Whoever said that raising children gets easier as they grow older is a flat out liar. There is nothing easy about raising children and I would argue the fact that the conflicts become much more complicated as the child gets older. You have been difficult lately on many fronts and I could point to a few things that I feel contribute to our quarrels but these problems aren’t so easy to fix compared to when you were a toddler and I could fix any problem with goldfish crackers and stickers. Problems these days are fueled by relationships with friends, classmates, the struggle for independence and the emotional rollercoaster that is that of a seven year old girl. You’re definitely shy and unsure of yourself which makes for plenty of awkward experiences. You’re a perfectionist who hates to be wrong and equally hates the vulnerability that comes when you don’t know something. Thankfully, first grade homework has been relatively straight-forward for you up to this point but I see more of a struggle with you when it comes to learning the piano.
You’re determined to play every song correct right out of the gate but you struggle with the learning process. You’re impatient and don’t see the value in making mistakes. Perhaps that is the case with most seven year olds. Perhaps I was the same way but it’s been a really long time since I was seven so I can’t speak from experience. Instead of being motivated to learn the song, you quickly shut down and deem yourself unfit to learn. You did the same in swimming–you want the end results without the work. Don’t we all. My struggle with you then becomes, how do I motivate you without screaming at you to stop crying? How does someone like me, with little patience, sit quietly with my hands between my knees and set the example as the calm nurturing parent when in my head all I want to do is scream into a pillow and throw a shoe at you? Enter my pain.
When you’re frustrated with the piano, you usually just sit at it and play around with the keys. Actually, even when you’re upset or sad, you can be found at the piano. I’ve grown fond of just listening to you make up your own songs:
Oh the tears. There has been so many tears lately and this must be karma dealing out a hand to me because I can’t handle the tears. You’re very sensitive and I am as well. I was an extremely sensitive child and I see a great deal of myself in you. I struggled in school with the constant need to be right about everything and I panicked when presented with new things that I felt were too challenging. I was teased a lot as a child and that also contributed to my sensitive nature. Perhaps in some strange way I hate the crying because to me it reminds me of an anxious childhood that I experienced and I don’t want you to go through the same childhood stresses. I start each day with this notion that I will be this perfect shining beacon of a parent who will have all the answers and will provide you with the guidance you need to make every experience easy and painless but usually that falls to the wayside within the first few minutes when you wake up and announce to the household that you didn’t have a good night’s rest so prepare for a sucky day. Yuck.
You’ve been asking us lately to play softball and I’ve been suspicious as to the motivation behind this new inquiry. We attempted to sign you up last season when you asked us to play softball and then immediately begged us to not have you play softball. So I was surprised when once again, you started asking if you could play this year. I’m especially worried because I’ve seen you throw a ball and despite my best efforts to teach you the proper way to throw, you proceed to do the exact opposite. I started thinking maybe you want to play softball because Miles gets a lot of attention when he plays baseball. Maybe. There are also a lot of boys in our court and they often play sports outside. You’re always excited to play with the neighbors but I quickly see that excitement fade away when the boys start playing soccer or any other sports and you quickly find a book and sit on the curb. I’m beginning to realize that maybe you just want to feel included. It makes sense. When I was younger, I became motivated to learn sports so that I couldn’t be teased by other kids about my lack of athletic ability.
I had a lot of conversations with dad about whether softball was the right fit for you given how quick you were to say no last year, your inability to throw or catch and your inability to pay attention and stay motivated if something seems to difficult for you. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going to sign you up because it just didn’t seem like something you would enjoy and then it dawned on me, what gives me the right to make that decision for you? Isn’t part of growing up learning the things that you like and dislike? Aren’t these the experiences that help us discover who we really are? Am I withholding a valuable self-discovery experience for you because I feel like I know you better than yourself? Absolutely and it’s totally wrong of me to do that. It was an epiphany that I wish would happen in more areas of my life but instead I had the epiphany about you and I realized that you of all people, sensitive unsure Olivia, needs to discover first hand what you can do so I signed you up for softball. I have an idea how the softball experience will play out but I’m hopeful and eager for you to prove me wrong.
