Growing up, I always looked different than everyone else. I was the only redheaded, pale-skinned, freckled-faced kid in my class in elementary school. In high school, I think there were maybe 3 redheads in my graduating class. While I don’t remember ever wanting to dye my hair or change anything about my appearance, I do remember wishing that I could blend in a little bit more.
Fast forward to now, and my 9-year-old son has my red hair, pale skin, green eyes, and a gorgeous face full of adorable freckles. So of course, I worry that he might get teased and called all the names I got (Carrot Top, Copper Top, Freckle Face, Red-Headed Woodpecker etc). I also worry that he might wish he didn’t look that way, so that he could be like everyone else. Turns out, I’m worrying for no reason.
One night, we were chatting before bed and I asked him to tell me 3 things that he loves about himself. I was expecting to hear him say how funny he is, or how he’s a fast runner, or how he’s a master at Mario Kart 8. Instead, he smiled and said the following:
"I love my green eyes. Most people have blue or brown."
"I love my red hair because not a lot of people have red hair."
"I love my freckles because they look neat."
In that moment, my eyes completely welled up. All the things that I thought might make him feel different from everyone else, he had listed as the things he LOVES about himself the most. And I LOVE that about him! I love that he’s not afraid to embrace what makes him unique because, let’s face it, most of us don’t realize how great it is to be unique until we’re adults. He’s only 9 and he has absolutely no problem standing out. And why should he?!
Our little bedtime conversation got me thinking how important it is to encourage our children to love and embrace whatever it is that makes them unique. Whether it’s something about their appearance, an activity they love that might seem a little off the wall, or even their clothing choice – encourage it! Being unique is a GOOD thing, and I think so many kids feel like they should be like everyone else, talk like everyone else, and look like everyone else. We need to teach them young that they just need to be themselves.
I know as our kids grow it will be harder for us to convince them that being unique is a positive thing. I didn’t fully appreciate what made me unique until I was in my 20’s, so I don’t expect my son to appreciate it at age 9. But so far, he does!
I hope that level of self-confidence stays with him throughout his teenage years and into adulthood. But just in case it doesn’t, I’m going to keep encouraging him to embrace all the things that make him unique. Because that’s what makes him HIM. And I want him to be himself.
More importantly though, I want HIM to want that, too.