Is Feeling “Special” Important to Human Development?
I often wonder how important the feeling of "feeling special" is - as in, how special did you feel growing up - to your human development? Did your parents do a good job of making you feel special that you grew into a strong individual - knowing that you were loved uniquely and that you felt cherished for being you but at the same time balancing it so you didn't get a big head? Or did you know that your parents loved you, but just not uniquely in any way from the other kids in your family? Or were you the recipient of lavish amounts of unique love?
If you think about it, the first scenario equates to balance. You may have been part of a large family or small, but it didn't matter because your parents loved all of you but showed you in some small way that they loved and appreciated something about you that was unique to you and just you. The second scenario is perhaps too far to one side and often left a good share of us wondering why our individual talents were not noticed and appreciated. And as far as the third scenario goes, it is too far the other direction, making everything that child(ren) did over the top wonderful.
I have pondered this question so many times in regard to my own life and my children's lives. I grew up not feeling special in any way and actually, if truth be told, I still don't feel special in any way, and after contemplating this question for many years, I think many of my insecurities come from exactly that - not feeling special to anyone ever. Is that just me or is that a consequence of never being made to feel special?
So when I first decided to have children I made a conscious decision to support my children, trying to do so with balance of course, acknowledging the accomplishments unique to them, but also balancing it so to that one child didn't seem favored over the other. I HATE the favorite’s game, which was the environment I grew up in and is actually still alive and well today.
So I asked my college-aged son yesterday what kind of job I did making him feel special as he grew up and his text response was this: "Making me feel special? I thought the point was to not think you were better than other people. But you did always support my education and made me feel smart!" When I read that I just about swallowed my own tongue as this kid is and was a totally fabulous kiddo so I text back: "So, wait, you grew up never really thinking I thought you were special?" He went on to say that I was always good about communicating to him that I thought he was special. I guess I was just slightly traumatized by the fact that he kept referencing education, smart, and exemplary student. A later text he sent made my own heart feel a little better and he said: "You made me feel special. It's difficult to articulate because we were also taught to be modest. It's weird talking about me being special, but that doesn't mean that I've never felt that way."
So I can only hope that he thought I knew he was much more than just a smart guy or a handsome face. And in case he didn't, I will say this here and now because he is one of the few people who I know reads my blog: "Just being near your sister and brother brought them comfort and safety. You are a fabulous big brother. You certainly are smart, but you are also incredibly tender hearted and always concerned about matters, large and small, and how other people are affected. You don't have a mean bone in your body and know what to say to bring comfort when someone is in pain. You are courageous and for someone born with some innate fears, I see you challenge yourself daily! Hoorah for you!"
My younger son, who is a guy of few words right now (unless he is trying to convince me of some alternative facts that work to his advantage) answered by shrugging his shoulders and saying "I know you love me. You encourage me and make me try to do better." And that my friends, is what actively trying to make your children "feel special" can end up like and in my opinion, no better or worse than how I feel coming from the family I grew up in where my parents placed zero interest or concern on building up the individual psyche of us kids.
My only experience with love of the individual being lavished on the children was with family friends. The parents paraded their children's wonderfulness in front of us every time we visited. My parents loved it of course but we hated it because it amounted to this on the car ride home: "those kids are so talented; I wish you kids were more like them, and after a while all we heard was "blah, blah, blah" and do we really have to go to dinner again and have everyone tell us and show us how wonderful they are and how badly we suck?
What about those kids? It might have been great if the parents truly lavished all their kids with that love but what if you were not the smart one, or the pretty one, or the talented one? Did those kids spend their lives hating their siblings and parents because they got the short end of the stick? Alternatively, if the child had been placed on a pedestal, whether worthy of it or not, what happens to them when life tells them they are not the greatest thing? Did the lavish praise really help them?
So is feeling special important to human development? My answer is: maybe; kind of. I think what is ultimately important is love, and of course, feeling special or unique, does wonders for self-esteem but eventually we all find our way into the big bad world and get on with living. And I wonder, really wonder, does anyone really feel special in the long run?