Let Go of Labels and Become Who You Are

Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself.  When you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word of mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you.  Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own essence back to you.  -Eckhart Tolle

I’ve written a little about this subject before – the uncertainty that comes up for me when mothering a child who our society labels as “shy.”  People used to say this about me.  “Oh, you’re just being shy.”  I think I got so used to the label that I ended up becoming that, even though my memories of elementary school were ones of being funny, outgoing and extroverted in class.  That was until about 3rd grade when Mrs. Ralston would punish me for laughing by making me clap the erasers out on the fire escape!  I learned how to keep quiet to please the teachers.  And eventually by the time high school rolled around and my family had moved to two different states in two years, well I guess you could say I became pretty darn “shy.”  Yes, I was quiet in class.  I had self-doubt.  But now as I mother a child who is innately reserved and cautious, I am seeing that as others label us as “shy,” I think that description limits the gifts we are here to share.

We live in a world that values accomplishment, extroverts, busy lives, and boisterous, easygoing personalities.  We don’t know what to do with quiet.  We fill up the silence.  So when we meet someone who is an observer, a listener, and more reserved…we label them as “shy” because we don’t know how to handle them.  Their quiet nature makes us feel uncomfortable.  And yet, what I’m learning is that people who seem more quiet and reserved up front have an inner peace about them that is comforting.  There is usually a lot going on inside their hearts and minds.  And if you take the time to let them warm up, you are often introduced to a gentle person who is a joy to be around and amazingly observant.  I really resonate with people who listen well.  Who take time to notice the world around them.  Who take everything in.  Who process and are curious and study and who ask questions and who think and feel from an internal, quiet place.  I think that’s what I did naturally as a kid, and people called me “shy.”  I think that’s what my son does, too.

So I’m learning as I observe my little 4-year-old that he is extremely reserved in new situations.  He studies the kids.  He watches the teachers.  He’s so sweet and kind.  He smiles.  He nods his head.  He sometimes bounces up and down when he’s really excited to let the people know he’s interested and having fun, even though he may not feel comfortable using his words yet.  He’s precious.  He’s a joy. And this is just how he is.  He’s communicating in his own way. And the teachers or other kids in art class or gymnastics may have no clue that this little dude has been talking since he was 9 months old, but isn’t that ok?  We need a balance of boisterous and quiet right? And I do not need to label his behavior as anything else.  Because when I do I take away the special gifts that make him…him.  He needs to take it all in.  And in his own time, he warms up and as he says, “gets more comfortable.” Why do we feel the need to label and judge his process?

I’m getting quite used to being the only mom that stays by her kid’s side in the class (at his request). And the teacher usually has the perfect solution.  She tells me, “Next time, you just push him through the door and go run and hide.  We know where to find you if we need you.”  And sometimes I sit there agreeing with the teacher.  Oh, well she must know right?  I mean, she works with kids all the time. Surely she knows how to handle the “shy” ones, too.  Maybe it is me?  Maybe I’m enabling him.  What is wrong with me!  What is wrong with him!  Why can’t he just go have fun and be like all the other kids in class?  Why can’t I go hang out with the other moms and drink my coffee while we peer in through the window?  WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!

I think calling him “shy” in the way our society uses that word is placing judgment on his natural way of seeing and being in the world. It says that being extroverted, doing what the teacher says and fitting in is the “right” way to be, and being quiet, not feeling comfortable with the teacher and not wanting your mommy to leave your side, is the “wrong” way to be.  Talk, comply, outgoing…good. Quiet, cautious, shy…bad.

So my practice these days as a mother is to TRUST that my sweet little boy is complete and whole and wonderful JUST AS HE IS.  To stop labeling.  To stop thinking something is wrong with us.  And to treat each new situation and each new person we meet with kindness and compassion. Sure, I may still be the only mom in class, walking along the side of the balance beam until my son gets more comfortable.  And it’s up to me to stay connected to my intuition – that place that guides me to mother from my heart.  The teachers may have had years of experience working with all types of kids, and I know I have a lot to learn from their expertise.  But in the end, we truly are enough – just as we are – and my heart knows the path that is best for me.  I know that I can nurture and support my son, but like a flower, I can not force him to bloom before he’s ready.

Let’s stop labeling ourselves, our children and the people we meet as right or wrong, good or bad, outgoing or shy…  Let’s let go of our judgments.  Let’s stop being so darn hard on ourselves!  Let’s embrace our differences!  Let’s let our own personalities shine, and not try to be something we think we should be, but rather become who we are in each new moment.

YOU and me (and our children) are completely beautiful and wonderful – just as WE are.

Your Personal Reflection:  

Become more aware of the labels you use to describe yourself, and your kids, and the world around you.  What would happen if you could let go of those labels, and let your true gifts shine, so that you can become who you are?

11 Responses to Let Go of Labels and Become Who You Are

  1. So beautifully written Shannon. Your boy is lucky to have a mama who listens to what he needs. You must go get the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I’m listening to it right now and it is so enlightening. Also, there is such a difference between shy and introverted. I find myself calling my kids shy so often, to strangers who want to talk to them in the grocery, to other kids. But, they aren’t shy. Shy is all about fear and anxiety. That isn’t what is driving my kids’ quiet nature. They just want to take it all in before jumping in. And they do eventually warm up and then people are lucky to know their goofy, silly, warm, and sweet natures.

