Children Just Like Me – originally published November 26, 2008

Although Mark is very much like his father in personality and looks, there are a few traits of mine that he also possesses: his ability to leaf through a book for hours, his highly selective eating (read: picky) eating habits, his inability to handle a sad or scary television show. These are traits that, while I’m not particularly proud of them, I’m not particularly unhappy to pass them on. Sure, it can be annoying when we are eating anywhere but at home (“I can’t eat that, Mom. It just doesn’t look right”) or when I just want to ply the kids with a TV show so I can make dinner in peace (“I can’t watch this show. That guy hurt his friend’s feelings and it is too scary”). But for the most part I am understanding. After all, I am the same person who sobbed for hours after watching “Life is Beautiful” and avoided any conversation involving said movie for years. I also scan menus online before going out to ascertain what I am going to eat, and I recall on many occasions sitting at the table as a child long after everyone else had left because I had refused to eat “shipwreck” casserole or fried liver. So I’m sympathetic to those little idiosyncrasies of Mark’s.

Jake, however, is what you might call “my son”. He and I are so alike in temperament, it’s uncanny. For the most part, that’s fine, except when he exhibits certain behaviours: perfectionism, frustration, and an overwhelming need to be number one.

Today’s Parent magazine recently ran an article detailing a woman’s struggle over accepting her daughter’s personality traits which mirrored her own. Or rather, her struggle over accepting those traits which she disliked in herself. This is exactly what I struggle with, every day.

Jake, as a second child, is sort of used to having his older brother do things easily that he himself is just learning to do. With the two of them so close in age, it’s hard for Jake to see that he is good at the alphabet too, he can count too, he is learning the same songs at preschool too. What he sees is that Mark can count higher, knows all the letter sounds, is faster. It’s frustrating for him and this I can really understand.

What I have a hard time with is that he can’t accept himself. When they are running around the house, pretending to be race cars, Jake can’t not win. (“I win!” he shrieks, despite the fact that there is no finish line. “I won the race!”). He can’t even discuss not winning (“I think it was a tie, Jake” Mark says kindly. “NO! Not a tie! I win!”). It’s this that I have a hard time being sympathetic to and understanding of, despite the fact that as a child I was the exact same way.

I believe this is called projecting. It’s painful to be reminded of personality traits that you may not like in yourself, and see them mirrored back to you every single day. Friends of mine who were shy children, and who now have shy children, tell me the same thing. It’s so hard to be reminded of something you don’t really like in yourself, and to know that your child will be going through similar experiences that you went through. This is where it would be of utmost importance to be supportive and accepting, but this is also where it is hardest to be that way.

As Rob reminds me, there are benefits to having a perfectionist, number one personality: achievements, high scholastic grades, quality workmanship, and I agree. I think it’s important to set high goals and reach them. However, I see the drawbacks, namely a hard time accepting yourself for who you are and the feeling that you are never good enough. And that is why I have trouble when I see Jake like that. I want him to achieve things, yes, I want him to reach for the stars and grab one, but more importantly I want to make sure he feels that he is good enough, in fact more than good enough, and that he is a special and wonderful person no matter what.

Later, I take the tearful boy on my lap and listen to him. “I really wanted to win, Mama. I really wanted to”. And all I could do was hold him and say “I know, love bug, I know”.

Leave a Reply