Confirm or Empower. I never considered these two words as opposites before I was the parent of a twelve year old. I grew up a pleaser. I come from generations of them. I can be who you need me to be and you don’t even have to know what you need from me. I can intuit it. I think that is one of the reasons I am a good therapist. I will “get you”. Addiction, self esteem, anger, trauma, guilt, hopelessness… I rarely fail my clients and if they don’t feel understood, I work harder until they do. That is why my twelve year old really threw me for a loop.
Not in the way he is a perfectionist. Believe me, that part I get. Not in the way he doesn’t want to disappoint his teachers or he strives to make his parents proud. I get that too. It is with his peers that he is a whole other kind of animal. When he began styling his hair a certain way several months ago (and when I say “certain”, I mean different. I mean combed to the side in a a self-described “professional businessman” look), I asked him in my most casual way possible “Do other kids in Junior High wear their hair this way?” knowing full well the answer was no. Hs answer surprised me. He said “I’m not like the other kids mom”.
My instinct was to cringe and protect. Being an individual in Junior High? Wasn’t that what I strived NOT to be when I was 12? Wasn’t it a recipe for social outcast or a life of being bullied, or worse… lonely? But I am learning that not conforming is OK when your child is empowered. I empower my clients on a daily basis. Why did it take me longer to figure this out under my own roof?
He is so confident in who he is and what a complex combination of intelligence, sensitivity, athleticism, competitiveness and kindness he is. He thinks swearing is pointless. He thinks bullying anyone is hurtful. He stands up for the bullied despite consequences. He turns down R rated movies claiming they would overwhelm him. He studies for tests and sets his own bedtime. He empowers me every day to do what is right instead of what is “pleasing” or “common” or “accepted by others”. I envy his self esteem. I am proud of him. He knows that being the only one voted the “ stand out student “ all three trimesters by his peers does not necessarily make him the most popular student, but that is because of how popularity is defined at his school. He knows that his happy ending awaits him. His confidence reassures me and amazes me. And I will continue to empower him.