My daughter and I were watching TV together over the Christmas holiday. A commercial came that was glorifying new cars.
(Side note: I’ve trained my kids to analyze and pick apart commercials. Their critiques of products sold on TV are hilarious.)
JoeAnna (9 years old) looks at me and asks, “What’s the big deal about buying a new car? Why do people get so excited about it?”
“Well, it’s kind of the same feeling as getting your driver’s license when you turn 16. Learning to drive is exciting, and some cars are more fun to drive than others.” I reply.
“Is it illegal not to have a driver’s license?” She asks.
“If you’re driving and you don’t have a license, then yes. You’ll get in big trouble.”
“But what if you don’t drive, do you have to have a license?”
“Well, no. You do not have to get a driver’s license.”
“Oh good. I think I’ll just roller blade where I want to go. I could get a job as a waitress and live here when I’m an adult. I think I just want an easy life.”
“That sounds good to me!” I say while trying not to laugh.
My dear Joe is a hard nut to crack. She lives in her own mind so much that it’s often difficult to get her full attention. Example: “Joe, please brush your hair.” I find her brushing her teeth. Only the word “brush” penetrated her brain.
In her mind, she is constantly creating big plans for expanding upon her latest obsessions: Legos creations, Daily Prophet articles, MLP collections, etc. She dreams big, plays big, and feels big. As she navigates late childhood, I’m watching her try to categorize everything. Black or white. Good or bad. Easy or hard. As she processes this information, she’s making her own connections that aren’t always reliable. Like, everything hard is bad (or should at least be avoided).
And I can’t blame her. Who doesn’t want to avoid pain at all costs?
While I recognize the importance of teaching her to stretch and reach for personal goals, I believe it’s more important at this stage in her development (forming categories of safe and unsafe things) for her to know that I’m always, unconditionally safe. I want nothing more than for her to grow into a woman who confidently believes that her mother supports and loves her no matter what.
But she won’t grow in believing that I am truly safe if I don’t value her current plans for her life. If I hear her statement that she wants to live with me forever, and I refuse to affirm that, then I am not listening to the cry of her heart.
She can’t grasp the reality that as she evolves into an adult and ages into her unique self her interests will change. Right now, she believes that because her feelings are big, her feelings won’t change.
If I correct her feelings and try to tell her that she will change her mind (because I’m sure she will change her mind), then I am pushing her to spread her wings too quickly. I do not want her to be scared by thinking that I want her to be independent of me too soon. If she doesn’t feel ready to be independent of me, then any thought of a future where she isn’t in the comfort of a safe place will be avoided.
The truth is she will become independent of me – that’s the whole goal of parenting a child into adulthood. Healthy independence is gained through embracing personal responsibility and identity, and it should not be confused with individuality.
So, I am fighting to keep her heart safe while fueling her individuality, honoring her feelings, expanding her personal responsibility, and praising her attempts at doing what she views as “hard.”
To put these goals into action, I’m designing a life project for her that I believe can do 2 things:
- Reassure her that the life she wants (an easy one) is fine by me. I want her to be affirmed that I love her just because she is and not because she does. I know that her heart craves security, so I vow to be her safe place by offering her loving words and deeds.
- Curate opportunities outside of our home for her to see and experience what her future could hold. I want to give her a taste of a loftier future. By seeking out other caring adults who have similar interests to hers, I believe she will see that trying and reaching are worth it.
I’ll write more on what this “Life Project” will entail as we get further into it, and I hope that if you have a child who feels stuck or avoids work that you will not approach them with a “get going” attitude.
Maybe they don’t need to be motivated.
Maybe they need to just be accepted.
Maybe my Joe just needs to hear:
I am for you, and I will be with you. If being a waitress is truly what fuels you and causes you to come alive, then I will be your biggest cheerleader (and biggest tipper too).
*** I’m sharing this story with Joe’s permission.