Amy Lanham

finding beauty in the middle of the mess

Tag: belonging

Fitting in vs. Belonging

I sat my two months shy of his 13th birthday son down and told him I wanted to talk with him about a book I just read.  Me reading a book certainly isn’t unusual to him, and we often talk about what I read, so he wasn’t too suspicious.

You see, I just finished reading Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown. In chapter 7, she talks about the difference between belonging and fitting in. She interviewed 8th graders to find out how they would define the distinction between the two. The three conclusions that she included were spot on, but my favorite was this one: “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.” What a huge topic for a middle schooler to explore!

If you are reading this and you are a parent, then you know the worry of hoping your kid can find a tribe. And, usually we say we want our kids to fit in, but I think what we should want more than anything is for our kids to belong. I don’t want my sons to be anything other than what God created them to be. I want them to be loved for who they are, not who they try to be.

The part of the chapter that made me think more than any other part was the fact that the kids told her that not belonging at school was one thing, but not belonging at home was ultimately even worse. I thought home is where everyone is supposed to belong, but that’s just not the case. Here are some of the examples the kids gave her:

  1. Not living up to you parents’ expectations.
  2. Not being as cool or popular as your parents want you to be.
  3. Not being good at the same things your parents were good at.
  4. Your parents being embarrassed because you don’t have enough friends or you’re not an athlete or a cheerleader.
  5. Your parents not liking who you are and what you like to do.
  6. When your parents don’t pay attention to your life.

So, my son and I talked through these. I wanted to make sure his dad and I weren’t doing any of these six things. I remembered at the end of last school year when he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue with trumpet. He was so remorseful when he told us since his dad had been such a great trumpet player. Neither of us cared, but he had been so worried. Then, I thought about how he loves Pokemon and I am 100% clueless about it. He reassured me that he knows we don’t care if he plays an instrument, and as for Pokemon, we listen to him tell us about his great finds and take him places to play. For him, that’s enough.

We had such a great conversation, and I can’t believe the young man he is turning into. And, I’m so relieved he feels like he belongs at school, church, and at home. There have been various scenarios throughout my life where I felt like I didn’t fit in, but ultimately I knew it was okay, because I always had a place to belong. Some of us are square pegs in round holes and instead of complaining about it, maybe we need to embrace it, or go look for a square board.

If you haven’t read any of Brown’s books, I highly recommend them. She puts language to things we feel inside, but weren’t sure how to define. Braving the Wilderness was an easy read and opened up great dialogue with my kiddo.

Where do you feel like you most belong?

Blessings,

Daring to Be Different

Have you ever experienced the pain of trying to fit in? No matter how old we get, this can be a problem.

Here are a couple of pictures of my son from his school awards ceremony:

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He’s the one with the hat…the only one out of approximately 200 kids with a hat.

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The previous evening he took about 15 minutes trying to pick out what he would wear. This was serious business to him. He decided on the hat, but I expressed my concern that the day of the awards wasn’t “hat day,” normally reserved for Fridays at his school. He assured me he was pretty sure his teacher would let him wear it for the ceremony.

As his mama, I was worried he would stand out a little too much. I worried some of the kids might tease him for his choice, but I stuffed my concerns and let him take the hat in case his teacher didn’t see a problem with it.

During the awards, as I watched him stand alongside his peers, I felt a great deal of pleasure not having anything to do with any of the awards he won. My satisfaction came from the fact he desires to be his own person without fear of repercussion. As a kid, I would have preferred to blend in. There’s something to be said for someone willing to stand out for the right reasons, someone not afraid to march to the beat of his/her own drum.

This story makes me recall a trip my husband and I took with Joshua to Gatlinburg when he was a little over two. One of his favorite songs to listen to on that trip was a song called “Anticonformity.” He called it the “No Way Song.” (I promise he liked normal kid stuff like the Wiggles, too.) I vividly remember him perched in his car seat doing some serious head banging as he would shout, “No way!” at the appropriate time. If I had only known then that it was a foreshadowing of his future.

Here are the lyrics:

“Anticonformity” by Krystal Meyers

It’s all around
Pressure from my so-called friends
It’s all around
I’m measured by some stupid trend
It’s all around

Everyone is just like them
It’s all around
It’s all around
It’s all around

So I’m anticonformity
I don’t try too hard to be
I’m not what you think you see
Inside I’ve made a change
And I’ll never be the same
NO WAY!

They conform
Un-individuality
They conform
Forget about variety
Yeah they conform

They don’t know what they believe
They conform
They conform
They conform

Image is overrated if it washes off in the rain
You know you gotta go deeper to go against the grain

(If you’re curious you can watch it here on YouTube. We really knew how to rock.)

So, to be honest, recently I’ve been internally freaking out a little, as mamas tend to do. Under Armour is all the rage at my son’s school. Left up to me, he might have a shirt or two, but it comprises a good portion of his wardrobe due to my generous mother who wants to buy my boys what they like to wear. I’m not one to be too attracted to labels, and his obsession has baffled and worried me. As I sat in the bleachers watching my boy go against the grain, my mind eased a bit. I can only hope this line of thinking sticks for when he is a teenager.

Why do I worry about such things?

Because I want my son to feel like he belongs, but I don’t want him to feel like he has to fit in. There is indeed a difference. Brene Brown talks about it in her book Daring Greatly. Here is what she says, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

We all have a desire to belong. Do you know the pain of trying to fit in? I do. I have a few painful memories I could share.

Brene Brown also says this, “Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.” I can’t decide if I find that statement comforting or not. If nothing else, I see it as a challenge to become the kind of person I want my children to be. And hope that God will fill in the gaps in spite of who I am.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a child, or an adult, feeling like you have to fit in can be a danger. My friend and I attended a conference several months ago. We suddenly noticed a trend. First we noticed many of the women were wearing their hair in a messy bun, then we observed scarves were quite popular, and finally dark-rimmed glasses seemed to be the rage. We actually started counting how many of each. In fact, my friend noticed occasionally you could spot a woman with all three items. She termed it the bun trifecta. Now, I know this probably sounds incredibly immature of us, but it was kind of a “thing,” to the point I wondered if I had missed a memo. I didn’t know these things were quite so popular. I’m just not trendy like that. Honestly, I had a brief moment of feeling a tad bit like an outsider because I didn’t seem to fit the mold. Can you relate?

So, here’s to anticonformity. Maybe next year Joshua will wear a bow tie, but whatever way my son chooses to stand out, I will celebrate his individuality and learn from him to dare to be different…dare to be myself.

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You can download a copy of Brown’s parenting manifesto here. I think it’s a great model of things we should desire for our children that will help them become confident and secure individuals.

You can buy Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown here. I highly recommend it.

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