Parenting when Your Child Is Different from You

You're a night owl; she's an early bird. He's a jock; you're a couch potato.

These opposites aren't husbands and wives -- but parents and kids who are complete opposites -- so much so that it's sometimes surprising that they're related!

Peter Leonforte and Andrew Leonforte are father and son. But their interests lie in very different places. Peter's a bricklayer. His son is a singer.

"We're completely opposite in so many ways," Peter said.

Peter is a construction worker who scales big buildings. His 12-year-old son has a big dream of belting out tunes on Broadway.

Peter says Andrew is "the talent of the family. I'm the working man. He's an amazingly talented kid and I have no talent. I'm good at caulking."

Andrew told "The Early Show," "I'm not really good at caulking."

"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill said it's natural for a father to hope his son will follow in his footsteps. Peter is no different.

He told "The Early Show," "I would love to see my son doing this, but it would be for my sake, not for his. You know every day he could come home from work and I'd know just what to tell him, but that isn't the destiny of my family. My son is going in a different direction."

Andrew's favorite musical is "Billy Elliott."

Peter says his favorite thing to do is watch TV -- and take naps.

They're even divided at the dinner table.

Peter likes his steak rare. Andrew likes his steak burnt. Andrew loves chocolate. Peter hates chocolate.

At times it's been a struggle. But Peter says, "The man in me, the macho man in me, you know, 'Oh my son wants to be a singer,' that's like kinda not manly when I first thought about it, but he's my son."

Peter wants what any good dad wants -- the best for his son.

Peter says, "My philosophy is, it's my kid's 80 years on earth, he gets to choose what he wants to do with them. It's his choice, not mine."

On "The Early Show," Suzanne Riss, editor in chief of Working Mother magazine, applauded Peter's effort to understand his child.

Read the full Working Mother article

Parents, Riss said, can feel at a loss if their child is different from them.

However, Riss said, parents should focus on understanding their child.
"Focus on what you want to learn about your kid. Not your differences," she said. "So, here it's not about the son learning about drywall. It's about the fact that the dad wants to get to know him and it's OK whatever he is. "

Riss said parents should also avoid labeling their kid.

"Every child is born with a unique temperament. That doesn't change. It just evolves," she explained. "For example, if your child is a little reticent meeting strangers you don't want to label your child as shy because the child could take that as a negative. You're pigeon-holing your child. What you really want to do is realize that labels can be very limiting. So, instead, you might want to recognize that there's some real positives here. Your child is cautious and praise her for that."

Riss added parents can also learn from their kids.

She said, "You want to recognize addition -- you know, you might be a couch potato and your child is a soccer star. It's an opportunity to learn from your child. You can say, you love soccer, tell me what the goalie does, tell me about penalty kicks and your kid can get a sense of confidence."
However, recognizing differences doesn't mean parents have to lose authority over their kids.

"You don't want to compromise so your child is staying out to midnight and there are no limits," Riss said. "But what you want to really do is rather than be critical, get curious. If you're very neat and orderly and your child's room is a mess and you can't see the floor, rather than start an argument that 'You're so messy, what's going on here?' What you want to say is, 'Hey, do you need more storage space?' and you start talking and you might find out your child is keeping their room such a mess because he wants privacy and he wants to keep you out. By doing that talking, by finding out what makes your child tick it may help you appreciate their perspective on things. Children usually do things for a reason and you want to find out what's going on."

But what if your child is just like you?

Riss says you're not off the hook.

"You may think if you have a mini-me you're on easy street but the pitfall might be that you start answering questions (for your child), assuming you think you know what their child wants for a color of their room, you are mapping out your plan. Even though they may be like you, they're not a carbon copy. Make sure they can express themselves and let them know what they want."