Despite the conflicts we have, I’m still grateful that you still feel comfortable in coming to me when you have a problem. I know that a time will come when that will change and one of my struggles as a parent is how to always make you comfortable to talk to me about anything. I’m very conscious of how quickly I can lose you if I don’t handle certain conversations now, in a helpful way. I know that if I’m not open to talking with you now, you’re sure as hell not going to even try down the road. You came to me recently because there have been a group at kids at school who apparently look for you at recess and follow you around and call you names. You explained to me that it really hurts your feelings and you’ve asked them to stop repeatedly with no success so you endure most recesses with a group of kids who follow you around and call you a “lady-man.” Actually you seemed more annoyed than hurt because you repeatedly told me that you didn’t even know what a lady-man is.
After much discussion with you, we learned that one of the name-callers is actually a friend of yours that you play with on most days. Now, as much as I would like to show up in full momma-bear mode and destroy every child who makes you feel less than the amazing kid you are, I must practice self-control because of general laws that require me to do so but when suddenly we’re aware that we know the child, suddenly we’re faced with whether to meddle. Your dad and I ultimately decided that this needed to be your conflict to own and resolve. We gave you a lot of suggestions as to how to talk to these individuals and unfortunately your sarcasm isn’t quite where I would like to see it yet so I felt like this might be a long arduous process. Call it kismet because your dad found himself face-to-face with this individual and despite our decision not to meddle, went ahead and told the kid to knock it off. I’m happy to report that you’ve had no more encounters with this group during recess since. I realize it was wrong for us to fight your battle but we’re parents and we can’t help it.
Given your emotional tendencies lately, it’s only natural that you’ve gravitated towards the movie “Inside Out.” I have a love-hate relationship with this movie for a couple reasons. I’m happy that this movie has taught you about emotions and has taught you that not only do we experience all these emotions but it’s healthy to experience them all. On the flip side, it’s now an open invitation to scream at me that you’re feeling anger towards me and you have the right to do so. Yes, nothing improves my morning better than arguing with you to get ready for school as you’re screaming at me, “I’M FEELING ANGER AND THAT’S OK!” I usually have some kind of rebuttle where I tell you that’s fine because I’m feeling sadness towards a child who allows anger to spend so much time at the control desk or whatever happens in that movie. The point is, you have a real connection with that movie right now so I wasn’t at all surprised when you told me you wanted to be Joy for Halloween. Crazy enough, despite the popularity of the movie, it was quite difficult finding a store that sold the costume. It’s a relatively easy costume so I decided just to make it for you. You loved the dress but hated the wig because “it’s not Joy’s hairstyle.” Believe me, it’s not the hair that’s going to be the problem Miss Sassy Pants. I started the Halloween evening doing tequila shots so my memory of that evening is a little shoddy but from the moments I do remember, you were smiling and not stomping away from me in defiance so I’m going to safely call it a successful Halloween.
These past couple months have been really challenging and I often throw my hands up in defeat or I frantically text your dad obscenities about you and I know that neither of those things are going to fix anything long term. We have a situation here where you’re growing up and realizing that growing up is hard. Watching you grow up is hard. I miss the days that I could fix everything with a hug and empty threats. I’m scared of having a daughter that is as fragile as you are. Due to your sensitive spirit, I have this need to overprotect you and clearly my momma-bear instincts often involve some toe-stepping and I’m realizing that conflicts will only become more frequent and pronounced if I continue to suffocate you with my ways. Despite having been a seven year old girl, watching you struggle with your own emotions seems so foreign to me. I feel my best presented to you isn’t nearly enough of what you need. I feel inadequate and highly unskilled. I have overwhelming fears that your anxiety and fears will grow into a monster that you’ll never reign in. Depression runs deep on my side of the family and I can’t ignore that when you come to me hysterically crying saying, “I can’t stop crying.” What is the normal amount of crying for a seven year old? What is the normal amount of anxiety for a thirty-four year old mother who doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing? When does parenting become easy? To be continued…