I have two young sons. The elder of the two is five. The younger is not quite two. And I will readily admit that I learn just as much from them as they do from me. One of the ways I learn from them is to see my own behavior mirrored back at me in undeniable ways and being able to see it from a more objective perspective.
My younger son, though blessed with a very independent personality, is more dependent on me than my five-year-old. Kid #1 is old enough to dress himself, brush his teeth on his own (though not as thoroughly as I prefer so I usually end up helping anyway), carry his own backpack, read, do simple math, etc. Kid #2 desperately wants to do all that, but is still only a year old and has a lot of skills left to master. As you can probably guess, this means Kid #2 gets a lot of attention. I try to make sure I’m fair to Kid #1, but he usually thinks his brother gets more attention than he does. There are some days that he’s probably right.
Whenever Kid #1 begins to feel like he’s getting shorted on his time at center stage, he begins to do things more like his brother does, thinking this will force me to bestow more attention on him in order to help him. He pretends to not know things, like how to talk (which, I assure you, he does well and with a vocabulary far beyond what is expected of someone his age). This always hurts my heart a little and so I talk to him about it. I remind him that while his brother needs help doing a lot of things right now, the truth is that all Kid #2 wants is to be just like Kid #1 in every way. It’s his goal. And while the attention I give Kid #2 is usually to help him learn new skills and achieve new milestones, the attention I give Kid #1 is different. I get to laugh and listen to his abundance of terrible pun jokes. I get to cheer him on while he plays sports or listen to him tell me all about the newest thing he learned by reading a book. I cherish that. It’s so wonderful that I can’t really describe it. I remind Kid #1 that he’s fun, kind, incredibly intelligent, and imaginative. I tell him he shouldn’t disregard all of that by trying to be more like his younger brother just so he can feel like he’s the star of the show again like he was when he was an only child. I often say, “Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. Being you will always be more than enough for me.”
And yes, this is a conversation we’ve had a lot. More than I’d like. But I can’t blame him for not being ready to take it to heart. After all, I know plenty of adults (sometimes including me) that struggle with this. In fact, I think we all have those moments where part of us just wants so badly to be like someone else, sometimes anyone else, that we forget about what makes us special to begin with. What makes us unique. What makes us, us.
The next time I give that advice to Kid #2, I’m going to write it on my heart as well. I don’t need to be like anyone else. I just need to be me. And in case you need to hear it, I’m telling it to you too. Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. You are enough just as you are.