Son: the non-comformist

One day, when my son was walking to school with our neighbours’ son, I walked near them to go to work, but they treated me like a stranger. I was warned that I wasn’t allowed to walk with them or to be seen to know them, as it’s embarrassing. The boys are 12 years old. It’s understandable.

I had always thought for months that the two boys walked all the way together to school, a half an hour journey.

The boys actually parted at the first set of traffic lights. Our neighbours’ son G then crossed the road, waited for his other mates at a bus stop. He would wait for his 2 mates and walked to school with them.

This group of boys would later cross the road at a very busy roundabout together.

Busy roundabout: some children cross this road to get to school.

Busy roundabout: some children cross this road to get to school.

How did my son Ben continue his journey?

He continued walking to the end of the road, walked a further 5 minutes, and crossed the road at another set of traffic lights. He walked to school on his own for the most part of his journey.

I had mixed feelings. I was pleased that Ben didn’t join the boys and crossed the road at the busy roundabout. That is a nasty roundabout. Ben sticks to the route that he and I both had agreed before. That’s a much safer route with 2 sets of traffic lights though it would take slightly longer to get to school.

However, I feel a bit sorry that Ben is on his own, without company.

I asked him, are you ok? Don’t you feel a bit left out by your friends? “No! I’m ok!” Ben sounded happy and confident. He told me that he doesn’t like the shortcut that other boys take. He likes his own route, and he doesn’t mind walking on his own.

To try to understand him a bit more, I gave him another scenario: in the middle of the night, when there’s no other cars, and the traffic light turns red. Would you still be waiting for the green man to let you cross the road? Ben said, yes. “You must always follow the traffic lights.”

My son enjoys a very simple routine in life. He doesn’t enjoy changes. Two weeks ago, it was the World Books Day and everyone had to dress up as a character from a story. Ben hates dressing up from a young age and he has never enjoyed various dressing up opportunities in the primary school, including Christmas performances. I’ve thought that kids don’t have to ‘dress up’ as a character any more in the secondary school to save me from further nightmare, but I was wrong. On the morning of dressing up, Ben decided to wear the school uniform as he really refused to be someone else in school. After a long discussion and after I’d started to raise my voice at breakfast, he finally agreed to wear casual clothes to school, a T shirt and a pair of jeans. “Are you sure I can dress like a ‘normal person’ in school today?” I warned him that he would be teased if he dared to wear the school uniform on the World Books Day, surrounded by Harry Potter, Cats in the Hat, Sherlock Holmes, vampires, Wally, Dennis the Menace and James Bond. I threatened him, “I don’t want you to be the only boy who wears the uniform today. You’d be singled out! Do you want people to laugh at you? Do you? Do you…?” 

You see, I’m teaching my son to be the person that he isn’t. I tried to take him outside of his comfort zone. I tried to make him ‘socialise’ though he may not be comfortable with the given situation. It’s hard work for him and for me.

My child is not the most sociable, and he doesn’t like playing football or rugby. When he was in Year 6, his teacher gave him a Grade D in PE — a near-fail grade. Her reasons were that Ben was not brilliant in team work and there was a big gap in his social ability with his peers. He simply didn’t try hard enough to be friends with everyone. I agreed with the teacher that teamwork is ever so important in the society and school should prepare a child to function well in the work place and the wider community. However, I also challenged the teacher’s view. I asked her if she was aware that Ben is a competent swimmer, and he had been practising badminton for a few years with me. Ben plays badminton to a good degree — he does’t play strategically, but he plays for an hour each time without complaint. To a child who hates team or contact sports, who has always been clumsy with balls, being able to hold a badminton racket, serve, raise his arms, aim and hit hard and run sideway, I think it’s an improvement.

However, in my son’s primary school, badminton was never taught. The teacher explained that swimming and badminton are brilliant, but these are one-to-one activities and they’re not that important to her. “They don’t count,” she answered. In primary school, “we focus on team work and playing games.” My understanding is that, a child has to fit in to play the games that are endorsed by the decision makers, to demonstrate team spirit. Personal endeavours such as swimming and badminton skills are not as valued.

Having only one child also comes with stigma. If the child turns out beautifully, it’s because the parents simply having too much time and energy to devote 100% to the child, so it’s no wonder that the child can achieve Grade 8 in piano and can also speak Arabic and Chinese plus English. If the child misbehaves or if he is perceived rude in public, it’s because he is spoilt. “She has only one child. She must have spoilt that child.” I was once criticised that my son was obnoxious and I made too many allowances for him. Belittling criticism like this is not helpful. I’ve nurtured my son the best I could. I try to look at the world from his viewpoint. I try to appreciate why he has chosen to walk by himself and why he hates parties and dressing up. Ben also astonishes me with the way he views the world when categorising events. At dinner table today, I asked, “When is the Easter this year?” His answer was, “The day after the new Doctor Who series starts.” Never mind Jesus.

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27 thoughts on “Son: the non-comformist

  1. amphomma

    I’m an only child, and my two children are four and a half years apart in age, so they have each gotten a lot of one-on-one time with me. There are always assumptions that people will make, but if you are trusting in God to guide you and supply your needs as a parent, let’s both not worry about what others think.

    Your son sounds a bit like my kids. As parents, we have to try to find that balance between letting our children grow into their own unique personalities, and also pointing out implications they may not consider on their own. Your son seems to have mature, wise ways of doing things. Sometimes it pays to go against the stream. I am finding more and more how “unpopular” it can be to take Jesus very seriously, in all parts of life.


