“Well, good for you. You stopped rushing your younger child and undid some of the damage, but what about your older daughter? What about her? What about the damage you did to her?”
It was a question posed by a commenter on this post almost a year after it was published.
Although the reader had no way of knowing, I’d addressed the damage that my hurried, perfectionistic ways had on my older daughter in several painful posts like this one and this one. But for some reason when I read his comment I saw an underlying question: You describe what you did to love your younger daughter as herself, but what about your older daughter? What did you do to love her “as is”?
To me, that question was far more important to address than what damage was done. It’s taken months, maybe even years, but I finally have an answer. I hope it will help someone crack open a few undiscovered pages of a book well worth reading. This is my story …
When I experienced the “hurry up” epiphany several years ago, I realized I needed to make changes before I completely stifled my younger daughter’s carefree spirit. What Avery needed was painfully obvious—it was written all over her face. She needed me to stop trying to change her … to let her be herself … to love her “as is.”
I dug deep to find patience buried inside my productivity-driven soul and stopped trying to turn my child into someone she was not. I noticed certain offerings produced a wide smile, a sigh of contentment, or the look of relief on her face. I learned:
Saying the words “take your time” was love to this child. I tried to say it at least once a day.
Allowing her to do her own hair was love to this child. I stepped aside and let her fashion her own haphazard ponytail for school. If she was happy with how it looked, I chose to be happy with it too.
Letting her play the guitar notes as she felt they should be played was love to this child. I sat back and watched and left the correcting to her instructor.
Giving her assurances in new situations was love to this child. I stopped dismissing her fears and hesitations. I stopped saying, “It’s no big deal. Stop crying,” and instead said, “New things are scary, but I think you are ready. You can do this.”
Speaking gently and not so sharply … letting her do things differently than I did … giving her privacy when she was getting dressed were acts of love in Avery’s book. And through this process of watching, listening, and observing, I learned how to love this child and even found myself borrowing a few pages from her book to re-write my own. Witnessing her approach to life helped me slow down, live better, and love more than I ever imagined I could.
But how to love as my older daughter “as is” was not so obvious. Natalie was the speedy one, the planner, the supervisor, the overachiever, and the worrier. Her book was strikingly similar to my own book, and this didn’t really come as a surprise. I didn’t begin my Hands Free journey until Natalie was six years old and the letting go process took several years. But the more Hands Free I became, the more I could see my former Type-A tendencies in my older daughter. Every time she was impatient, strived for perfection, or laid awake worrying about things beyond her control, the word damage flashed like a neon sign in my guilt-ridden mind. What have I done? I thought. Was there any way to undo the damage?
I knew that changing Natalie’s personality was not the answer, just like it was not the answer with Avery. I knew I needed to love her “as is”, but the how part was trickier than it had been with Avery. Many of Natalie’s predominant characteristics were the ones I’d worked on reigning in, chilling out, and letting go in myself. Would it be possible to see them in a positive light after the damage they’d caused in my own life? I was in a quandary for many, many months. And just when I expected even more uncertainty due to our family’s move to a new state, I received unexpected clarity.
Within the first six weeks of all things new, Natalie would be asked to demonstrate her beautiful streamline swimming technique to her new swim team. She would be pulled aside by her coach and encouraged to strive for state qualification times. She would tape the goal times to her bulletin board for inspiration. She would begin to believe her big dreams were not untouchable. At school, she would be chosen to help in the kindergarten classroom each morning. She would get up early in anticipation of her job. She would delight in hearing her name called out by the kindergarteners as she departed their classroom each morning. She would begin looking into getting safe sitter certified. She would begin an avid interest in the medical field and begin highlighting thick text books on the floor of her bedroom at night. The planning, achieving, and goal-oriented qualities that were problematic in the “old” me, looked an awful lot like strengths in this new place where they found the freedom to shine in this child.
