Accepting Differences

Q: My 14-year-old son is a helpful, dependable person, but he behaves differently than the rest of my children, to the point that it can be embarrassing. He’s not doing anything “wrong,” but almost seems happy to be “out-of-the box” in the way he acts. He can probably sense the discomfort of other family members, but seems unaffected. What to do?

A: Often families find themselves with a child who doesn’t “fit the mold” of the family. This child can be non-conventional in a conventional family, or the opposite situation can exist. A child can be more materialistically inclined than other family members and feel misunderstood and judged.

A wise parent needs to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the family unit.

Sometimes such a child feels more comfortable with one parent, and can confide in that parent more.

This parent needs to stress the family’s acceptance of differences, and how s/he feels that this individuality is special. (“As there are many flowers in a garden/tools in a toolbox, so are there various types of family members living in this house.”) A child who does not fit in can get easily frustrated with family members and even wish to be in another family.

Parents need to stress that it is with hashgachah pratis that each person is part of a particular family. Each member has something to share and give in order that each can learn from the other’s talents and good middos.

Both parents need to verbally stress the good points of this “out-of-sQync” sibling to family members in order that this child’s self-esteem will not be severely affected. Parents need to remind siblings (and themselves, if necessary!) that what they might view as “weird” or “fanatic” in this child’s personality can actually be very helpful in certain circumstances.

A parent needs to give specific examples in order that siblings learn to be less judgmental by seeing the good points of their unique sibling.

A parent needs to also stress similarities on a continual basis, pointing out what cements family members together.

Warm memories and shared philosophies often bring diverse family members together.

Suggesting that this child is similar to one’s parents or in-laws is also a way of reinforcing similarities and allows the child to feel less “out of things.”

Besides the need for food, water and air, the need to belong is of utmost importance to human beings.

Feeling that they are an important part of a family is an integral need for most people.

Creating family jokes and pleasant ways of relating to each other also accentuates similarities and creates more of an environment of acceptance. As one’s home is a microcosm of the world, one needs to use all of its resources in order to serve Hashem, incorporating all of its aspects, no matter how diversified and complex they may seem.