  2. Bill Hayes

    Your Son has made choices. His own choices. That is something to celebrate. By the sound of his route to school suggests he makes good choices.

    On Red nose Day last week, my youngest Son, 12 yrs old, dressed up in a onesy. A Monkey Onesy. I had to go to a shop and buy it – it’s not the sort of clothing we have about the house. As we were driving last road into the school, he suddenly panicked. “Dad? what if no one else has dessed up?” Then you’ll look like a complete idiot, I told him. As we turned into the school grounds there were onesys everywhere. A minor difficult moment had passed.

    But we worry about our children. My eldest Son is so social and confident and strides his local landscape it worries me still, because being still so young, can walk into so easily into trouble.

    The fact that your boy took the prefered route rather than should sooth your heart. He makes good choices.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      The problem is, Bill, you even spelt Onesy wrong. It’s spelt Onesie! You clearly should have bought one.

      Perhaps, you missed this video last Christmas?

      In my son’s secondary school, on the World Books Day, there were also quite a few characters dressed in Onesies (plural form!) But, could you tell me which characters in any story that you’ve known of wear an onesie? Peter Rabbit?

      1. Bill Hayes

        Well, clearly I am not an expert on these silly garments. Didn’t the Lion in the Wizzard of Oz wear a onesie.

        Incidently, how is one meant to know how to spell a word that has recently been made up? I think we should spell it my way, until it issss included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

      2. Bill Hayes

        Oh Crapola. Thank God I didn’t go down the “…i’ll eat my Hat…” route. I did an amazing Paella tonight, followed by Christmas pudding, and there would be no room for a hat.

        Onesie it is then.

  3. The Laughing Housewife

    The only guarantee that comes with parenting is that you will worry and agonise over everything your child does and why he does it.

    I think Ben is wonderful – he chooses to obey the rules he sees as sensible and, much more importantly, refuses to bow to peer pressure. While that may mean he does not fit in, it also means he will avoid worse dangers later, like drink and drugs.

    My own boys are strong characters, individuals who approach the world on their own terms. They don’t fit in where we live so they haven’t had the active social life I had as a teenager. I have worried about that but they seem quite happy about it. I have had to let go of my worry and trust them. They know they can invite whomever they please into their home; they choose not to. They have plenty of friends, just not nearby.

    Ben is a boy who lives in his head a lot of the time; I suspect he enjoys the quiet time of his walk to school.

    I would say don’t worry but you’re a mother, so you will. We all do!

    PS Love Ben’s reasoning about Easter 🙂

  4. ShimonZ

    It is such a hard job to know how to support a young person. I’ve always felt that the most important thing about schools, is that they prepare the young person for interaction in society. But there’s no avoiding the fact that some of us are a little different… and if so, there are signs early in life. Ben seems like a fine young man. I am sure that he senses your support and appreciates it.

  5. Ruby

    So long as he remembers that Dr Who starts on Holy Saturday, not Easter Saturday :-).

    Interestingly, when I was in Germany last autumn noticed that NO ONE crossed the road before the green man!

  6. Hazel Bateman

    My adult daughter, raised in a Christian home, phoned to ask me what day the Easter Bunny arrived – was it Good Friday or Easter Day? If I were ever to catch sight of the Easter Bunny, I would feel compelled to shoot it! Probably not a very Christian attitude!

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Does she still believe in the tooth fairy and Father Christmas? Perhaps it just reflects she has had such a great childhood.

      I can make her an origami Easter Bunny very soon.

  7. marshland

    Your lad will probably be the only one to look like a human being when all the other lads shave their heads to look cool like their footballers heroes. He’ll be alright. I always though it better not to take part in team sports I knew I’d be no good at. Rugby however was a great leveller, I never got a touch at football, nobody passed to me but when the footballers were ordered to play rugby, I got my revenge. I rarely touched the ball at rugby either but I was invariably a prop or somewhere in the front row so I didn’t need to but I loved the physical aspect, the footballers not so.
    Your son reminds me so much of Astrid’s son (my step-son). He is naturally a loner when the occasion demands he can be as sociable as anyone else. He did basketball which surprised me. When the rest of the tribe flew to England, for our wedding, he came via Eurostar, alone, via trains, tunnel and coaches. He went to a Rudolf Steiner school and fully embraced the free spirit teaching methods but in my opinion he wasted the opportunities he was gifted with. Such is life.
    He’ll make you proud one day.

  8. JoV

    I think we can’t change the core of what a person is. He can stretch out of his comfort zone but he is going to come back to his core anyway. Notice your boy’s strength and capitalise on that. I don’t try to mould my two boys in anyway except to make them work harder on their school work. I accept them as the way they are, and when they are comfortable in their skins they will find what is best for them. I never was a team player when I was younger, but it doesn’t make me less of a team player when I am at work now.

    Your boy will make you proud one day.

  9. Opalla

    There are at least one-third of the world’s population who are introverts. They don’t like parties, dressing up, socializing in general and prefer quiet pursuit. Susan Cain’s book Quiet says it all. There is just too much pressure in our schools to force the introvert kids to become extroverts. This is not fair.

  10. Daniela

    Your son is an individual who is not scared to be one, I have a daughter (also only child) like that. Celebrate.

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