Before I became a mom, I never knew how much we would learn from our children. We’re supposed to teach them, help them grow, guide them to finding themselves and then send them off, right?
I was so wrong.
Becoming a mother so young, I have spent the last decade of parenting learning more about who I am, who I want to be and how to get there than I have actually teaching.
My kids teach me incredible things everyday – they teach to be patient, to react with anger slowly and to think hard before I speak. They teach me to explore, to wonder, to imagine and to create. My girls ask the hard questions, trusting fully that the answers I give them will be the right ones. They have taught me to seek the right answers and to be honest and content with saying “I don’t know.”
Their personalities give me insight into who they are, and the possibilities of what they can become ignites a fire inside of me to discover my own endless possibilities…
They remind me daily that they were each created by a master artist, who took the time and detail to knit together every little tiny nuance to create a perfectly imperfect, unique and awe inspiring human being.
To be honest, in the crazy of the day to day, I am more likely to focus on the things about my kids that I don’t like, or the things that I am resentful at times of dealing with. Parenting is hard. There is no guidebook, no instructor, no black and white. What works for the first child rarely works for the second, and days string into endless battles with strong wills, defiance and sin.
But, let me encourage you if I can, about how those battles can turn into victories you never saw coming…
My second was diagnosed with a mild sensory processing disorder around the age of two. Truthfully, at the time, I didn’t even know what that was. The things the doctors pointed out – crying tantrums, the need for more rest at that age, an unwillingness to talk in front of others (she could talk, she just wouldn’t), the inability to handle being dirty, sticky, covered in food, mud, paint or ANYTHING without melting down – all seemed like normal toddler issues to me. I mean, I KNEW she was different than my first. I couldn’t put her down for months, she cried a lot, and taking her places was difficult because she became overwhelmed easily, but I didn’t think it was an actual “problem”.
We did all the things the doctors suggested – purposefully upsetting her routine to try and make her more flexible, alternating days of being out with days of recovery at home, encouraging her to make messes and stay messy, and teaching her new coping mechanisms at each age milestone.
In my raw, and extremely selfish moments, I was angry at times. I didn’t know how to deal with it. The rest of the girls are outgoing, spontaneous, messy (unfortunately) and mostly excited to try new things. Their personalities line up so well with mine that I got them! I could discipline them, or connect with them without trying too hard.
But number 2 was different. I couldn’t connect with her that way. I could snuggle her, try and calm her down and shift our schedule at times to suit her needs, but I just didn’t get why we had to.
And then, my 4th was born and I plummeted into Postpartum Anxiety that turned my world upside down. Suddenly, my personality was different. Anxiety plagued me, outings exhausted me, and overwhelming situations sent me into cycles of panic attacks. If things were out of order, out of my control or out of routine, I panicked. I created rituals and attempt to control my environment to make me feel better, and without time to myself in my created space, rest was elusive…
I have since come back from that place, but it was on the way out, in a random moment of clarity one day, that I realized something devastating….
This is how my child feels the majority of the time.
I was heartbroken, guilty, upset and angry. With no one in our home to relate to her fully, I wondered at how often she had felt alone and misunderstood. How many times had I lost it over a tantrum that may have actually been a panic attack? How many times had I pushed her to participate when she needed time alone? How many times had I sent her back to bed in the middle of the night, because I was tired from feeding the baby, and left her to dwell alone in her anxiety?
I started to see her different. I related to her. She could see it. She seemed different, like she felt safer. We learned new coping mechanisms together, and as we faced each difficult season and change for her, we worked together on ways for her to cope. Her anxiety wasn’t triggered in the same way mine was, but we navigated it together – her with a new, understanding advocate, and me with the empathy and compassion that I hadn’t been able to find before.
She has grown so much in the past year, and has discovered a confidence she didn’t posses before. This past weekend, despite her proclamations that she would not get on stage, we dressed her up in her recital costume anyways and told her she could decide when it was time for their dance.
I sat in the audience with a different kind of anxiety – wondering how she was feeling, if she was okay. As her class walked out on stage, I was so excited to see her sisters, but I wasn’t sure whether or not she would be up there.
Right in the middle of all the little girls, there she was. She was on stage. She was dancing and doing the whole routine. She was SMILING.
I was sobbing.
And in that moment, I learned what bravery really is. Being outgoing naturally, it is easy for me to do things, like get on stage, and still be in my comfort zone.
In that two minutes, I watched my 5 year old step WAY outside her comfort zone to accomplish something that was equally as important to her as it was scary.
The pride in her when it was over illuminated from her as she walked.
Seeing her pride in herself made the struggles of the last few years worth it. It erased every struggle, every tantrum, every moment of frustration. It made every second of learning to cope mean more than I could have imagined…
But, it did something else too. Her decision to get on stage erased every remaining ounce of resentment that I have carried from my own battle. I realized that without my journey, I would never have been able to truly understand what that moment meant for her, I would have never been able to understand the level of bravery, the difficult choice, and the resulting pride in herself that came with her walking out in front of a room full of strangers.
In that moment, my daughter showed me what she is made of, and became an example of someone I want to be.