Parenting Gifts –
Things I Learned From My Child
When I think of the gifts I receive from being a parent I think of all the incredible, life-altering lessons my daughter has taught me. As my daughter grew older, I realized how important it was for me to remain open and follow her lead (parenting to her needs) while still remaining the one in charge. Meaning, my core values were still at the forefront of my parenting style, however, I became more flexible in the areas where she required more compassion and support.
My 16 year old daughter and I have a great relationship. It’s built on genuine love, respect and admiration and we are very harmonious. Since I became a mom my daughter has taught me more things about myself and the world, than I ever learned prior to giving birth to her when I was 33 years old. Getting through the first year of her life was hard but once I decided what type of parent I wanted to be for her, things got much easier.
On a good day, I pat myself on the back and feel confident knowing I haven’t caused irreparable damage to her psyche – on a good day.
My daughter has taught me:
Not To Slap Her Silly
My daughter Claire has taught me not to scream at the top of my lungs (or slap the s*** out of her) when she kills her 24th pair of earbuds, or when she spills an entire bottle of Crazyglue on my beautiful new hardwood floors, or when she continually lets the car door fly open hitting any object next to it, chipping the paint once again. She has taught me patience.
I was raised by a man who believed the proper way to correct behavior was to scream at and slap his children silly. See link below for my post “My Humble Childhood”. So you can imagine how difficult it was for me to resist the urge to do the same to my child. Actually it wasn’t that hard because I don’t believe hitting a child is effective in changing behavior anyway. But because of how I was raised, it takes a bit more restraint than it would a person raised by parents who didn’t react with violence.
My love for my daughter is so deep that I could never raise my voice or a hand to her. She will debate this point because she has said “mom, when you yelled at me for A or B or C…” and I reply “oh honey, that was not yelling…trust me”.
Do I get frustrated that she repeatedly does careless things that end up costing me more time, money and grey hairs? YES! But then I remember what her 8th grade teacher told me; “kids at this age are only using about 40% (or something crazy like that) of their brains”. This really left an impression on me and I’ve had more tolerance for her knowing this.
I will certainly discipline her in other ways like not letting her go to a party, take away her phone, no electronics including TV, or take away anything else that makes her happy. Even though she is careless and forgetful I believe that by making some parts of her life a little painful, maybe she will remember in the future. Honestly though, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
She’s learning and I know she is remorseful for the irresponsible things she’s done so I try very hard to be bite my tongue or scream into a pillow.
My daughter has taught me:
Seeking Approval Is For The Weak
When I was growing up I felt like a freak. Not only was I completely unsure of myself, I grew up craving the approval of everyone around me.
“You are overly sensitive.” I repeatedly heard from the people closest to me. “You need a thicker skin.” I tried desperately for the better part of 40 years to change that about myself because I knew people were frustrated by my sensitivities. Just when I was thought I had changed into a strong, insensitive, tough-skinned woman, my sister would still say “Stop being so sensitive” or “You need to be able to take a joke”. Devastated, this judgment would send me into an emotional tailspin and the cycle of self-doubt, insecurities, and low self-esteem would begin again.
Seeking approval was my lifeline and instead of making me strong, it made me weak. Once I became a mom, it wasn’t about me anymore. Everything was about my child. My focus shifted away from me and my own insecurities, to my child’s health and well-being. Having her grow up with confidence was my main mission (see “My Momission Statement link below) and as I taught her things I was never taught, I learned some things as well.
I became fiercely protective as a mom and I often referred to myself as ‘mamma bear’. I didn’t care what other people thought of my parenting style. This was a feeling I have never experienced prior to becoming a mom because I spent my life measuring my worth according to other people’s opinions. This new feeling of empowerment spilled over into other areas of my life which helped build my confidence as a person.
When you are confident deep in your soul, you don’t need approval. My daughter is a teenager now and her confidence runs deep. Yes she has moments where she questions people’s judgment of her, but in general, she is comfortable with herself and her decisions. I’m happy that, at this stage in her life, she receives genuine respect and admiration from many people around her. The best part is that she is truly being herself and I admire that quality in her the most.
My daughter has taught me:
Average is the new “A"
Fifth grade was the beginning of the struggle between me and Claire and grades. I wanted to teach her good habits early because this was when teachers were giving more work with higher expectations. Claire was never interested in doing homework. She believed that since she spent all day in school, she shouldn’t have to bring school work home with her. She continually “forgot” her books at school.
This was also around the same time of my divorce and Claire had to start fifth grade in a new school in a new town. I tried to have patience with her because of everything she was going through, but eventually I realized that this didn’t have anything to do with the divorce. She simply didn’t want to do the work. Meetings with her teacher confirmed that Claire wasn’t putting forth the effort to get good grades. She was doing the minimum required and her grades reflected that.
