It’s more than washing crayon off the walls
There’s a wonderful parenting book called “Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer,” by Dana Spears and Ron Braund. I serendipitously found it when my son was a preteen. It may have saved both our lives, or at least more years of therapy, and I’m sure our relationship.
The book describes the child who is, “principle oriented, rather than rule-oriented, highly creative, overly sensitive, and frustrated at a world that fails to live up to the ideal.”
That was my little guy. Once when he was three, and I was rushing him to get dressed, he looked up at me and solemnly declared, “Mom, there’s no such thing as time.”
For which, of course, I had no argument. He was on another plane entirely, and remains so to this day, at age twenty-seven.
It’s not that I’m not on that plane, or in that dimension, as often as I can manage. It’s that I’m the parent who had to teach this little creative dreamer how to survive, and best scenario, thrive, in what we arrogantly call the real world. If you’re reading this, it may be your job, too.
Mine was the kid who picked up trash from the ground, and when I told him to drop it, he answered, “But Mom, I can make something from this.” Who was I to argue? I’m just the conduit through which this creative spirit passed, and who did, and does, my best to nurture that spirit.
This has not been easy. Being highly sensitive has given him stomach issues his entire life. It was worse in fourth grade when he also started suffering migraines. There were multiple stressors. For one, he was dyslexic, and we didn’t know, so school was difficult.
He never wanted to go to school in the fourth grade. One morning I asked him why, and he said, “Mom, it takes a lot of energy to deal with Ryan.”
Ryan wasn’t a bully he was dealing with. Ryan was a kid in his class with Aspergers, high functioning autism. My son had taken him under his wing and was Ryan’s only friend.
That’s another telling trait of creative dreamers, according to the book. They champion others who don’t fit the molds society creates. They take up for those who are picked on, even if they are picked on, too.
Keeping his own, and inspiring others to be committed and determined gets exhausting for him.
I would love to take credit for his determined spirit, but probably can’t. Raising him required a combination of making him stick to things, and rescuing him from other situations. You can’t follow the “normal” societal blueprint for raising a creative dreamer.
When he wanted to quit a sport or class, of course, I wouldn’t let him.Except for the YMCA basketball team when he was ten years old, with a coach who would curse and throw chairs, and whose son on the team was allowed to throw temper tantrums, too. Since he later had a coach in college who did the same, I’m not sure I did the right thing there. Except, remember creative dreamers are also highly sensitive. They absolutely do not respond to yelling.
Remember the “principle oriented rather than rule-oriented” part? And “frustration when the world doesn’t live up to the ideal?” Yeah, that.Combine that with undiagnosed dyslexia, and his wildly creative sense of humor, and you get the class clown.
He hated being treated unfairly and hated it as much when others were. As an inevitable result of our regressive, repressive school system, he was sent more than a few times to In-House suspension. The first time he went, a kid there pulled out a knife. The teacher/guard was in the hallway chatting with another teacher. From then on, whenever he was sent there, he texted me, and I went and got him out of school.
Now, before you start hammering out on your keyboard about what a terrible parent I was for doing that, please understand this. I always taught him to face consequences to legitimate rule-breaking, all of which was very minor, because he was a great kid overall.
However, we couldn’t change a school system that didn’t know how to teach him, and as a highly sensitive person with a finely tuned sense of justice, arbitrary authoritarianism just wasn’t something he, or I for that matter, could tolerate.
I made huge mistakes in my parenting. I would have avoided some of them if I’d had the book sooner. But protecting him and his creativity from suppression wasn’t one of them. Perhaps I should have home-schooled, but then he wouldn’t have been on his high school basketball team, and therefore wouldn’t have played basketball in college.
Basketball is a story all its own for him, and where he exhibited a nearly unbelievable determination. He left the team his junior year when they wouldn’t play him after his sophomore year on varsity. He spent every day that year practicing in our local gym for hours. Three to six hours a day. Every. Single. Day.
When he returned senior year, they required him first to run a 6-minute mile, which he’d never accomplished before. He came in just under. They made him play Fall Ball, with freshmen and sophomores. He balked but did it. He rode the bench a lot his senior year but was the only member of his team to go on and play college basketball, where his dunking record still stands five years later.
That same junior year, he produced enough artwork to mount his own show for Gallery Night in our town. He was the youngest person to do so.
Creative dreamers are eclectic. They don’t fit into the pigeon-holes society lays out for kids. They are jocks who paint, and theater buffs who play sports. They shouldn’t be forced to choose, and yet many of them are. Schools and peers like for everyone to fit a category. As the parent, it’s our job to help them follow all their interests, and not get forced into a lane or type.
On the flip side, don’t over-schedule them. When they don’t have time to dream, they can’t create. Don’t fall prey to our culture of keeping them busy every minute. Give them space to let their imaginations roam.
Like most creative dreamers, my son has always championed others, and they’re drawn to him, especially as he’s gotten older. From college on, often challenging people are attracted to him. Underdogs, underachievers, people with hyperactivity and ADD, people who exhibit manic-depression. They’re almost always creators, too. While they’re drawn to his creativity and unusual world views, they’re also drawn to his determination, especially if they’re creative too, but lack the focus and grit he has.
My son inherited anxiety and depression from both sides of the family. And while he handles both well, combining that with his championing of others, he has a tough time setting boundaries.
Maintaining his own determination and continually creating content, while inspiring others to be equally committed and determined, gets exhausting for him. He lives in L.A., the town known for breaking those without a strong creative work ethic, and those with a need to escape. It’s even crazier during a pandemic.
He’s home for January, recharging. As a parent to an adult, creative dreamer, I’m a little lost about my role. I don’t think he knows what my role should be either.
I’m his cheerleader, and appreciative audience, as always. What I hope to provide for him now is safe haven. A place to relax. This means being available if he wants my help, or companionship while demanding little from him as the world and everyone else demands so much. It’s a tough line to walk, because I do request time and activity from him, and should be able to as his mother. Sometimes we agree on that, and sometimes we don’t.
So, I’m going to do what I’ve always tried to do. Give him a quiet place to dream and to let his imagination roam. I’ve done my best to teach him how to survive and thrive. Now I have to let him do it.