How Do You Help Your Kids Find and Be Their Own Selves?

How Do You Help Your Kids Find and Be Their Own Selves?

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that every day she tells herself every day to “Be Gretchen.” In her blog she talks about how challenging this can be. She asks, “Why is it so hard to know myself? and to act in accordance with my own nature, my interests, my values? It would seem that nothing would be easier and more obvious — and yet it’s very, very challenging.”

When I was a kid, my understanding of human nature was incredibly shallow. I thought all people were basically the same. Sure, some people were smarter than others, some were more talented singers or dancers or writers or whatever, but other than that I didn’t think there was much separating me from anyone else.

Maybe part of my problem growing up was that I didn’t have a strong sense of myself. I didn’t view myself as particularly smart or talented or funny or social or pretty, all those qualities that make girls likable and popular. I had a very bright, beautiful and talented mom though, so I made it my goal to be like her. I tried to look like her (I don’t look like her at all), tried to be like her (I am nothing like her), and even tried to do the same work she did (that actually worked out pretty well). Instead of trying to be my best “me”, I was trying to do my best imitation of her.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized that I could be me. That the real “me” might actually be nothing like her. And that was ok.

As a mom, I have been privileged to witness the varied degrees of human nature in my own household. My kids run the whole spectrum, from one who is a complicated, deeply abstract thinker, to another who likes everything to be literal and concrete. From one who is pretty much always happy no matter what is going on in life, to another for whom happiness is a bit more elusive. From two who love the arts, to the other two who love sports.

At the risk of sounding like Oprah, I want my kids to “be their best selves,” not just try to live up to my or my husbands or society’s expectations. I want them to continue to discover and explore and find out who they are, and live that truth every day. It’s incredibly difficult to know yourself, to resist conforming to other people’s expectations of you, but how else can you reach your true potential in life?

But I am not sure how to help them avoid the trap that I fell into. The trap of copying someone else, someone you might look up to. Because it’s so much easier than finding out who you are and living that truth. What is the key to helping our kids discover and celebrate their true selves?

As Steve Jobs reminded us, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

What are your thoughts about this? How do you help your kids find and be their own true selves?