R. J. HEIM
“Why AM I so different?”
To tell you the truth, I’ve been asked this question since, probably, elementary school. When we are kids, that’s about the last thing we want to hear, as children always want to ‘fit in.’ I’ve always realized that I have been a little different from others my own age, and that used to make me very uncomfortable. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, it was just ‘not cool’ to be different — goodness forbid you don’t look and dress like everyone else! I had a few strikes against me from several directions, since birth, as my family was a little different. The differences between myself and other kids caused me a great deal of insecurity back in those days. These led to bigger, longer lasting symptoms such as low self-esteem, extreme shyness, feeling inadequate, and a lot of somatic symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches. I can recall it feeling like a sword piercing my heart to have people actually notice any differences, or even to disagree with me! It felt very personal.
Of course, as I had grown older, (or is it just because it’s a different age in time?) I did outgrow those somatic and life altering symptoms. I learned to be my own person regardless of what others’ thought, or of who would like me. I became the type of person who couldn’t stand for going along with a crowd or clique, if it meant lying, cheating, dishonesty, or shunning other people. I became the kid who stepped in and took up for the underdog, once a Chinese friend of mine, another time a Jewish neighbor. I knew how it felt to be different, and I couldn’t stand to watch it happen to someone else – especially if I had the power to stop it. Over the past decade or so, I have noticed that many, many cases are reported in the news where school-aged and high school kids are bullied, sometimes even literally to “death!” In many cases, it’s been reported that accidental death came from mistreatment leading to abuse, and other cases where tortured young souls took their own lives because of the pain of living. Why on earth does this happen? Sometimes these kids just grow up to be underachieving grown-ups that just never measure up. I believe these things happen because people want so badly to “fit in,” or be “like everyone else.” Some want it so badly, that they’d rather die than go on living. Why do they really want the approval of these kinds of people?
Kids go through stages of maturity that include grouping or pairing off, approval of peers, industry, and so on, and these are normal stages of maturing. Children should be taught these changes and life stages, preferably before they arrive there. By warning them ahead of time, we as parents can head off the shock of the hard parts of growing up, and help prevent much of the anxiety of dealing with these growing pains in life. I’ve always been big on teaching into these teachable moments in my kids’ lives, and trying to cushion some of the disappointments that are inevitable. We can’t help them with everything, but we can help with some of these things that we all must go through. There are a lot of things I wish I had known ahead of time, and if I had, I would’ve handled differently.
Looking back at the way our kids grew up, I made my share of mistakes, but I am really glad that we sat down together at the dinner table often, and talked about things – and my only regret about that – is that we didn’t do it more. Looking at our kids now, they are adults who know that they can be their own person, and that they can talk to us any time, about anything, and not feel like they are aliens who are the first to experience whatever they’re going through. Our kids grew up to be our very best friends … and isn’t that the goal all along?