I watched yesterday as my girl jumped into the new little swimming pool her granddad bought for her. She was so excited she didn’t even empty her backpack or eat a snack. As soon as she walked in the door after school, she changed and went straight for the pool.
As she played it dawned on me just how much she has grown. She’s at that weird “tween” stage… losing her little girl shape, but still a kid at heart. Struggling to exert her independence, but still needing cuddles from mama to get through the day. Wanting to have immaculately coiffed hair for school, but forgetting to wash her face.
She’s growing, and as beautiful as it is, it’s bittersweet…and daunting.
She’s definitely more social, and her friend group is expanding to include other people (including boys). She’s going to start feeling a lot of pressure to “be” like the other kids, even though right now she still has that independent streak to her.
She loves that she’s “weird” and celebrates that fact. I love that about her. Love it. She’s quirky, funny, a bit of a class clown. She excels at sarcasm. But I know that the pressure will start. It’s inevitable with junior high and high school right around the corner.
A lot of the uncertainty is my own fear and insecurity that I’m not always doing it right, this parenting thing. Am I helping her develop the skills she needs? I was bullied growing up. A lot. And that fear of not fitting in is still in the back of my mind. I don’t ever want my girly to feel the sting of loneliness that isolation can bring. I also don’t ever want her to give in just to fit in.
At the same time, I also know that when you’re fiercely independent and a bit different, isolation can still happen… because we’re pack animals, us humans.
If you’re not part of the herd, you’re an outsider. And being an outsider is harder than most people realize. It’s an emotional burden you carry your whole life, even when you finally find a herd of your own.
And kids are mean. Let’s face it. Especially girls. (The term “mean girls” doesn’t just exist because of the movie…)
So the fear is there. She’s starting to leave the safety of shore and venture out into open water… and it’s the fear of sharks that has me worried for her.
The sharks who will use their friendship as a weapon, as a bargaining chip.
The sharks who will tell her she isn’t one of them because _____.
The sharks who will tease her for things they themselves are going through (you name it, periods, body hair, dandruff, dry skin, boobs, awkward limbs…)
The sharks who will reduce her to her looks because that’s what they’re taught to do.
The sharks who will judge her because of her choices, whether those choices be her friends, her clothes, her interests, her academic pursuits.
Life will happen. And I don’t know if I’m ready to help her navigate it. But that’s the funny thing about life. You don’t get a choice. It happens whether you’re ready for it or not.
And then every so often something slaps me in the face and reminds me that she’s already navigating it. She’s been navigating it ever since her first girly-drama back in GRADE 1. Yes, GRADE 1.
And she’s been developing those skills ever since. The skills to feel comfortable being who she is at a time when everyone is trying to figure out who they are. WHO SHE IS. Not who I was. Or who she might be. Or who she was. WHO. SHE. IS.
And the best way to continue helping her hone those skills is to model that behaviour. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks either of us should be. We are who we are.
The best way to help her stay strong is continually talk to her about her day. What happened? What did she love? What didn’t go well? What does she want tomorrow to be like? What did she do when ______.
And the HARDEST but most important thing I’ve had to learn to do is back off. When she has a problem or has had a disagreement with someone, my reflex has been to tell her how to fix it. Now I have to remind myself that it’s not my job. She needs to figure it out herself.
And so listening, paraphrasing, talking to her about how different choices and scenarios made her feel… that’s all I need to do. Allow her the space to make the decisions on her own, no matter the outcome. And just reassure her that no matter what, I am her safe space, and she can always come to me whatever the result of her choices.
My hope is that if she knows I’m her safe space, she will always feel comfortable making choices with my input … or at the very least with my knowledge.
The hardest thing about parenting today is that there is so much noise for kids to navigate. So many distractions. So many opinions. The Internet, friends, school agendas, Netflix, movies, blogs, you name it. We need to remain connected to our children.
We need to keep the lines of communication open. We need to ensure they feel safe asking us WHATEVER they need to ask us. Because if they don’t ask us… they’ll ask someone else. And the answers they receive in that scenario… THAT you cannot ever control.
And that’s hard because they’re not the only ones exposed to the noise. We have our own noise. The parenting noise. The crap we constantly read about how to be a better parent (I’m FULLY aware of the irony of that statement given the fact that’s kind of what I’m doing here…). Not everything you read is going to work for you. But I’m confident when I say that staying connected to your kids is crucial no matter what other parenting choices you make.
Look, I’m muddling through this parenting thing just like everyone else. Anyone who tells you they have it down is lying to you through their teeth and probably day drink to survive.
All I know is that if I want my kid to make it through life and still allow me to be a part of it when it matters, I need to make sure she knows one thing:
As long as she tells me the truth, she will never be in trouble.
That’s the message I’ve drilled in every day. Not that I won’t be upset or disappointed or sad. But that she will not be in trouble. She won’t be punished. It’ll be a learning opportunity for both of us.
At times I’m pretty sure that is going to be hard. But think back. Why did you keep the truth from your parents? Because you were afraid of getting in trouble, of being punished. And that’s when we make stupid mistakes. Because we’ve already made one and instead of turning to the people who WE KNOW have our back, we turn to our idiot friends. So we don’t tell the truth. We sugar coat, we omit, we lie.
Because THAT is what it all comes down to…do your kids tell you the truth? It doesn’t matter if you’re a parenting ninja, if your kids aren’t honest with you none of your parent-ninja skills matter.
So THAT is the kind of parent I hope to be. One that my kids don’t ever feel like they have to lie to.
And my hope is that through this messy thing we call life, that is the ONE constant we can both hold on to.