Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Becca Whitson’s blog. It has been republished here with permission.
He’s not who you dreamed he’d be. You’d live outdoors if you could, but he doesn’t like hunting or fishing. Or being outside at all for that matter. He wants to read all the time in the comfort of his room.
She’s not what you thought of when you found out you were having a daughter. You love fashion and makeup, but she wouldn’t keep bows in her hair from day one. And now you can’t get her to wear anything but basketball shorts and T-shirts.
Many parents feel a strain to connect with children who aren’t like them. Maybe it’s the same gender child, and he or she is completely opposite of you. Or maybe the opposite gender child is so far from your comfort zone, you can’t figure out how to relate to them at all. When parents feel that disconnect, they often feel immense guilt. Do I love the other child more? Will I ever connect to him? Will I ever get along with her the way I want to?
First, know this is a normal parent experience. If you feel more naturally connected to one child, especially one who is similar to you, that is normal and common. You are not a bad parent. It only makes sense that it would be easier to understand and communicate with someone who thinks like you. Rest in the fact that it’s a common parent experience. But it can get better. We’re here to help you build that connection.
Here are three ways to connect with a child who’s not like you
1. Change your mindset
This is easier said than done, we know. Start to look for the great characteristics of your child. Your child is the living, breathing handiwork of God. And He doesn’t make mistakes. When He made you different from each other, it was on purpose. Try writing down three positive things about your child each day to train yourself to look for the good. Negative thinking can be overwhelming (and self-perpetuating) if we don’t get it under control.
2. Let them take the lead
Maybe your child is a quiet introvert, and you thrive in large groups. If you force him into loud, social settings constantly, you’re probably not going to like him much. Nor will he really enjoy you either! Letting your child lead your time together is the best way to learn who he is and see him in the best light. If you’re always choosing the activities and trying to force your child into your interests, she’s sure to disappoint you and frustrate you with her behavior. But when you can see her in her element, you’ll start to appreciate who she really is and the beauty of how God made her.
3. Become the student
Let your child teach you something that he loves to do. Whether your child is different from you in gender or temperament, he always has something to teach you. Maybe it’s Lego Star Wars, My Little Pony, or in my case any sport at all, letting your child teach you something is helpful in many ways. Children feel pride in knowing more than their parents and can’t wait to show off their knowledge. They feel incredibly special to know that a parent is interested in what they like and actually want to learn about it!
I’ve also been able to see which of our words have stuck with them in the past. My kids often encourage me when I’m learning using the same words I’ve used when I’m teaching them. The days I’ve spent learning to swing a baseball bat or hearing about the correct way to shoot a deer have also included some of the sweetest words from my sons as they’ve modeled patience and grace to me.