Are our kids as special as we think they are? Are WE??

As many of you know, my wife gave birth to her second child (my fourth) last week.  Little Phoebe arrived Thursday morning weighing in at a substantially healthy 9 pounds, 7 ounces and 21 inches. Phoebe - 2nd dayTake a look at that photo. Isn’t she adorable? Isn’t she cute? Isn’t she special?

Well, she’s adorable, yes. Definitely cute as all get-out. And to me, she’s one of the four most special things in the world (as I said, I have three other kids, too!)

But just because she’s special to me and my wife…is she actually special?

Definitions v. semantics

I know what you’re thinking. How can you possibly doubt how special your newborn child is, you heartless, unfeeling clod?!?  Please, please, please do not misunderstand me. My daughter is a very special little girl and I love her dearly. But stop for a moment and try to see what I’m getting at.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “special:”

1) distinguished by some unusual quality; especially being in some way superior
2) held in particular esteem
3) readily distinguishable from others of the same category

So let’s apply these definitions to Phoebe. Is she distinguished by some unusual quality?  She primarily has her mom’s face – eyes, cheeks, bone structure. She has my lips…and so far, my appetite. But her mom’s features come from her dad, who got his from his mother. My lips – and my appetite – both come from my father. Still, like all babies, she takes a dab of this chromosome and a smidgeon of this other chromosome to become her own unique person; similar to all those who came before, but unlike anyone else.

Is she held in particular esteem? Certainly she is, by her mom and me. Her sisters and brother also think she’s the most special thing ever, and of course all our family members love her. But if she’s truly special by definition, how is her ‘specialness’ different from the ‘specialness’ of her siblings or cousins or anyone else’s babies?

Oh, and that last one – “readily distinguishable” from other babies? Well, we think so – but show a baby picture to any random person on the street and you’re lucky if they can even figure out if it’s a boy or a girl.

So these definitions only get us so far.  That’s where semantics come into play.  We, as parents, all like to think of our kids are the most special kids in the world. And they ARE special…to us. But how does their ‘specialness’ rank in the grand scheme of things?

It appears there is  ‘specialness,’ and then there’s ‘specialness.’

88 million and counting

That’s approximately how many births there have been in the world just this year, according to, as of this writing.

Eighty-eight million. Just. This. YEAR.

There are also about 350,000 births, each DAY.

That’s a lot of specialness.

Now again, please don’t get me wrong. My child is extremely special to me and my wife, and I love her and her siblings more than life itself. But as I held her in the hospital room, her little sleepy head resting in the crook of my arm, one of the biggest problems with our world today suddenly became crystal-clear…

If we’re all born so special, why bother trying once we’re older?

Think about it. If we drill the specialness, uniqueness, and wonderfulness of our kids into their heads every day, where is the drive to become better?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t praise our kids, support them, love them – but I do think taking a step back and surveying the situation is not a bad idea. Consider…

shutterstock_96665545 (colored pencils)
If we’re all so darn special…isn’t anybody average?

We live in a culture of self-centeredness.

Customer service reps often act like customers are an intrusion.  Teenagers’ self-shots – photos they take of themselves – rule Facebook and Twitter. American Idol hopefuls with absolutely no discernible talent show up in front of the judges and get laughed off the stage because no one in their family or social circle ever informed them they couldn’t sing.

If you’ve ever watched Idol – and statistically, you probably have – you’ve witnessed tons of young people crying their eyes out because all this time they thought they were special, only to have reality smack them upside the head. It’s a hard lesson for someone that special to learn.

Then again, what do I know?

That’s a serious question.  What DO I know? I never claim to have all the answers or to know everything. Truth be told, I hardly know anything.  I’m still re-reading this post, debating with myself if I’m right or not.

You see, I’m just a parent with some special kids who were raised to understand that what one does during the course of one’s lifetime is what defines a person.  We all get judged by what we do with our lives; we do not get judged for simply showing up.

As far as I know, there was only one person in this world who was born with intrinsic ‘specialness’ – but he was hung on a cross.  As for the rest of us, it might not be a bad idea to try to make an effort to carve out our own uniqueness, earning that distinction rather than relying on others to bestow it upon us baselessly.

One doesn’t need to be rich to be successful. One doesn’t need to be famous to be respected.

And one doesn’t need to be born special…to be special.


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9 thoughts on “Are our kids as special as we think they are? Are WE??

  1. Ain’t it the truth. When I was a teenager, upset by something probably trivial but hugely important at the time, my dad came into my room and basically said, “Snap out of it!” Then he proceeded to explain that I was not special in the grand scheme of things, that none of us are, and that all we can do is buck up and carry on. This was an important moment.

    That doesn’t mean he was a harsh person, just realistic. He never set us up to believe that we were the be-all and end-all of the world. Instead, he and my mom taught us that it’s all about the work — you get back what you put in. He was proud of me for my strengths and talents, and was my biggest fan and supporter. But that dose of reality has served me well.

    I believe in allowing kids to explore many, many things, but to be gently realistic about possibilities. You made a good example with the Idol hopefuls. I once upbraided my acting teacher for praising a moment in my scene that I knew to be completely false and shallow (because I was thinking of lunch at the time). I can’t stand across-the-board praise. It does no favors for anyone.

    Glad to see we’re both keepin’ it real, Matt. Haha.


    1. Your dad sounds like me, raising my two older daughters. I always told them I was their biggest fan, and that they could do anything they wanted to do, provided they were willing to put the time & effort into it. I remember being stunned at a Parent’s Night once, when I saw students’ papers & projects proudly displayed on the walls with “A”s marked on them – even though they were full of spelling errors. No one in this world gets credit for just participating – except our kids! And that is doing them a huge disservice.


  2. Catherine Johnson

    My parents never praised us either and we’ve all been successful at something. It’s funny though my dad has just started doting loads of praise on my sister for all her triathlons recently but she gets told off by her peers if they think her time was rubbish. I do hope I am the same with mine.


    1. You know, as I think about it, my dad was a much different parent than mom. Dad would praise me when he felt it was deserved, but would also coach, critique, and guide me as to my areas in need of improvement. Mom, on the other hand, couldn’t say a negative thing about anything I ever did – and still can’t. That’s why, although I love her very much, I never ask her opinion about my writing…because in her mind, everything I do is stupendous!


  3. One of the reasons God designed families, I believe, is because everyone needs to feel they’re special to someone. And those of us who are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are the cheering section for the little ‘special’ people in our lives. Whatever you do, Matt, don’t talk yourself out of telling your kids how special they are!


    1. Don’t worry, Violet – I’ve always told the kids how special they are to us. Because they are! But they have also learned that the world is a much more critical place than the home…which underscores your point about the importance of families!


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