Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why *can't* my child be different?

Quite possibly the biggest heartache in parenting is when people don't treat your child with respect. And right now my heart is quite achy.

Without going into great detail, my son is being picked on by some of his peers. And I'm pretty sure know why.

Its because he's different.

 We live in a community that, like most communities, values sports as the pinnacle of....well, pretty much everything. However, my son isn't athletic. None of us in this family are. We don't like to kick soccer balls or throw footballs. We just don't. We lack both the desire and the coordination. (Save my 7 year old daughter who is involved in dance and practices her little butt off.) We'll occasionally go swimming or hiking in the summer, but organized sports just aren't our thing.

 My son prefers to draw, write, read, act, play the drums, sing, and create. My son has a boundless imagination! Just about every year he gets cast as the main role in their class play(s) because he can act out just about anything with confidence, enthusiasm, and ease. He got chosen for honor choir because he can sing. He got chosen to play the drums by his music teacher because he has a God-given gift for it. (Trust me, that's what it is, because I've been musical my whole life but I stink at playing the drums!) My kid is very talented! Just not in the way society deems "normal" or "cool" for a 10 year old boy.

I was also watching an episode of Dance Moms Miami earlier today . (Yes, I know its totally trashy TV, but being a dance mom myself - though not a psycho one, thankfully - I am really sucked in to it.) There is a little boy on there who is a phenomenal dancer, yet gets picked on by other kids at school, being teased and called gay. Since when did dancing "make" a young boy gay? That kid is going to go far in dance and in life, that is evident. Just not to his more "normal" classmates. And that's sad.

When did organized sports become the end-all-be-all compass by which kids judge eachother's talent and worth? Talent and worth extend far beyond a football field! Not everyone is wired the same way, and that's the way God made us and intended us to be! When was it decided, and by whom, that being different is bad or wrong? So what if my kid wants to play the drums? Or sing. Or act. Or dance. Or....anything! Who cares what my kid does? He's really talented, just not in the things that our society places worth on. And again, that's sad.

 It just burns me up as a parent that these stupid judgments and intolerances continue to be passed down from generation to generation to generation to generation to... You get my point. We speak of this "tolerant day and age" we live in, but let's face it, we're no more evolved in our thinking than our great-grands were! In order to have tolerance and respect, parents have to teach it to their kids.

 I think part of the problem is that our society still has a "macheesmo complex" when it comes to boys. Girls are allowed by society to get their hands dirty, work on machinery, change the oil in a car, clean a carburetor... But a boy taking dance classes? Ohhhh no....that's not happening!


 Put the stinkin' macheesmo aside and let your boy take dance classes! What is the harm? Really, truly, what is the harm? I highly doubt anyone can give me a good answer to that question.

 I'd also like to point out that the people who are most remembered throughout history are not the sports heroes (in fact, not a single name popped up in my google search for pre-1800's athletes) - they're the artsy-fartsy "weirdos!" The people who've left a big impression on this world have been the creative types, the innovators, the artists, the scientists, the dancers, the singers, the composers, the authors, the poets, the actors... Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, George Friedrich Handel, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Tchaikovsy, Mozart, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Steve Jobs, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway.... To name a few of thousands.

 So, why can't my child be different? Why can't he just be who he is, with his own, unique talents, strengths, and interests, and be respected for it? Why does he have to fit the "norm?" Who decided that not being part of the "norm" makes him less worthy of their friendship and respect?

 Fellow parents, would it kill you to teach your kids to respect others? Would it kill you to teach your kids that differences are to be celebrated and not ridiculed? Would it kill you to teach your kids that there's a reason we've all been created differently? Would it kill you to teach your kids that interests other than their own are still important, valuable, and interesting?

 I respect you and your kid(s), so respect me and mine, and teach your kids to do so as well. That's all I ask.

What makes *you* different an unique?  How have you handled the societal fall-out?  I'd love to know!


Liam and Karen said...

Bravo! I applaud you and your courage to speak out against this. ;) You reinforcing at home your child's worth and value will go a long way in helping him realize it. Those other kids may very well be facing their own challenges or judgements from others, not an excuse for their behavior, but a way to understand as well.

Jim, not Mike said...

I remember the bullying in school, probably never for get it. I too was the artsy, creative, imaginative kid. Their bullying was always verbal (I'm a pretty big guy, and I'm not sure...but think they weren't sure if they'd win against me in a physical fight), but words hurt too, sometimes just as much as a black eye. I also know that many kids go through far worse episodes of bullying than I ever did.

