I wonder if the tendency to categorize things is uniquely human? We categorize animal species, plant seeds, rocks, personality types and body shapes. It makes us feel more in control and gives us a way to organize all the information we receive.
It shouldn’t surprise me then how parents try to categorize their kids. When my oldest was little, she we labeled her quickly: unathletic, girly-girly, smiley, good eater. Some labels made me proud: like “good eater.” I must be doing something right if my girl wasn’t picky like those other toddlers. I fretted over some labels, like “slow reader.” How could this English teacher who read to her girl multiple times a day have a slow reader? Today, my girl’s labels are different: athletic, tomboy, great eater (with a bit of a sugar addiction), slow reader (with impressive comprehension and retention).
My second girl was whiny, cuddly, and painfully shy. She was athletic and ate anything as a toddler. I worried and fretted about her shyness. Now at nine, she is still whiny, and cuddly, but not shy. She’s still athletic. And she’s one of the pickiest eaters I know.
We like to label our kids. We think the labels give a a glimpse into their future. We use the labels to help us understand our kids. And the labels can be helpful. It makes sense to put an artsy kid in art class. But we also use the labels to direct our worries. When labels blind us to potential, to hope for change, or limit the thinking of our child they need to be forgotten. ( When a a child is told she is “plain” often,she will believe it. Well, so will an adult.)
There’s a truth God’s been nudging at me. I recognize the truth but can’t internalize it because labeling is a habit. I share the labels I recognize out loud, too often. I try to enforce the labels I love and change the ones I hate, sometimes nagging on them. Maybe writing God’s truth here will help.
God made my girls. He knows who they are and who they will be. Therefore I can rest. I can recognize the good and the bad labels. I can celebrate some even. But I need not worry or fret. Worry is a sin. Slow reader, poor student, picky eater, painfully shy, homely, acned, clumsy, dumb or rude. Few labels stay with us for our entire life. God can use them all to teach us, refine us, and change us and/or our kids. And a bad label, like whimpy, can develop into a better one, like strong. God is not limited by labels. And children, raised to follow Christ, they won’t be limited either. So stop worrying but keep praying.