Anyone who claims not to eavesdrop on other people’s parenting is lying. Hearing a kid yell, “Don’t let her take me!” as they are being taken out of church is always funny when you are not the one doing the carrying.
But I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in parenting lately. It all started in a Walmart parking lot (as most great parenting stories do).
A little boy was standing in the door of his mother’s SUV crying. The reason? Mom wouldn’t let him wear his Superman cape into the store.
She looked frazzled as she tried to calm him down, remove the cape and wrestle him into the cart at the same time. She was also doing the furtive loud-whisper thing every parent does in a desperate attempt to not be overheard.
“Everyone will think you’re weird,” I couldn’t help but hear her say.
Now, I don’t know this woman’s story. I don’t know if she had already fought the Superman cape battle 10,000 times that day and had finally reached her limit. What I do know is it made me think of the times I’ve tried to stop my own kid from doing something out of embarrassment.
My toddler is currently experiencing speech delay. He’s smart as a whip, just a little behind formulating words/sentences. His current obsession is ketchup and mustard — which means everything in the world that is red and yellow is either “ketchup and mustard” or “not ketchup and not mustard.” At first, it was hilarious and adorable. But eventually, it’s become more quirky than cute, more odd than adorable. As parents, it’s easy to let quirky behaviors worry us, but why? Why must we constantly feel the need to adjust or edit instead of just letting them be?
One of the hallmarks of a great leader is their ability to not let others dictate their behavior. Yet we condition our kids from the time they’re young to let a perception of social norms and fear of what other people think dictate what they say, do, wear, think or feel.
The truth, though, is that everybody has quirks. Everyone is “weird” in their own way. The idea that there’s some normative standard for interests, personalities, behaviors and habits is, frankly, a load of hogwash. How many people squelch their true passions because they don’t fit what society expects of them? How many people lose parts of themselves in the quest to “fit in” with some arbitrary crowd?
What if we, as parents, encouraged our kids to stand out in a crowd, be different from their peers and fight for the underdog? What if we taught them to think independently, work out their differences on their own and lead with courage? We might have more kids wearing Superman capes in Walmart, but we’d also have more leaders, less followers and a better world as a whole.
In other words, embrace your kid’s weirdness. You may just be surprised by where it takes them.