Just the Way You Are

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If you’re thinking of Billy Joel’s hit or its recent remake by Diana Krall (which I like even better) when you read the headline of this column, that’s not exactly what I had in mind.

I have our pastor to thank for this column. He was talking about something that nearly every parent/family has to deal with – how to treat your children equally without showing partiality. What was his conclusion? You don’t. They are individuals; they need to be treated as such.

I’m reminded of the many Christmases that my Grandmother Chamberlain took such pains to be fair with her gifts to everyone. She tried to spend the same amount on my brothers and me and always bought her daughter and daughter-in-law (my mother) identical gifts.

The same thing happened in my husband’s family. He and his younger brother always seemed to get the same Christmas gifts and he recounts the way his little brother so often made a point to hurry and open his package first, which (since they knew they had the same thing) would spoil my husband’s surprise.

We are taught not to compare our children because they are each different, but we still feel compelled not to play favorites. The key is to show an equal amount of love and still treat each child as an individual, which is easier said than done.

For 11 years, we have tried to tell our girls who are four years apart that they shouldn’t expect things to be the same for them, yet, time after time they wonder why something about their lives doesn’t compare as being fair. Of course, life isn’t fair, and we’ve tried to teach them this, but there seems to be something built in that expects, even demands, equality. Maybe we are focusing on the wrong things.

Our pastor, Milton, reminded us of the way Asian cultures have a different outlook on the expectations that parents have of their offspring as individuals. It is understood that a “number one son” will take over a family’s household and assets one day, “number two son” has his place, accordingly, and so on. It is built into the cultural structure that things won’t be the same for each.

I’m happy that we aren’t locked into traditions that dictate a person’s role based on birth order. It seems clear that this is better decided by a person’s ability. Which brings us back to the idea that we are unique individuals – each with our own special gifts and talents that we bring to the world. These are what we need to recognize and nurture in our children by emphasizing and praising their differences and not expecting them to measure up to a standard.

We should say it like Mr. Rogers, “You are the only one in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are!”

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