A few weeks ago, before all this craziness of moving started, my husband and I attended a home educators’ conference in Cincinnati, and I promised you thoughts.
I think I have a dozen blog posts piled up from the event.
We only attended a handful of conference sessions, but we hit all the sessions we could with Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind. She shared some very personal things about her family—things I wouldn’t dream of putting in a blog post—explaining that “older women are supposed to share whatever wisdom they have with younger ones.” I’m a decade or so behind her, and I’m so grateful she did.
Minus the personal details, let me share the gist of the session that I can’t stop thinking about: on parenting the good kid, and the odd kid out.
Susan said, “Every family with three or more kids has one kid that they just can’t figure out.” (I’m curious to hear your thoughts—is this your experience, as a child or as a parent?)
I have four kids, and do I ever relate.
The odd kid out
The odd kid out isn’t necessarily a social misfit; instead this is the kid who isn’t like her siblings, the one who doesn’t fit neatly into your family system. There are many possible reasons this kid doesn’t groove, among them:
• slower chronological development (either physically or emotionally)
• different ways of processing information
• lack of awareness of social cues
• different priorities
These kids tend to have their struggles early in life: their struggle is to find their place.
The good kid
The good kid, on the other hand, is the one who seems to practically raise himself. This is the kid who doesn’t put a foot out of line, who doesn’t get his name written on the board, who gets his homework done early and puts himself to bed on time.
That all sounds great, so what’s the problem?
• Many good kids operate out of fear.
• They’re afraid people will reject them if they fail, so they never fail.
The good kids tend to struggle in the middle. These are the kids who sail through adolescence drama-free, only to have a massive breakdown in their early thirties.
(I was a good kid.)
Bringing it home
After listening to Susan explain about the good kids and the odd kids out, my husband leaned in to me and said, “can a kid be both?”
My thoughts exactly.
Before we heard Susan speak about her family—and the dynamics at work within it that affect so many other families—we knew we had issues, and that we weren’t really satisfied with how we were approaching it. But we had no language with which to talk about it.
This new perspective has been incredibly helpful as Will and I take a hard look at our family dynamics, see what our individual kids needs from us, and examine Susan’s action points. I’ll share a few in a future post.
(This is the same reason I geek out about personality assessment tools—they give their users a language to talk about what’s going on in their heads, their work, their relationships.)
I’m also grateful that Susan made it clear that “the good kid and the odd kid out both have the same distance to go.” It’s easy for parents to think that the odd kids out are (unpleasantly) challenging and the good kids are pure joy to parent, but that’s just not so. Both these kids have their struggles, but those struggles look very different.
I’m eager to hear about your experience with this. Tell me about growing up as the good kid or the odd kid out, or the sibling to one. Parents: do you see these dynamics at work in your own family? I’d love to hear the details. Feel free to keep your comments anonymous on this one.