“Lean in”. If you haven’t heard this (slightly dated) popular catchphrase by now, it means to grab opportunities and embrace them without hesitation.
While the phrase typically applies to women shattering ceilings in the workplace, what if I flipped the script and challenged you to “lean in” to your children — to embrace them without hesitation?
Hear me out.
There are too many children who feel like their parents don’t accept them, understand them, or appreciate them for who they actually are. These children grow up to be adults who still, on various levels, feel the same lack of acceptance.
The lack of acceptance can be subtle or loud. It’s wishing your child wasn’t so shy in public. It’s wishing your child had more academic gifts or talents. It’s wishing your child wasn’t dressing or living outside of social norms. It’s wishing your child had different interests or personality traits. It’s wishing your child had different sexual preferences or views. It’s wishing your child could just be like everyone else — or just like a miniature you.
What if I challenged you to “lean in” to the child right in front of you — your perfectly, wonderfully unique little human. Forget about your personal desires or wishes; forget about what you imagined they would be like at this age. Forget it all and lean in. I believe it’s the greatest gift we can give our children. It’s complete acceptance, and then some — acceptance, appreciation, and value. It’s looking our children in the eyes and saying, “I see you and honor you for who you are. I value your unique gifts and I’m proud.”
Don’t tell your shy or introverted child that she needs to talk more or socialize with friends more. Maybe she’s happy with more solitude and downtime. Maybe she likes to write or create in a peaceful environment. Find ways to join her and connect.
Don’t push your son to play football because it’s something you love and played in your younger years. He might prefer individual sports like swimming, and that’s OK — and he might not like sports at all. That’s okay, too. Maybe he likes art. Encourage that and embrace it. Celebrate his artwork and ask questions about it. Find ways to do art together.
Maybe your child has a neurodevelopmental difference like ADHD or autism. Your child might think and experience the world a little differently from you. Get into that world with your child, and embrace all of the unique characteristics your child has. Don’t expect them to act or think like you or their neurotypical peers.
Don’t belittle your child’s interests just because they’re not the same as yours. Being interested in makeup, alternative clothing, computers, gaming, art, animation — whatever it is — it means something to your child, so it has value. Encourage their interests and show excitement about them. You never know, that might be the interest that leads them to a future hobby or career!
Maybe your child dresses in a unique way. Maybe she is more assertive and bold than you are. Maybe he is someone who lives in his head, deep in thought. Think about the ways these traits can be strengths now and in the future and find the good in them.
“Embrace the unique way your child is blooming–even if it’s not in the garden you imagined.” –Unknown
I lean in to my children fully each day, and I give them the power to be exactly who they are. Having a neurodivergent child has changed my perspective and outlook on so very much. My son is completely, unapologetically exactly who he wants to be. I can’t imagine wishing for him to be any different, because since leaning in, I’ve discovered how truly incredible he is. I’ve tuned out any “noise” that wants me to believe he should be anything other than himself. He loves reading, writing books, art, history, and geography — and I lean into all of these things. I made a joke the other day about how people always ask me what sports my son likes. My response? “He doesn’t. He likes to write his own dictionaries.” I don’t care that he doesn’t show an interest in sports or some other typical 6-year-old boy “things.” I not only accept him, but I fully embrace him.
Likewise, my 3-year-old daughter is developing a personality that is also all her own — sassy, sweet, empathetic, and headstrong with a love of pretty clothes and animals. I lean into my kids because I love them but also because they, and all children, deserve unconditional acceptance from their parents. Your children are not you, not your spouse, not their peers. They deserve for you to “lean in” and love them for exactly the unique beings they are.
So, I challenge you: “lean in” to your child, ask more about their interests, as silly or uninteresting as they might seem to you. Listen, engage, and show them your genuine support and pride. Embrace the way they are blooming, even if it’s not in the garden you imagined.