I was going to college during this time and being the type of student I am, I strived for straight “A’s”. I equated good grades with a better paying job and overall happiness. Excelling in school was just something everyone should strive for. I was forcing Claire to adopt the same mentality.
During 6th and 7th grade her hormones kicked in and she was struggling to keep up with my expectations. We had many fights and I was constantly on her for not getting her homework done. My usual round of questioning; “What homework do you have tonight?” “Did you finish your homework?” “Why didn’t you turn in your assignment for ______ (fill in a subject)” “Did you talk to your teacher about extra credit?” Many nights we stayed up late playing “catch up” because she had several weeks of missing work she had to make up. Her lack of motivation and disinterest in school was driving me insane.
I constantly told her she was above average and if I didn’t think she was smart enough to get A’s I wouldn’t be drilling her this hard. I told her she was above average and she should be getting above average grades. I expressed my disappointment with her unwillingness to excel.
One day, when Claire was in 8th grade I was lecturing her about the importance of getting good grades and striving to always do your best. I told her I felt she was more than capable of getting A’s; and why wasn’t she more motivated to get A’s; all she had to do was just do the assignments and she could easily get A’s. Getting A’s means that you’re above average. And then she said to me “Mom, what if I just want to be average?”
As I pondered what she just asked, I couldn’t think of a single “logical” retort. In that moment, a million ‘parent-ally correct’ responses came into my head but as quickly as they came in, I forced them out. They were all things my parents would have said to me, after a backhand to the face, of course. When Claire was born, I vowed I would not raise her the same way my parents raised me. I wanted my daughter to have the confidence to be an individual. I wanted my daughter to feel comfortable speaking freely. I wanted my daughter to have the emotional tools to be able to fully express herself. I wanted my daughter to grow up having her own thoughts and opinions. I wanted my daughter to be so self-aware that only she can determine what’s best for her. I wanted her to be truly happy in her own skin.
Claire didn’t share my same opinions about school and grades. I was putting a ton of pressure on her to perform the way I felt was appropriate. Since our discussion about if it was okay for her to “just be average”, I have taken a step back. It really changed my approach to her education and her future. I no longer feel it’s necessary for her to get all A’s.
It’s possible that she just needed me to take the pressure off her a bit because now that she’s in high school, she cares more about her grade point average. She knows what it means for college. Claire has picked a college she wants to attend and she understands the requirements for getting accepted into that college. It’s up to her to do what’s necessary to reach her goals, not my goals.
I simply check in to make sure she is doing the minimum requirements to move to the next grade level because I feel that’s my job as a parent.
My daughter has taught me:
To Accept People Who Are Not Like Me
Whether it was because of the parents who raised me, the era in which I grew up, or my own self-esteem issues; judging people who weren’t attractive, white Anglo-Saxon heterosexuals was my religion. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad but I’m ashamed to admit it was something me and my friends did for sport.
Since my daughter has come into my life, I look at things through new lenses. All of us have the same basic goals. We all want to be loved and accepted, and most of us want to contribute to something greater than ourselves. Granted there are people who do horrible and destructive things to others, but I believe that’s because their basic human needs (love and acceptance) are not being met so their journey leads them down a different path. I’m confident their actions will be “handled” by a higher power.
My daughter knows someone who doesn’t identify with one gender. I never knew this was even a thing. I will confess I was frustrated when I first heard of this (soon after my daughter came out) because with all of the new things I was trying to cope with, I had to add this to the list and at first I refused. “Their name is Blake and they don’t want to be called he or she.” My daughter tried to explain it but I couldn’t wrap my head around it so I shot back with “Your generation is so f***ed up!” After several “discussions” with my daughter and consuming information about this topic, I soon realized this generation is willing to speak out about their truth. I have to admire that because I come from a generation of posers and I was guilty of buying into it instead of fighting for individuality.
Claire has taught me that love is love and no matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, how you style your hair, or what clothes you wear; people love who they love – and this should be acceptable to everyone. Excluding, of course, warped people who do inexplicable things to children and animals.
Since my daughter “came out” (she told me she was a lesbian when she was 13 years old) I see people as individuals. I no longer put people into groups and it’s actually quite liberating. I didn’t realize just how much stress it was to judge people while trying to fit them into a neat and tidy category.
Watching YouTube has introduced me to beautifully unique people who teach us to celebrate our differences. I am so much happier since I’ve learned to embrace people for their individuality and actually encourage my daughter to “break the mold”.
My daughter has taught me that people are individuals and shouldn’t be labeled or judged which has really taken a load off my psyche. I’m so chill now. Well, I think so anyway and that's all that matters.
I wrote this post because I think we can learn a lot from our children if we just open our minds to the important things they can teach us. Please share it with your friends.
What has your child(ren) taught you? I’d love to hear your comments!
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