    • Kelly,
      Thank you for your beautiful comment. I love what you said about what “drives your kids’ quiet nature.” YES…being introverted doesn’t mean we come from a fearful, anxiety ridden place – but rather it’s where we get our energy from. And I’m really excited to check out your book suggestions. I love your support. xo

  2. Wonderful post Shannon.
    I think just like with parenting, we strive to create and find Perfection in everything.
    What or Who is the perfect child anyway? Kids are all different, just like parenting styles are.

    Our daughter, has this chameleon personality (there’s moments she’s shy, and the next minute she gets all outgoing and making friends quickly) – which I think is incredibly normal to have these different styles of personality – but then again, we also judge, is she normal when she plays all by herself and not with the other kids?

    What I do like is that they have a lot of interactive play and discussions in her kindergarten.
    They practice standing up and speaking in front of their classmates (but it’s never forced).

    I think a few fun ways to get kids to open up is really great. Like letting the child order ice cream! 😉

    ps. and then there’s always Mama’s worry – which is hard to shake off and let go… But I do think, that yes, you can go and have coffee with your friends and just peek in through the window 😉
    Have a great weekend!

    • Ella,
      Thank you for your comment! You are so right…who is the “perfect” child and what are we striving for anyway? I think experiences like learning how to speak in front of a class is SO important. It’s so great that your daughter is getting the chance to practice that amazing skill. That is one reason why I’m helping K get comfortable with the a 2-day preschool program. Without force – I think it’s important to give him opportunities to shine. Big hugs to you!

  3. Shannon, as always you have such beautiful insight. I found myself explaining to other people in order to make them feel better instead of showing my children that they don’t have to explain themselves for being who they are. I know how much kids absorb our words and actions and I wonder if they feel they can’t be anything else? Thank you for opening my heart to see the beauty in simply being and allowing my children to just be without feeling like I have to worry what people are thinking.

    • Lynnette,
      Oh my, mama, that is SO true. I feel that way, too. Like I have to explain myself to others. That really helped me when I was talking to my husband about it all and he said, “We need to do what’s best for Kestan. Not the teacher. Not the other moms.” EXACTLY. Thank you for sharing and for being you.

  4. A beautiful post. I do get irritated by all of the labels. What is with the categorizing? I have a quiet reserved boy who is sometimes loud and boisterous. That should be enough. However, if he isn’t the life of the party, the first place some go is “something is wrong”. Your post helps me to continue advocating for my little ones and all of their glorious individuality without wondering (as much) whether anything is wrong.

    • Angela!
      CHEERS to individuality. YOU are so right – that should be and IS…enough!

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your beautiful words with me.

  5. Shannon,

    Your words totally resonate with me.
    I grew up being called shy (and sad or too serious), and even as an adult I still hear that sometimes.
    I grew up to realize that I’m not shy, I’m an introvert. one day I found the perfect definition of introvert and I wrote about it here. http://granny.homelinux.org/locus/2011/10/07/introvert/.
    Your second paragraph gave me goosebumps because it’s exactly what I think and feel about this, not word more, not word less.
    I’m an only child, I grew up knowing myself and enjoying silence in a way not everyone understands. I think that most people don’t know how to deal with silence, they are afraid of it and afraid of themselves because if you know yourself deeply, and your are in peace, you enjoy silence, you embrace it, and you sometimes end up needing it like I do.
    Something that do scares me is that adults are raising their children avoiding silence the way they do. They have the need to fill every second of their children lives… too much noise, too much things to do, see, listen, and without noticing their raising their children to fear silence exactly the way they do. they don’t give them time to just be, time to listen to their inner voice , time to explore their thoughts and feelings, time for them to know themselves and to be comfortable with what they discover. And this makes me sad.
    My baby girl is one year old now and I can already tell that she is quiet. she enjoys silence the way I do. she takes time to notice the world around her and she takes everything in. She is not one of those “happy” babies that is always smiling for everything and everyone, specially strangers, so I do hear a lot of “oh she’s sad…she’s angry…she’s too serious…she “this” she “that”…” sometimes I honestly need to take a deep breath, to be able to answer without being rude or to aggressive. She has the most perfect smile I’ve ever seen and when she smiles she lights up everything and everyone around her, she smiles with her heart and with her soul, maybe that’s why she is not always smiling, because she only gives her smile to what and to whom gets to her heart, and I’m comfortable and happy with that. yes I am.
    I trust me. I trust her, and as you said, our heart knows the path that is best for us. so we just need to let go.


    • Silvia!!
      OH MY…your comments mean so much. I SO know what you mean. That feeling or label of being “too serious.” I remember even being called a “snob” in school but really it was just because I was on the quiet side until I warmed up. Introverts get their energy from inside, getting quiet and from being alone. Extroverts get their energy from people. Sometimes I find I’m both. I need to be alone but I also need the connection from people. And you are right on about SO much activity…we go and go and go and teach our children how to do that at a very early age. I’m so proud of you that you’re on the path to TRUST yourself, to TRUST your sweet baby girl, and to know that your heart will lead the way. THANK YOU for sharing!! xo

  6. Shannon, as someone who has always been labeled shy, and felt “less than” because of it, and who now has one son especially who is so often an observer (taking in SO much, it’s amazing and wonderful to me)… Your words are wonderful. As I read them, I couldn’t help but nod my head and want to shout “yes, that’s exactly it!!”. Thank you for your words, knowing and sharing your heart, and the encouragement to do the same!

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