Continuing on in a series exploring “The Six Ways of Attaching” from Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté’s book Hold On To Your Kids:
Sameness – “Me too!”
The child seeks to be like those she feels closest to. She attempts to assume the same form of existence or expression by imitation and emulation.
Quote from Hold On To Your Kids
At first, this one made sense to me in terms of ACTUALLY being alike – physical “sameness.” Things like dressing the same, liking the same music or TV shows, choosing friends who look similar (same ethnicity, even same hair color). It’s something I’ve particularly noticed in preschoolers, and again in t(w)eens.
I wonder if this is a big part of how fashion or songs/books/movies become trends? Or how a video can go viral on the internet? We all want to feel a part of something, to “fit” or to be like our friends and peers.
It also explains the obsessions many have with celebrities. In a very non-threatening way, we can read about and watch gossip shows about the things going on with the stars. And feel connected to them through their stories. Even though it’s a “false” connection, it’s also safe, since we don’t have to share any of our vulnerabilities or secrets back!
As I thought about it more, I realized this way of connecting plays an important role in how we create our communities, how we market goods/services, how powerful storytelling is, etc… We shift from seeking very concrete ways of being the same (physical, clothing) toward more intellectual or ethical sameness.
Seth Godin’s bestselling book and popular TEDtalk about “Tribes” is all about finding people who are like us, who believe in the same things:
Falling in love often starts with a lot of finding sameness, don’t you think? As I recall, all that 101 questions and finding things to talk about until the wee hours of the morning can be pretty intoxicating.
I believe storytelling connects us when there is something in there that makes us feel “it’s not just me…” And oh my goodness, that feeling is so powerful, isn’t it? As much as I try to be internally motivated, I still find it feels incredibly good (and a huge relief) when I receive external validation of my ideas, thoughts and/or experiences!
I think this kind of intellection, emotional and/or spiritual “sameness” is a more mature variety – since it takes a level of self awareness and willingness to show vulnerability in order to find others who are the same as us these ways. It’s quite interesting to ponder, actually. Young children do this well, and self-actualized adults do this well. In between, I suspect the struggle of puberty and making sense of themselves and the world/society makes it more difficult for teenagers to connect this way. It’s like a combination of Sameness and Being Known (upcoming post, Part 7). Perhaps it’s no surprise that teenagers have such a need for connections via physical proximity and simpler forms of sameness (clothes, music, common language, etc…) – they fill their needs while they figure out who they are and become confident sharing that.
It makes me recognize that kids need us to be their mirrors and show them the things we notice beyond their physical appearance or simple likes/dislike – their personalities, their strengths/weaknesses, what we notice excites or interests them, etc…
I think of the quiet times during bedtime cuddles that my kids have said “Mom, tell me again why you love me?” They want specifics – and slowly, I notice they’re moving from asking and seeking, to seeing it for themselves. The end goal, as far as I’m concerned, is for them to know themselves through self reflection, experience and feedback. Then the connections they make can be richer and deeper, since they’ll be based on their own fundamental truths.
Many schools/teachers are moving towards more inquiry learning, passion based learning, project based learning, etc… with an intention of engaging kids through their own interests, rather than just forcing them to learn what/how we want them too. It’s a great idea and well intentioned – but I’ve noticed middle school and early secondary school students can struggle with knowing who they are and what they’re passionate about. What do you do when kids don’t KNOW themselves yet?
I believe this offers an opportunity for meaningful parent engagement – to include parents in these dialogues and asking them to add their observations of their kids. If parents know what the learning intentions and project theme is, they can help kids make connections they might not see for themselves yet.
The example I’m thinking of was with my daughter – in Grade 8, they were doing an inquiry project during their religion unit. She struggled to make a connection to something she was interested in. In fact, she had already given up and started working on a very generic topic. One night, as we chatted and she stressed out, I asked her “You know, I’ve noticed you’re fascinated by Greek mythology. Do you think that’s a religion?” Her eyes lit up! And her energy for this project shifted dramatically! Suddenly, she was researching “what is a religion?” and asking amazing questions – like “when I google religion, why are there so many links about people HATING it?” or “which religions have goddesses, not just gods?” or “how has science and an understanding of how the world works changed religion?”
Her learning experience amazed me – she knows more and has thought more about religion than most adults I know! And she probably wouldn’t have made that connection without my perspective and observations of my child (and her passions/interests).
Hmmm… that was a bit of bird walk, but still connected. My point is that kids need help seeing and learning to understand themselves, in order to have the necessary foundation to form deep attachments based on who they are, not who they think they “should” be. We want them to have these meaningful connections based on shared ideas, passion, or values, rather than only staying at the surface and staying in shallow (and therefore more fragile) relationships based on more physical similarities. After all, if you’ve found a circle of friends who really “get” you – then you’ll all have the freedom and support to try different fashions, cut your hair, like different music, etc… and STILL be accepted and loved for yourself! That’s what kids need…
The rest of the series: