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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We’ve Come So Far…

It’s been seven years. My, how far we’ve come!

 

This was the much-wanted child I feared I’d never have. This was the embryo that changed my whole body and my life. This was the fetus that sent my body into gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. This was the tiny new human who almost didn’t survive her entrance and had to be resuscitated twice within hours of being born.

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This was the newborn they questioned would be able to walk or talk or process information with ease, but whom they called a “two pacifier” NICU resident because she was their most vocal guest. This was the infant with latch issues and a proclivity for choking day and night. This was the baby with a ferocious wail and a voracious appetite who woke up six times each night until she was 2-years old.

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This was the pudgy ringlet-haired 1-year old who refused to walk — in favor of pilgrimage-style knee-walking — until she was 19-months old. This was the sparkle-loving, highly verbal 2-year old who was fiercely independent and vocally wilful but absolutely precious. This was the bright, tutu-wearing 3-year-old who loved being a big sister to her toddler brother almost as much as she enjoyed testing her mother’s patience.

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This was the out-going 4-year old who strived to please others and be kind to friends but threw head-spinning, pea-soup-spewing, shrieking tantrums at home yet adored her newest baby brother. This was the 5-year-old who loved kindergarten but struggled to master reading and painfully adjusted to the full-day school schedule.

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This was the 6-year-old who shrugged off dolls in favor of doctor kits and rockstar dress-ups, who dove into Tae Kwon Do and yoga, who finally figured out reading and excelled at math, who uncovered ways to harness her powerful emotions, who expressed kindness to those around her, who had more good moments than rough moments. This was the child who turned the corner from emotional whirlwind to strong, expressive, kind-hearted individual.

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This is the 7-year-old of whom I am endlessly proud, for whom I prayed when I didn’t know to whom or what I was praying. This is the child who changed every shred of me, who tore me (literally and figuratively) apart but inspired in me the strength to piece myself back together.

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I am who I am now because of her. I love her more than she will ever know until/if she has children of her own. For all of the struggles, our worries, our pains (of all kinds and intensities), our sleepless nights, our brutal days, our cherished hugs, our belly laughs, our tears, our proud moments, our cherished memories, I am profoundly grateful. She made me a better me; I can only hope I help her become her best her.

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Seven years behind us, there are no more nap times, no more pumping schedules, no more night terrors, no more sleeping baby on my chest, no more toddler arm rolls, no more kindergarten plays, no more fingerpaints, no more waiting room meltdowns. We’ve come so far.

We have so far to go.