Parenting: It’s not about me.

I grew up when “keeping up with the Joneses” was very much a part of someone’s life. Every decision parents and grandparents made seemed to be based on how it would be perceived by other people in their apartment building, other family members, and so on. Guess what parents: It isn’t about you!

not about me, parenting

One of my first big parenting challenges came when a young man moved in with me. He was having lots of issues at home with his stepfather, and his mother decided it would be better for him to live with me where he could be supported and respected more.

As you can probably imagine, I’m not the strictest parent. Yes, I have limits and boundaries like anyone else, but generally speaking I prefer to create an atmosphere in my home that encourages discussion, open conversations, and mutual respect. I don’t have rules just to have them, and I explain to my kids exactly why we have a rule.

not about me, parenting

When the teenager informed me he wanted to dye his hair blue, I had an immediate twinge. “What would people at church think?” which was naturally quickly followed by “What will people think of me?” I’m not a fan of being stared at, and walking around with a 6-foot-tall Native American with blue hair is going to certainly elicit some stares.

But I decided it wasn’t about me. We bought the dye, and I joined him at his friend’s house, who had decided to go green, and watched the boys strip their brown hair and transform it into colors that don’t exist in nature. Except, perhaps, on a peacock. But the birds pull it off better.

I nicknamed the boys “Smurf” and “Boogerhead.”

The stares definitely came. The church was a more conservative one, and he was denied the ability to participate in some church roles because his azure locks did not personify “quiet dignity.”

When he later began looking for a job and discovered that having hair that was bluer than the sky was impeding his search, the brown hair returned.

When another child in my home, dressed in a pair of jeans that essentially had no fabric covering the knees, I caught myself. When I was his age, one did not go to school dressed that way. You would look like a hobo, and everyone would think that your parents were awful for letting you leave the house looking like that.

I had already been on the receiving end of so many condescending comments from well-meaning teachers at school who figured, ya know, us single guys are really incapable of some things and therefore need to be explained about “proper clothing” for various conditions. I knew I would get a phone call or an email later that day. It’s not about me, I told myself and responded with: “Would you like me to patch those holes in your pants?”

“No, I like them this way.”

My heart sank just a little, but I just smiled and shrugged. The same way I did when he wanted to wear a hoodie with food stains versus the nice, clean one hanging in his closet. (“You know, it’s so important for his self-esteem to wear clean clothes.” Tell that to him. He chose to wear it in spite of my pointing out the stains.) Or when he wore a dark blue sock on one foot and a gleaming white one on the other.


not about me, parenting

Tigger has his own sense of style. Generally speaking, his choices don’t faze me. But I’ve caught myself a couple of times ready to respond like “one of those parents.” Especially when he decides to wear his balaclava he got from go-karting in Indonesia. To me it looks incredibly silly, and he does indeed get many stares.

In reality, though, who the hell cares? If he doesn’t care that people look at him funny, why should I?

It’s not about me.

I’d rather he grow up with, and retain, his current care-free spirit (“I don’t want to be normal. I like being weird.”) than to live his life according to the dictates of others. Weird hats, crazy hairstyles, clothes with holes and obvious stains. . . what does it really matter in the long run? He’s compassionate, helpful, caring, thoughtful, and a lot of fun. I’ll take that over “normal” any day.

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  1. What an awesome message! I also let my teen son dye his hair any color he wants, which is usually some odd red or green color during the summer, and jet black during school months. I also allow his buddies to come over and dye theirs also. I try to focus on the important things that are of long term significance, and hair experimenting is just something fun, that’s all. You’re such a wise person, and Tigger is no doubt the luckiest kid in the world to have you as his dad.

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    • I definitely agree with you. When it comes to hair and clothes, what true harm can they really do?

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  2. Very sweet post! And a reminder to me (as a toddler mom) that it all just keeps getting more complicated!

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  3. Agree. Life is too short to worry about this kind of thing. I laugh in the face of matching socks! As a parent, I definitely choose my battles carefully, especially when travelling. I’m OK with smaller concessions (like ice cream and chips for dinner) so long as in the long run I’m on top.

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    • We occasionally do junk food nights or dessert-first meals (like yesterday’s ice cream before lunch). In the grand scheme of things, it just doesn’t hurt. Doing it every day? Well, maybe rethink that. 🙂

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  4. I couldn’t help but think of the film Big Daddy, especially where Adam Sandler lets the little boy choose a new name, dress as he likes and eat just ketchup for lunch. Yes, kids need boundaries, but they also need to have room to express themselves and test their limits. It sounds like Tigger is a great kid, though!

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    • How else do they learn if they don’t try things out? I look at teens now and compare them to when I was a teen, and they are so underprepared for life. Parents do almost everything for them, and they rarely get to make any decisions. I don’t get it.

      I was watching a documentary about Bronies, something that Tigger considers himself. They interviewed some of the parents, and they were all very bothered by it at first. I’m like who cares! He’s watching a show that encourages loyalty and friendship. So what if they’re all ponies! I’d rather him have an affinity for that than shows that are violent and gruesome.

      Tigger is a truly wonderful kid. One of the best I’ve ever worked with much less lived with. He’s definitely a great gift.

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  5. Great message. It has taken me 30+ years to no longer care what other people think. I think I’m going to borrow Charlie’s 5 year rule when it comes to teenage decisions.

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    • I find asking myself “Is this the hill you want to die on?” a helpful question. Falls along with pick your battles. In the big scheme, is this battle worth it? Usually, the answer is no.

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  6. If my son even has socks on it’s a safe be they don’t match- by his design.

    I give things the 5 year test. If it won’t matter in 5 years, I most likely won’t sweat whatever it is now.

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  7. I think it’s great. I was pigeon holed by my family for years and finally found the answers in a book called Boundaries by Dr Henry Cloud. I started seeing the lines between opinions and facts.

    the fact is my coworker thinks I’m kissing up when I laugh at jokes my boss tell. the truth is I think he’s very funny and laughed through my whole interview. I’m not bothered anymore by her opinion.

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    • I generally take the attitude that if you aren’t paying my bills or sharing my bed, your opinion really doesn’t hold much weight.

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  8. “I don’t want to be normal. I like being weird” was definitely my mantra when I was a teenager. Good for Tigger; life will be so much easier for him if he continues not to care what other people think of him!

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  9. This is one of the hardest things about parenting: letting the child develop their own identity when it doesn’t conform to how we think. I’m in the early stages of this with a soon-to-be first grader at home.

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