
Imagine you have two children. View them as two different seeds that God has placed in your hand. He doesn't tell you what kind of plant those seeds will grow to become; He simply tells you to cultivate them so they will grow up healthy and fruitful.
You know there are certain things every plant needs: water, sunlight, rich soil, carbon dioxide. You provide the basics, and before long those seeds begin to sprout. Soon you have two green, growing young plants.
With each passing week, they begin to look different. Soon they flower and begin to produce the first buds of fruit. It is then you realize that you have been given an apple tree and an orange tree.
Now you must begin cultivating those trees differently. They require different amounts of water and fertilizer, you prune them differently, you must care for them differently. All this makes perfect sense because an apple tree is different from an orange tree.
This is a parable of parenting. When God gives you children, He very often gives you apples and oranges-and perhaps some pears and peaches as well. You give your kids the same basics: things like love, affirmation, meaningful touch, a feeling of belonging and significance. But as they grow older, you begin to notice what makes each child unique and special-and you adjust your style of parenting to cultivate each child according to his natural tendencies.
Understanding each child's personal style is only half the challenge in overcoming parent pollution. You also must learn how God has designed you.
Knowing who you are and how you feel about yourself plays an important part in how you interact with your children. You need to become aware of how your style may complement or clash with your children's styles.
In the following chapters we will look at "the art of adjustable parenting," or parenting by design, an approach to raising your kids that takes into account both how God has designed you and how He has designed your children. I'll show you a simple, practical model that will enable you to:
• Understand your natural bent and the way it affects your parenting style;
• Discover your children's design;
• Compare your style and needs to those of your children;
• Adjust your parenting style to better meet your children's needs; • Enhance communication between you and your children;
• Reduce common areas of conflict;
• Create an atmosphere of encouragement and cooperation in your home.
The bottom line is this: Parenting by design is a method you can use to adjust your parenting to meet the needs of each of your children-and you don't have to have a degree in psychology to understand it.
This book will permanently change the way you look at your kids. It will give you a language that describes and honors the differences you observe in your children. You will learn skills that help you interact with different children in different ways, according to their individual bents.
As a result, your kids will feel highly valued. They will feel that you understand, accept, and respect them for who they are and not for who you want them to be. That can allow them to grow up with healthy self-respect and a greater tolerance for different types of people who come into their lives.
What you read in this book will not give you the answer to every parenting problem. There are many other parenting principles that you need to learn and apply. In Appendix C, I've included a list of recommended parenting books that address many of those principles.
But I believe Proverbs 22:6 is the starting point. If you do not know your child, you cannot understand your child. If you do not understand your child, you cannot communicate love to your child.
You've probably met many adults like Rebecca. Perhaps her story echoes your experience with your own parents. The good news is that you can stop the flow of parent pollution by accepting your children for who they are. And in doing so, you set them free to become the men and women God intended them to be.
Chapter TwoThe Epitaph of the Unaccepted
As a pastor, one crucial responsibility I've assumed is that of "breakfast chaplain" at a local McDonald's. Through the years I've come to know many of the regular morning patrons, and because I always seem to be laboring on some project, they frequently ask me, "What are you working on today?"
One of these friends is Amy, a local high school English teacher. Recently, when I told her about my latest project-this book-she sat up and said, "I have something you have to read!" At our next meeting, she handed me a stack of papers her students had written. Few things have sobered me more dramatically than what I read that day. Parent pollution starts early and has devastating affects on our children.
Amy had given two assignments to her class. The first was to write a "solution" poem. Several of the students wrote of trying to please their parents. Here's one example:
Pleasing My Parents
I would love to make mom and dad happy. I try and try, I always fail. I work too slow and I don't do enough. I ask for help to understand. What do I do? Sometimes, I just feel like giving up. I know I must communicate, Even though it sounds simple. It is a boundary that consists of a steel wall. I will conquer it.
Even more painful were some of the papers from the second assignment: "Write your own epitaph." As I read through the papers, I caught a glimpse of the despair some kids feel as they seek to understand where they stand in the world. One girl, whom Amy described as "very cheerful, almost angelic," evidently had much more churning inside of her than appeared on the surface:
There once was a girl, Her name was Sarah. From the outside, she seemed perfect, But on the inside, she was really messed up. Because Sarah was the oldest daughter of four, She had a lot of pressures put on her. She couldn't handle life anymore, Her grades were failing and her morals were wrong. Sarah went out with her so-called "friends," She never came home. Her body was found floating in the river on July 2, 1992.
Excerpted from Different Children, Different Needs by CHARLES F. BOYD with David Boehi & Robert A. Rohm Copyright © 1994 by Charles F. Boyd
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.