Parenting Thoughts: Special or Ordinary. What message should we be sending our kids? - (cool) progeny #parenting #advice #kids #family

You are special, you’re the only one, you’re the only one like you.
There isn’t another in the whole wide world who can do the things you do.

So sayeth a (once?) popular, purple dinosaur who also loves everyone he meets. Barney is not the only creature among us who propagates the idea that we are all special. We hear it in school (whether in a “good” or “bad” way). We hear it in TV commercials, after all, we have our own unique requirements that practically mandate a certain product or prescription.  We hear it from our parents; that we stand apart from others and are very, very special to them. We work to come up with unique spellings and names for our kids so they can retain their specialness (think Unique, Uneeque, Uneke). Even our country is special. The theme of America as a “chosen” nation can be seen throughout our collective historical narrative. No wonder Barney is singing about it. It’s just the truth, isn’t it? We are SPECIAL!

What strings come attached to this special moniker? How does it help us and our kids personally? And how can it work against us and them?


Special-ness comes with some perks. We are often from a young age told that we can be whatever we can dream. We are smart enough and lucky enough and special enough to be able to make just about anything happen. When you’re told that your future has no limits…and you’re 5…. how does that make you feel? Special. {Hear the applause.} Well done us. The narrative of this speciality can be seen in great American innovators and our love of the entrepreneurial spirit. One might argue that without this feeling of ability and specialness, we wouldn’t have so many creative success stories in our culture.

One problem with this feeling of specialness is it’s coexistence with a feeling of entitlement. “I am special, therefore I am entitled to these certain things in life.” Feeling as though we inherently deserve particular things (maybe money or a job or a toy) can sometimes work against the things that we need to do to earn the money, job or toy. It’s much easier to make demands of others and to act selfishly if we feel that we are entitled to something that we’re not getting.

Didn’t you know that I’m special? Maybe ‘normal’ rules don’t apply to me.


On the other hand, emphasizing being one of the crowd (as an opposite of ‘special’) can be a wonderful community enhancing tool. We work together. We look out for each other. We don’t stand alone. Helping others before we think of helping ourselves or what we are entitled to just might make the world a nicer place to live. Sharing and helping without being asked come more easily if we focus on kindness instead of specialness.

Plus being “regular” means that we don’t have to have insane expectations for ourselves or our kids. There is so much competition in both the parenting and kid worlds to be the best: read at an early age, make home cooked meals every night, run marathons, play four different sports, throw amazing kid-themed birthday parties, etc. Competition and setting ourselves apart can lead to feelings of inadequacy (if we don’t outdo others or ourselves), jealousy, judgment, righteousness and — yes — personal achievement.

One con to the collective, ‘ordinary’ example is that we really are all fundamentally different from each other. We do have different interests, abilities and skills. Helping kids find the strengths that are specific to them can really help them to be more fulfilled and successful in later life.

The only questions that remain are gigantic ones:

Is one way of thinking better than the other? Eh.

What does it mean to feel fulfilled or be successful? Ergh.

Will one way of thinking benefit our children and the world more in the long run? Blargh.

It’s up to us to decide and maybe create a mix of something special sprinkled with a little bit of the ordinary.