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NOTES FROM THE BACKSEAT DRIVER

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by Patricia Ryan Lampl

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A recent car conversation with my 9-year-old on the way to a party. Oh, and by the way, it was nowhere near my birthday!

“Mom, guess what you’re getting for your birthday?

What? 

And guess from who?

Hey, I don’t know.  What from who?

From ME.  You’re getting  jeans!!!!

Jeans.  No kidding.  You want to get me jeans?

Yeah.  You don’t have any.  And all the moms wear jeans.

They do?  I didn’t really notice.  Do you want me to look like all the moms?

Yeah.  Then you’ll be in the Mommy Club.  And look like everyone else.

I don’t really need to look like everyone else.  I’m pretty comfortable as I am.  And even though I don’t wear jeans, I’m still friends with the moms. They still like me even if I don’t wear the same thing.  You know, it’s OK to have your own style.

I know, but I’m still getting you jeans and wearing my jean skort to school tomorrow and getting my ears pierced. Two other girls got theirs pierced.

That’s nice of you, but, you know being different is OK…
(I think I’m saying the right things, but, clearly, she needs me to fit in. I’m hardly goth and only borderline preppy — but, obviously, just different enough to bother her).

I know. I know.  But I need you in jeans.  Are we almost there?


   Dr. Stephen Alter, a family counselor from Forest Hills, responded to this conversation by saying: “A 9-year-old child will likely have a hard time appreciating the notion of being different.”  He went on to explain that we can fail to appreciate the degree to which ‘sameness’ is an essential step on the road to individuality; one has to pass through a phase of fitting in, before one can securely bust out.

   He counsels that a mother shouldn’t become a clone for the child’s sake, but be empathic with the child’s wish for sameness.  And remember not to communicate any sense of disappointment that your child feels this way — it is natural.

   Instead, use this as an opportunity to discuss issues about being different. Dr. Alter suggests “using metaphors that will help them understand, such as a character in a story or movie who was proud to be different.” And, finally, help your child understand that we are all more the same than different in spite of what we wear.

   The good news is that I have a few months to diet so that I can fit into those jeans!


SUGGESTED READING:

‘It’s OK to Be Different’, by Todd Parr

‘Why Am I Different?’, by Norma Simon, Dora Leder

‘Sunflower Sal’, by Janet S. Anderson

PATRICIA RYAN LAMPL is a TV producer and author of the children’s book, ‘My Blankie’.

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