During my freshman year of High School, I don't know what switch flipped in me, but I suddenly realized that all the verbal barbs were helping me. I'd found a way to turn it around (maybe only in my head) but every time I deflected one of these verbal arrows I was becoming a stronger person, a better person, a person more in tune with what it takes to be me on a daily basis. I fully credit these bullies with helping to shape me into the confident, self-assured person I am today. So I say, don't just survive it, USE it!

Megan said...

What great insight, Jim! I, too, have found a way to prevail over all of it. Probably the worst bullying I've experienced came as an adult (some of my other blog posts touch on this), but I'm working through it, and really strive to use it as a positive thing - like you, I feel its made me a better, stronger, and more understanding and compassionate individual - and a tool for reaching out to others who are hurting in the same ways.

Anyway, thanks for your feedback! I appreciate it! :)

James said...

You are obviously a wonderful Mom who has so much heart. I am glad your son has someone like you in his life supporting him and going above and beyond to question our society. It is so great when people take on adversity and tackle it head on but sadly not everyone has that courage.

I am very concerned about the number of young people who have taken such tragic turns due to bullying. We must all be vigilant and call up the courage to stand up. It's a tough thing to teach kids but I was one of those kids not afraid to say the unpopular thing or speak out against prejudice.

I believe that being gay has been a window into a greater understanding of what women and other minorities face. As a kid in a less than supportive environment at home and school I made some tragic choices that luckily didn't lead to tragic outcomes.

When I think about what makes a difference it is the understanding of those that love us that matter most. You are going to be able to teach your son to be proud of himself no matter what. Those are words many parents say but it's clear you mean them.

You are an awesome Mother it's clear. I am very thank for your open attitude and sharing this important issue with the world.

All the best to you and your family.

Megan said...

Aww, thanks for your kind words, James. :)

It makes me sad to read about how hard it was for you as a child, but I am very glad you've made it through to the other side, and you seem to be a much better person because of it. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right?! Good for you for having the courage to get through the tougher days!

Giselle said...

I am so sorry to hear that your child is getting bullied, that's just horrible. I do believe that it is the fact that the other kids cannot do what your son can, that they lack these talents, that make them behave so deplorably. Sheer envy.
The focus on brawn over brain is really worrying. Do the pupils get to learn what they need for their future? Being an athlete I'm sure is great, but you don't get to be one for the rest of your life, most will need to earn a living doing something non-sports related eventually.

That your son is getting bullied makes me think that lots of other kids are getting bullied too. Bullies will always find something to pick on - I think you may need to find other parents to ally with and explore together how changes to the school culture can be brought about. Not easy at all.
I wish you much success!

Megan said...

What great insight, Giselle!

Fortunately, all these kids are very bright, and I know they'll so well in the future. I am hoping their parents will catch wind of the comments and attitudes their children have and intervene. I know some of them (though we're by no means close), and I trust that if they really knew what their kids were saying to other kids then they'd step in. That's my hope anyway. The focus isn't purely on sports, either, that is just the one area in which my son really differs from the majority of the other boys his age. Overall, he is well-liked by his peers, its just hard to see him disrespected by a group of the "cool kids" (for whatever that's worth when you're 10), some of which he's been buddies with for years.

And you're right... There probably are other kids who've endured bullying at the hands of this group of kids, or others. Not many - if any - adults I know haven't had some sort of bullying experience in their life, which is really sad, and speaks to a much larger societal problem.

Thanks for your comments and support - it is much appreciated! :)

MKMom said...

Great and insightful post!! One thing I'd like to add is, that while bullying in words or actions is NEVER ok, is that as our kids get older they do tend to stratify themselves "out" into groups based on what they like to do. If my kiddo loves dance, and takes lots of classes, then chances are she will be spending lots of time with other dancers and will probably develop better friendships with those kids. For those who enjoy sports, that may be more their peer group. Musicians may, especially at a younger age when they aren't participating in a daily band class at school for example, be a little more solitary.

Again, NOT an excuse for mean or hurtful comments from other kids if your child's interests and talents lie someplace other than sports but just thought I'd throw that out there! I'm not sure what my daughter is going to enjoy doing the most (she's in dance and plays a few sports right now but she's still too young to have made much of her more enduring talents/interests "known") but I hope that as parents we can guide our kids to respect all of their classmates even if they aren't all best friends all of the time. :)ngie

Megan said...

Absolutely, Angie! I do think that's an element of it, just like-minded people attracting to one another. I am pretty sure that's the root of a lot of it. But, yeah, it still doesn't make it right.

I appreciate your like-minded mom insight. :)