Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Great Un-Equalizer

Every one of us has people that we feel a kinship with and others that we don't. When I was beginning my career in teaching, I didn't understand that this principle applied to children as well. I was full of excitement and just KNEW that with my kind, loving soul I would love every child immediately, fully, and equally. Not only that, but they would love me too. After all, I was fun and dedicated to quality care and education. I would treat them with the utmost respect. What's not to love? (If you're not laughing yet, wait a few years and read this again. You will.)

The first time I had a kid chuck a shoe at me, the first time I had a kid tell me to, well, go do some rather unseemly things to myself, the first time I had a kid look at me upon our initial meeting and burst into tears screaming "MOMMY!", I began to realize that this principle of relationships applies to everyone, not just adults. It took me several more years to understand that it was a normal process and some people just click better than others. Just like we as adults have certain people we prefer, kids do too. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I think this preference applies to the parent/child relationship as well. When I was a kid and my brother or I would ask the inevitable question, "Who do you love more?", my mother would always answer with the kindest, most politically correct answer possible: "I love you equally." Teachers often do this also, in telling children that they love every one of them, how wonderful they all are, how they are equally favored.

Well, I don't know about you, but for most of the people I've met, that's a lie. Some kids you just click with more easily. This happens not only in classrooms but in families as well. Some kids are easier to talk with, to hang out with; they challenge your authority less and are overall easier to get along with. Sometimes there's just a natural bond. Other times, the bond is harder to develop.

The lie of "I will love you equally" is one that, in my opinion, is far more damaging to kids than the truth. To me, the truth is, "I love you, and I value what is unique about you." I have never loved the children I worked with--or my own--equally. Love is not something that you can measure, in my opinion, and that isn't the answer kids are after anyway. Everyone wants to know that, regardless of whether they mesh easily with you or not, that you see them. That you hear them. And that you value who they are, their uniqueness and quirks that set them apart from other people.

When I was growing up, my dad's office always had a huge Christmas party for the staff and families. One gentleman would dress up as Santa and deliver a gift to every child. As I grew older, I came to understand these gifts had been pre-purchased by the parents of each child and given to "Santa" to distribute. My brother and I always got the same gift. My mother wanted us to feel like we were equal in her eyes. Instead, I always felt like I wasn't seen, I wasn't special. I was finally able to verbalize that around the age of ten, and because I was blessed with such a wonderful mom who tried very hard, the next year I got a different gift than my brother.

Here's my point today: nobody has to be "loved" equally to be valued. Seeing individuality and responding to it is far more important than that everlasting work of trying to make life equal. Life isn't equal and it isn't fair. Our job as parents and as teachers is not to provide children with what is equal; it is to provide children with what they need, and often needs are extremely varied and unique. Seeing children for who they are and loving their individualities is far more difficult, but far more rewarding for everyone.

Tomorrow's topic: Building stronger relationships with kids who you don't feel a strong kinship with.

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  1. It's so hard to figure out exactly what "equally" means. The same amount? In the same way? For the same reasons? I guess I can't really measure how *much* I love my kids, because it's just one of those off-the-chart crazywildnanimal things where you love them insanely and would rather die than see them suffer. But I certainly treasure different things about each of them in addition to the basic crazywildanimal thing. I wouldn't know how to add up the things I treasure and compare whether x-quality is more wonderful than y-quality. Is the ability to make me laugh more or less valuable than the ability to make me feel calm? I suppose it depends whether I'm depressed or anxious right then!

    This all reminds me: Remember in Little House in the Big Woods, when Ma tells the girls to ask their aunt which she likes better, golden curls or brown curls? That scene always made me (a brown-haired sister of a blonde!) think that Ma was such a bone-headed dork. My mom would never have set us up like that.

  2. LOL, that series, Laura always portrayed Ma as such a sweet, kind soul, and that question always seemed so out of character for someone who was supposed to be so sweet and kind. What an obvious setup for those poor kids!