I took Natalie shopping for a new dress for church recently. She selected a tribal print dress from the rack. She closed the dressing room door and a few minutes later asked me to take a look. I opened the door and peeked in. She looked at me briefly, but her eyes went back to her own reflection. She was smiling at herself. I thought it was the happiest I’d seen her look in months, maybe years. I cannot be sure of what she saw, but something told me it was the budding teacher … the competent swimmer… the medical doctor in training. I quickly excused myself. (She already thinks I cry too much as it is.) I pretended I was looking at vintage t-shirts as I gripped the clothing rack and blinked back my tears.
She would be okay.
This child loved herself.
All of herself. Every page of her beautiful, unique book. Those Type-A tendencies that rubbed off on her when I was living my highly distracted, perfectionistic life were there. Oh yes—they were there. But in this case, the positive outshone the negative. Natalie was using those qualities to propel herself forward and find her place in the world. She loved herself because I loved her—or shall I say because I learned how to love her.
Respectfully listening to her outlandish dreams and unusually mature insights was love to this child.
Giving her truth about the dangers and turmoil of the world was love to this child.
Apologizing and admitting my wrong-doing was love to this child.
Allowing her to lean into me rather than force a full-on hug was love to this child.
Staying beside her at night when she felt like talking was love to this child.
Giving her more and more responsibility and letting her succeed and fail was love to this child.
Letting her take on creative projects that seemed too complicated and too messy was love to this child.
I always struggle with what parts of my journey will be helpful to others on their own journey. As I debated on whether or not to publish this lengthy post, I received a plea for help in an e-mail that ended with these words:
“I see that you know. You know how to love your daughters. I want to know how to love mine.”
To this dear reader … to those experiencing disconnection with someone they love … to those who feel like they have done too much damage … to those who want a few first steps to love “as is”, I offer this:
To Love You by Your Book: A Daily Pledge
I will study you. I will listen to you. I will watch your face when I use certain words or tones. What brings smiles? What brings pain? I will take note. I will use words that build you instead of break you. When I see that something I do makes you feel uncomfortable and rejected, I will remember and try not to do it anymore.
I want to love you by your book.
I will have one-on-one time with you even if this means having to disappoint people outside my family or make personal sacrifices. Making time to know you may mean declining extra commitments or reducing extracurricular activities. It may mean watching a television show I don’t care for or being willing to learn about your hobbies. It may mean sitting beside you in silence. I vow to be available to you. I vow to show you that you’re worth my time and attention.
I want to love you by your book.
I will tell you all the positive things I notice about you, instead of pointing out where you fall short. There’s enough people who will do that. I will be your encourager. I will be your #1 fan. I want to hear you laugh. I want to see you smile. I want to watch you shine.
I want to love you by your book and witness your amazing story unfold.
Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, I invite you to share your stories, struggles, and triumphs on the topic of learning to love other human beings by their book. The comment section of this blog serves as a resource for many people each week. I am grateful to all who write things that are difficult to write and to those who provide encouragement so others don’t feel alone. I am incredibly fortunate to have two highly trained colleagues who answer reader questions that go beyond my expertise. Anytime Sandy Blackard or Theresa Kellum respond to a reader who is struggling, there is so much wisdom in their responses. I have provided a few links to previous questions and responses for anyone in search of wisdom and guidance today:
Sandy’s response to:
“Lost Dad” on how to stop bullying his child: click here
“Christina” on helping perfectionist child: click here
“Lisa” on freedom from inner-critic: click here
“Seth” on helping perfectionist self: click here
“Debbie” on never too late: click here
To those who would like to contact Sandy or Theresa directly, here is more information:
If you feel like there should be something you can do to turn things around but you don’t know what it is, feel lost, stuck or overwhelmed, contact:
Sandra, parenting/life coaching: http://www.languageoflistening.com
If you feel hopeless like nothing you do will ever work, or if you or your child(ren) are experiencing depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, attention problems, self-inflicted injury, suicidal thoughts, or are simply wishing for healing, contact:
Theresa, PhD, licensed psychologist: http://www.theresakellam.com
For additional wisdom about forming a loving and harmonious relationship with your child, read: Why Some Parents & their Children Have Great Friendships