When I Realized I was Parenting Myself

If I had known as a kid that every bad behavior and poor decision I made would come back to haunt me in the form of my own offspring, I might’ve acted differently. (Maybe.) At least a little heads-up would’ve been nice.

Instead, I went about being a stubborn, verbally inclined, willful pain in the rear. And now — as fate would have it — my daughter is just like me. Joy!

As much as all of those qualities make me want to tear out my hair, they are undeniably phenomenal personal assets. And — as the now-adult version who shares these traits — I know it, which sort of adds to the parental frustration in a “what’s good for the world presently sucks for me” kind of way.

Stubbornness can be a beautiful thing because peer pressure and eschewing personal ethics for outside approval are non-issues. Verbal inclinations allow for vivid self-expression and aid in academic endeavors. Strong willpower is never to be underestimated in its value and is a fiery gift of endurance, resilience, and fortitude. However, sometimes these traits are a bit exhausting to harness and guide and just generally parent.

For example, toddler tantrums. A stubborn, highly verbal child with willpower like a steel-plated ox will tantrum for at least a solid half-hour without relenting. Why? Because that expression of discontent incorporates all of the child’s greatest assets. Whereas an easy-going, quiet, amenable child may only throw a fit for five maaaaybe ten minutes before getting bored. Same thing goes for potty-training, or learning to ride a bike, or doing undesirable chores, or… you name it.

However, despite all of the struggles of parenting a stubborn, highly verbal, willful child who is much like myself, there are moments that knock me backwards in awe. Moments that remind me how amazing this fearsome force of a child is. How much potential to grow and blossom and contribute and attain happiness and be truly and ethically herself the child has. And it’s all because of these innate gifts that drive me nuts. I had a such a moment recently.

I picked up my newly first grade daughter from school and asked about her day: if she made any new friends, who she played with on the playground, etc. She went on to tell me that she played with a couple of pals she’s had since kindergarten and a girl who has never been in her class before. Then my daughter said an old friend spotted her playing with this new-to-her girl and called my daughter over to talk. The old friend said that she didn’t like that new-to-her girl because the girl was bossy. Then the old friend disclosed that she didn’t want my daughter playing with the girl. That’s when my daughter did something I never expected her to do, and it both astounded and scared me.

“I want to be friends with everyone,” my daughter told the old friend. My daughter explained to the friend that the newer girl had not been bossy towards her so she had no reason not to be friends with her, but that she wanted to still be friends with the old friend too. Even when the old friend scoffed and tried to make my daughter choose and then refused to play with her, my daughter stood firm.

“I couldn’t choose, Mommy,” my daughter told me. “I want to be friends with everyone and I can’t be unfriendly to someone just because one of my friend doesn’t like them. That person didn’t do anything to me. That’s just not ok.” And that’s when I realized that I was parenting myself.

I’d never instructed my kids on how to handle this kind of scenario because I — foolishly — didn’t yet think it was necessary to do so. But she figured it out on her own.

This situation I’d painfully lived and relived countless times in my life, was only now just making an entrance into her young life. She had many more such tests of ethics ahead.

It’s such a challenging scenario to navigate because in order to be kind to one you often end up hurting another’s feelings, if not losing a friend entirely. Truly, it’d be much easier to just go with the social norm: kow-tow, prove loyalty, and forget personal ethics. But that’s not what I ever did and it seems that’s not what my daughter is doing either. Ethics above ego… it’s not a popular road.

As my daughter chattered on about her day, my mind spun on the drama and frustration that laid ahead for her. All of the friends (and “friends”) and sometimes family who’d tug at her to dismiss her ethics. I thought about how much easier it’d be to swim downstream instead of up. But I knew that easy road wasn’t within our morals. It wasn’t our path.

I recalled all of the upheaval it can cause having such an awareness of moral code, such a fervent stance against choosing sides. How some view it as a lack of loyalty. How some feel hurt if you don’t dislike the same people they do. How some draw comfort from a band of peers rallying behind them to be unkind to someone who somehow riled them. How sororities and cliques and organizational thinking and herd mentality don’t take well to this line of thought. How maintaining personal ethics can cause lost friendships and social woes, but it also enables you to look back at those same scenarios and know in your heart that you chose correctly. Even if no one else can see it.

Because someone else’s insecurity is not a reason to dash your morals. Because a true friend would never require you to abandon your ethics to simply prove fealty.

As proud as I was of my daughter, I mourned for her the easy path she’d miss. I fretted for her the heartbreak her morals would cause. I pined for the friendships she’d lose. I glowed with pride for her strength. I stood in awe of her youthful wisdom and fearlessness. I gave thanks for her fortitude.

That’s when I realized I was parenting myself. And I knew she’d be just fine.

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