Do pidgeons even like holes?

I never understood why parents would label their kids: "the smart one", "the troublemaker", "the sporty one". Why would you narrow your child's identity, especially when childhood is all about expansion and exploration, discovery and possibility?

The labels can be deterministic, can't they? With you either accepting them and building on someone else's limited perception or rebelling against them and living your life to prove the labels wrong (even if they are slightly right)?

Of course, no matter how much I understand the dangers of labeling my children, I find myself struggling with it. Daily.

E isn't even a year old yet and I fight the urge to label both my girls every day, often in relation to each other. I find myself noticing things, differences between them, and I start to project who they are and who they will be. I notice Z's attention to structure and rules (not that she follows them exactly- OH that'd be NICE- just that she's acutely aware of them) and her sensitivity to.... most everything, and I decide I know something about her, present and future.

Do I know something about her? Do I treat her differently to perpetuate what I think I know?

(Have I totally thought myself into a corner? Have I used up my daily allotment of question marks?)

E's rarely content to sit still, and I rarely feel able to sit still, so I am deeply ashamed to say that I didn't spend much time reading to her at all in her infancy. ME, the mother who read to Zoe for HOURS every day of her babyhood. It's just that E didn't seem interested in books, she rarely sits still, and "she's a gross motor baby".

A couple of months ago, after I realized how little I read to E, I resolved to make a concerted effort to bring books into her life. I put some of our favorite board books in her room and sat down with her to read before every nap and every bedtime and she has, of course, shattered my assumptions. No matter how spazzy she's been that day, she always, ALWAYS, sits still at book time, reaching to turn the pages, smiling at the one that has become her favorite.

How can we as parents recognize, embrace, support and steer our child's true selves without pigeonholing them?

Do you all label your kids consciously or unconsciously? Or am I the only one who sucks in this particular way?

(QUESTION MARKS!!!???????????)


miyoko said...

i have slacked on books with #2 and also have made it a goal to start reading to her more. but also like E, she is a mover and a shaker and doesn't sit still for anything. ALTHOUGH... she has just become fascinated at pointing at things and hearing me say the words for them, so I think she might be ready to sit and hear a book or two. :D

and as far as labeling goes, her school has already labeled her the 'creative one'. I just always keep telling her she can do whatever she wants in life and offering up everything creative or not, but i have a feeling we've got a 'creative one' on our hands. Kid 2 is totally different. much more of a brute, much more physical, a toughy and doesn't take poop from ANYone. If you tell her "no touch" instead of 'not touching' she turns around and either gives you a glare, or a scowl, followed by a sneaky smile. hmmmmmnnn........

Hillary said...

I also read to my second a lot less than to my first, though I think some of it is because I still am reading so much to The Boy. I'm reading in front of The Lad, just not directly to him any more. He's not an audience of one like The Boy always was.

You spend so much time with the first, getting to know them, getting to understand being a parent to them, I think it's natural to compare subsequent kids to them. I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing, and I try to cut it out, but I do catch myself doing it a lot.

So, to sum up this rambling comment: I offer no help, but a great deal of commiseration.

Marie Green said...

It is very hard not to label and not to compare children. I think perhaps the key is to 1) be aware of the labeling/comparing and 2) be willing to change your mind about the child, or be willing to let the child grow and change.

Parents talk about "phases" a lot and I think this is why. Because our kids are in process and always changing, discovering, etc. And we are just here to facilitate it all...

Grateful Twin Mom said...

So hard not to compare. I seem to do it all the time, and my blog seems full of posts about it. Why can't I stop doing it? I mean, the minute they tell you you're having twins, they tell you not to compare them. Right. Two developmentally equal babies whose personalities are extremely different? That's a tough one. I'm learning now, as they're 7, to begin to see them as individuals because they are demanding it as they grow up.

I love it that you know something about Z, her present and future. It'll be fascinating to see how it plays out.

Amy said...

I think it is human to compare. An attribute that has helped our survival. But it is important to try, like you said, not to pidgeon hole. Letting our kids surprise us as they blossom rather than imposing our own preconceptions is a tricky tricky business, isn't it?

Kathi McCracken Dente said...

I think comparing is OK, just don't let the kids see or hear you do it. It is the pigeonholing that I worry about. I am fascinated by how T is different from her big sis. Your first one is your only experience so kid #2 helps you learn what was unique about your first as well as your second. T has taught us to appreciate aspects of M's personality we took for granted (e.g. not crying the instant she is within 12ft of her crib).

We had the same thing happen with books. M would sit still for them as an infant and let me read whatever I wanted. T is on the go and quickly lets me know if it is a book worthy of her attention.

Sounds like the little ones might be a lot alike. I wish we could have a play date!

Sarah said...

OH yeah. How can you not compare, though? It'd be like having two different husbands in a short period of time and never noticing the differences between them, or if you did, scolding yourself that they are "two unique husband snowflakes" and shouldn't be contrasted in any way.
Like other commenters have said, I think mental comparisons are impossible to avoid and you shouldn't feel guilty about it. But the pigeonholing is bad, if the kids can feel it, definitely. I think as long as you give both kids equal opportunities to try things (like the effort you're making to read to E more) and never label them verbally as "the smart" or "the sensitive one" or whatever, you should be fine.

Cortney said...

I feel like I started labeling my kids before #2 was even born! (embarrassingly enough) #1 is a girl and #2 is a boy and I became totally aware of gender stereotypes while I was pregnant. My daughter is the calm, rule-following, hardly-ever-a-tantrum girl and I found myself expecting a total hellion of a boy. I really try hard everyday to open myself to the possibilities of who my kids actually are instead of who I'm projecting them to be, but it's DIFFICULT!

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