by Vanessa Baker
As part of the Unlabeled series, StereoType will share raw and authentic stories and perspectives from parents and caregivers of diverse backgrounds. These individuals have challenged their own stereotypes, leading to mindful transformations in their quest for a closer connection with their children. Unlabeled will spotlight stories of learning, breakdowns, breakthroughs, and transformations as parents and caregivers strive to become more attuned to themselves during their parenting journey.
For so long, I thought stereotypes were the secret to success
Follow the rules, step into the role people expect, and accolades will follow. And for a long time, it worked for me. Give me a framework, directions, marks to hit, rules to follow! Will it require a fixed view of myself? Can I over-simplify myself? Yes? Sign me up! Here’s a quick overview of how those stereotypes worked for me. It didn’t matter if it caused stress or anxiety, if people were happy about it, then I was all in. Hard working high school student. Easy. Start a business and work multiple jobs. Do great in classes. Cause no waves. Pay for my own stuff. Don’t be a burden. Keep my head down. Save. Earn. Be responsible, independent.
Business major. Easy. Join honors college. Run for student government office. Get the best internships. Win awards. Schmooze with the administration. Stand out. Get the best post-grad job. Wife and mom. Easy. Convert to a new religion for marriage. Learn everything. Fit the mold. Follow all the rules. Occupy the front row of church every Sunday. Have a kid and another and another and another and another. Honor. Cherish. Stay home. Homeschool. Lead Bible studies. Volunteer. Serve. Give. Support.
Right around that time is when I met someone who wrecked all of my plans, jacked my identity, and ruined everything I stood for: My second child, Craig (they/them).
You know when someone’s energy just really sets you off? When their very being challenges all the stuff you work day and night to protect? That was Craig. As a baby they were super grumpy, high-maintenance and I could not seem to figure out how to help them. As a toddler they did not care about any norms like wearing clothes or following along with the plan. I still have visions of their naked somersaulting phase. And then, as a kid, I paused. I would see them being as they were in every moment - free and real and truly unaffected by anything but their own internal drive to follow their instincts. At 10, Craig told me they were gay. At 10, they had the insight, the words and the courage to tell me they were different than they thought they were supposed to be.
Instinct to me was foreign. I asked myself, “What is an “instinct”? Can you give me an example? Use it in a sentence? Never heard of it.” But Craig’s instinct was infectious. It almost made me want to try and listen to my own instincts. So little by little, with my personal style, my decisions to do more things outside of the house, and to regain my freedom, I started venturing outside of my boundaries until I started actually recognizing my authentic self again.
Vanessa Baker is a parent and teen mindset coach. She has five teenagers and a toddler. She uses her background in education, business and coaching to teach parents how to create healthy relationships with their teenagers, and ultimately, with themselves. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her wife, kids and her cat, Walter White.