Tag Archive for: emotional development

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve spent much of the last three weeks borrowing trouble. I am feeling a little frantic, fairly depleted, and terrifically confused and I have brought it all on myself.

I have been relying on my tendency to be a ‘fixer’ instead of sitting back and owning what is mine to own. To borrow a phrase, I have been “leaning in” far too much.  As a parent, it is difficult for me to separate what is mine from what belongs to my daughters, but every time I get entangled in their stuff, I learn the same painful lesson – namely, that nobody is getting what they need when I jump in and try to make things better.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve been fooling myself that I wasn’t really getting involved. Instead of telling my girls what to do, I simply went and did a ton of research and offered up the Cliff Notes versions as potential solutions. I have done a great deal of listening, given many hugs and words of encouragement and left them with strategically-placed notes that I fervently hoped they would take to heart.  And then I have left the room and entered my own head. I have spent hours debating strategies, ordering and reading books that I thought might give me important insight, reached out to other mothers for ideas, and basically ignored all of my own stuff in an effort to help my girls.

I understand that it is important for my kids to experience pain and disappointment and come out the other side.  It is horrible to watch, but as a parent, I know it is more harmful to try and shield them from the slings and arrows of life than it is to let them feel the sting and discover that they will survive despite it.  That much I am clear on.  What I realized this morning is that because it is uncomfortable for me to see them suffer, my agenda involves them acknowledging their suffering and moving on quickly. I want them to take the fast lane to enlightenment, drawing on my experience and knowledge instead of taking the time to form their own, and have an “a-ha” moment in record time. I want their wounds to heal completely within days or hours and leave a scar that will help them incorporate this wisdom into their lives forever. Voila!


The other night when I pushed my way into Eve’s room to offer all of the information I had gathered while she was at school, she got angry with me.  She tolerated my 20-minute download, but just barely, and then asked me to leave. My feelings were hurt. I felt unappreciated and instantly angry that she didn’t see how I had sacrificed hours of my day to ruminate, investigate, and collate on her behalf.

Within minutes, I got a text message from her that made me sit down hard.

“I’m sorry I was rude. But I didn’t ask you to do all of that. I have a plan. I am figuring out how to deal with this and you have to give me a chance to do it my way.”

She was right. In running around searching for answers and spending time and energy fixating on how to help my girls deal with the disappointments they experience, I am serving my own need to be useful, to solve a problem, to fix something.  There is a fine line between giving thoughtful advice when it is asked for and projecting my own stuff onto someone else. In my experience, it is always easier to see how to solve someone else’s problems than it is to work on my own.  When I hover over my kids and offer solutions, even if I’m not advocating for one over another, the message I’m sending is that I don’t trust them to figure it out on their own (at least not as quickly as I would like). I am also not giving them the chance to truly integrate the lessons of these challenges into their lives. They can’t remember pain from the scars I carry and as much as I might talk to them about my personal mistakes, in order to learn, they have to make their own.

All of this isn’t to say that I can’t love my girls fiercely and worry about them and offer my two cents. I will also not hesitate to jump in if I think there is a situation they absolutely are not equipped to handle yet, but getting emotionally tied up to the point where I set aside my own life in order to spend hours thinking about how to help my kids is a waste of energy. This morning I found myself exploring several scenarios in an effort to help Lola with something she hasn’t asked for help with and it stopped me short. I have a lot to do today and Lola’s got this. If she doesn’t, she’ll let me know one way or the other, but indulging my desire to have things tied up neatly and see my kids happy is only going to make us all crazy.

Forain – The Tightrope Walker

Monday morning I went for a walk with two friends who are mothers.  As it often does, talk fairly quickly turned to our teenage daughters and the triumphs and challenges we are facing right now.  We took turns talking about and listening to each others’ unique perspectives and it felt good to be in the company of others whose values are similar and who may have fresh ideas for looking at sticky situations.

I was struck by how incredibly important parents are to children as they go through the early teen years.   Despite the fact that Eve is more interested in spending hours alone in her room (well, not digitally ‘alone,’) and she maintains that she has her own ideas about everything and my opinions aren’t always welcome, I know she is still looking to Bubba and me for a baseline.  She is in the throes of determining her own personality, her own values, and finding her unique path for the near future, and I have to respect that, but her frame of reference is us.  I can see her picking and choosing which pieces of me to absorb or eschew, shrinking away into her own space and crafting her world view from the bits and pieces she has decided are important.  She is watching the way that Bubba and I move through the world, how we react to lack of control, how we prioritize, how we act in community with others (or not).  We are the starting point from which she jumps and our role is so important in giving her something to either emulate or discard, something to react to.

One of my girlfriends was lamenting the fact that her teenager has such a negative view of her own life.  “She has clothes, food, a roof over her head. She doesn’t have parents who scream at each other all the time or kick her out of the house. How hard could her life be?”  We all laughed in that way you laugh when you know you’re all sitting in the same stew pot together.

We kicked around the notion that, in order to differentiate themselves and individuate (their most important developmental ‘job’ right now as teenagers), they have to craft some kind of backstory that justifies defiance, a pushing away. They have to have something to push off of in order to propel themselves out into the world with less fear and trepidation.  It is so much easier to push off when you’re angry or defiant than it is when you’re reluctant to leave.

There is such a strong temptation to take that “backstory” personally.  I have found myself more than once, mouth open, words tumbling out to justify or defend or belittle the “hardships” Eve has built up in her mind.  If she is listening, all I am doing is giving her ammunition in those moments.  When I’m feeling particularly disparaged by her, it is incredibly tempting to check out and let her spend hours alone in her room texting her friends, not invite her to play a game with the family or walk the dog with me or sit and do her homework in the kitchen while I make dinner.  
And then I remember what it was like to be a teenager who didn’t have parents that were available.  I remember feeling adrift much of the time, as though I was making choices about who I would be in a vacuum and ultimately, wondering why it even mattered.  It is hard to deny or embrace something that isn’t actually there.  In the moments when one of my parents was around, even if I felt they were being perfectly horrible, at least it gave me something to decide NOT to be, some solid ground on which to put my feet as I leapt in the opposite direction.
Even though I suspect Eve would say in a very brave voice that she doesn’t “need” us as much anymore, I think that the things for which we are necessary are simply different than they were in the past.  I am entirely convinced that our presence as role models in her life, however quiet and unobtrusive it may be at times, is incredibly vital to her sense of who she is now and who she may become over time.  I don’t expect or even want her to emulate either of us to the exclusion of her own burgeoning personality, but consistent availability to her, emotionally and physically, may just be the thing she needs in order to feel safe about trying on new personalities.  It may be both the bedrock and the safety net she needs to set her compass by.