5 Ways to Parent the Family Underdog

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What is a family underdog? Usually this is the person who is the quietest in a very outspoken family, the one artsy type in a family of accountants or the drama queen amongst shy kin.  A family underdog is not a black sheep! A family underdog is someone who everyone loves and adores, but is just a little different than everyone else….and usually this is the most apparent to actually underdog.  Many non-underdogs scoff at this concept or think it is not a big deal, but your underdog does not agree.

I have a client who is the family underdog and he said to me last week (when talking about him and his family) “I am just so different than them, if I didn’t look exactly like my dad, I would swear I was adopted.”  His strife reminded me that underdogs often need a little extra support and reassurance.

Here are some tips for parenting and supporting your family underdog whether the underdog is your child, brother, father or you!

1) Different is Good

It is important to understand that being different is good…it makes conversations lively, it brings color to the family and shows that everyone can grow and be unique.

2) Every Family Has One

Often times, underdogs find comfort in knowing that every family has one and they can often get along well with other underdogs.

3) We Need Your Help

Underdogs often possess qualities that other family members do not have.  This can be great, maybe even essential.  Play up the usefulness of your underdog’s ‘differences’ by having them use those qualities in family situations.

4) Never Make Them Feel Different

Yes, you should encourage their uniqueness, but do not make them feel like an underdog.  I often hear families tease other family members about some major differences.  For example, I had a friend who was very tall in a family of short (under 5’5) people.  They constantly teased him about being a bean pole or being able to see above the clouds.  Instead of praising him for getting the highest boxes from the attic they teased him! It took years for him to feel comfortable with his height and he always complained about feeling different in social situations.

5) Difference in Family Is Not Different in Friends

My last one leads into this.  Just because your family underdog is different than your family, does not mean they are different from their peers.  Make sure that they have friends and are around people who are like them.  This can be having them join the drama club, the chess club or the tall people club…just kidding.  But this will help them own and be proud of their uniqueness.

There are clearly varying degrees of underdogness (yes I made that up), my family does not have an underdog per say, but I always felt different because I was the only one with brown hair and dark eyes.  Everyone in my family is blonde with light eyes.  People often would ask if I was the babysitter.  I hated this, I did not think about it everyday, but even now when I got out with them and introduce them as my family I worry people are going to look at me and think I do not belong.

This post is dedicated to my uncle Ross Jeffries for embracing, loving and capitalizing on his uniquness and making it really cool to be the underdog.

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4 Responses to “5 Ways to Parent the Family Underdog”

  1. Judielise
    February 13, 2009 at 6:43 am #

    Thank you for writing this post. I was the middle child AND the underdog. I didn’t fit in with my family, my community and barely my culture.

    It took many years to accept who I was and gather a “family of choice” as I call it.

    Thank you for reminding me of my childhood and the need we all have for acceptance.

  2. Vanessa
    February 13, 2009 at 9:28 am #


    Thanks so much for reading and I am so glad you could relate to the article, I think many people feel this way just never talk about it!


  3. virtual worlds for kids
    April 14, 2009 at 2:32 am #

    I never realised that there’s such case in most of family. Maybe because we dont really have one in our family. But it’s such an intersting article that you shared! thanks . It helps me to see something new about family and the life inside of it..

  4. Vanessa Van Petten
    April 18, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    Thanks so much

    and, of course, thanks for reading!


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