From childhood labels to grown-up characteristics

standard May 27, 2009 4 responses

“That one, she’s easy, the little one is more challenging.”

How often have I heard myself say that as I watch my daughters play? No matter how many times I’ve actually said it, it’s one too many times. Of course Little L is more challenging, she’s younger. She doesn’t quite have the ability to reason that C has developed in the two plus years she has on her baby sister.

Then again, Little L did refuse to sleep for the first 18 months of her life, while her older sister slept through the night at 8 weeks. She throws more tantrums and is more demanding and more willful and independent than her sister ever was at her age.

C is cautious where Little L charges forward without a care for consequences. C assesses a situation, Little L acts first and thinks later, if ever. They’re different through and through, but to call one challenging seems a bit excessive, especially if I consider the fact that my hasty label might form her character forever.

I don’t want my words to be self fulfilling.

Think of the labels that were applied to you as a child, do they still ring true? Who would you have been if they had never been spoken in your presence? Little L might well be challenging, but I’d hate for her to keep being that way because she thinks I expect it of her.

“You be happy, I’ll be good.” The big sister says to her little sister in Kate Jacob’s lovely book Comfort Food. Their father has just died and they’re doing the best they can to help their mother cope. Twenty years later one sister can’t let herself get too deeply involved with the love of her life; if they broke up she’d have to be sad and the happy sister can’t ever be sad. The other sister can’t relax long enough to enjoy herself, she has be good, all the time, she’s the dependable one. The roles they assumed as children, based on the labels the mother dispensed, have stunted their growth all the way into adulthood and it takes a serious shake-up in all of their lives for them to realize what’s holding them back.

I know Comfort Food is fiction and it’s only tangentially about how labels can affect children, but as I relished the story about a “CookingChannel” celebrity the concept teased me. Next time if you ask me to talk about my children I’ll resist the urge to apply labels to them as I tell you about their latest antics.

This post was inspired by this month’s Silicon Valley Moms Blog book club. Click through to see other posts inspired by Kate Jacob’s Comfort Food.

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4 responses

  • I like your comments about labels! I should try to keep that in mind more myself when talking about my daughter.

    I really wanted to like “Comfort Food”, but it never really came together for me. I reviewed it in my blog here:

  • Labels are names, and like sticks and stones they can’t break your bones, but they can stick to your heart and your self-opinion…in good ways and bad.

    I’ll look for comfort food when I start collecting books for summer–nine more days of school! (200 more pages of Benedict…)

  • Great post. I know I’ve been very guilty of labeling my two sons and they are almost adults now.

    I loved “Comfort Food”. Considering that I don’t cook and I’m not even that into food, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

  • What a thoughtful post! I hear you about the labels. I’m a twin so we got labeled, ALL the time. Although that comes with the territory of course.

    My two children sound similar in temperament to yours. My older daughter is more analytical, quiet, whereas my son is much much more outspoken lol. I try not to label them. I wonder if it’s worse if the children being compared are the same sex?

    Great post. enjoyed reading!

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