What can I say? When you have a kid that does not fit in the proverbial box society has built, you are in for one wild ride. I have at least five out of the box children of my own. Regarding the other two, I am in the wait and see mode.
My 15 year old daughter recently dragged me across London sightseeing. She had carefully noted everything she wanted to see during our short visit. Yes, we saw the Harry Potter play as every true nerd would. It was amazing.
The biggest surprise was that my daughter had no desire to see any of the traditional sites. I had to beg her to stop and look at the palace. She had no interest. Her sights were a bit more eclectic. She wanted to see Churchill’s underground war rooms, the world’s oldest hat shop (she almost passed out when the incredibly kind salesman said Gary Oldman had been in not more than a week ago), St. Dunstan-in-the-East Church that survived the bombings of WWII and the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Ziggy Stardust plaque where his first album cover was shot, very out of the way second hand clothing stores, and, of course, the math bridge at Cambridge University. Yes, that is my daughter with FDR and Churchill on a bench on Bond Street in London.
My daughter is similar to many of my client’s children. They are introverted, gifted, and wildly strange. For some parents this can be troubling. Some parents are concerned that their college student would prefer to stay in their dorm room and read rather than party with friends. Some parents worry their grade schooler is having more fun in their imaginary world than with real people. Why don’t they like birthday parties? Why don’t they like to play like ordinary children? Why are they writing novels for fun? Why are they so concerned about politics and social injustices when they should be more concerned about their clothes and hair?
I encourage these parents to set aside their preconceived notion of how a child “should” behave. Erase everything you learned as a kid. Do this, don’t do that. This is cool, this is not. Let it go and be amazed by the uniqueness of your child. I watch my daughter and smile when her primary goal in London was to get a picture of the “Dogs Must Be Carried” sign in the Underground because of the Paddington movie. Her reality is not mine, nor should it be. I enjoyed every second of our foot-blistering sojourn through London. I learned more from my daughter in those five days than I did in all of my history classes combined. I don’t know how she has amassed so much information. I just sit back and enjoy her happiness that comes from acquiring knowledge.
Along with her extreme elation at learning something she did not already know comes heartbreaking lows when she is overwhelmed or sad. Her abundant tears and bright pink cheeks resulting from too much homework, exhaustion or a completely sad ending to a novel, remind me she is still a little girl who needs a hug every now and then. Otherwise she prefers not to have anyone in her space. So, I come in for the hug when she needs it. I manage her lofty goals in life. I make sure she stops to eat and sleep. I model what it means to express emotions without leveling everyone in the room.
Out of the box kids have unique needs and that is OK. The important thing to remember is to be a parent to them and love them unconditionally. Once your out-of-the-boxer realizes that they are accepted for who they are, they will thrive in their own unique way. If they sense they are causing others discomfort or believe they are not accepted, their self esteem might be in jeopardy, they might try to change who they are resulting in a life long struggle with anxiety and/or depression, or they might just withdrawal from the world.
Recognize that while they are unusual, they are still human and subject to shame. Social acceptance is important to all of us, even the most introverted. So if you are lucky enough to have one of these rare gems as a child, love them unconditionally. They will astound you.
These children will change our world for the better. They are fearless until we teach them otherwise. They are brilliant until we teach them that they should be more focused on social popularity. They are creative until we teach them to be more “normal.” Just love them. And if you are struggling, find support. It is you who is uncomfortable with being out of the box. Our generation learned that lesson well. We need to step aside and let our kids be weird and love it.