Besides our slightly different shades of hair, you could easily mistake a photo of my daughter at age eight for me when I was her age. We have blue eyes, slender frames, and long legs. But our similarities run much deeper than our appearance. Our personalities are eerily similar. We are both serious, studious, rule-following, perfectionists. Now in my mid-thirties, I’ve learned to manage my own expectations and control the anxiety that comes with an internal desire to excel and everything I’m involved in. My girl, though, is just beginning to learn these things. And parenting her through it all is more of a challenge than I thought it could be.
I’m not sure if it is simply hard to watch your kids struggle, but it has been much harder for me to watch my kid struggle in ways that I identify with deeply, personally. I truly don’t think I’m projecting my childhood angst onto her, but I think my experience through the challenges of self-imposed unrealistic expectations could be of great benefit to her over the years. What I’m currently struggling with, though, is just how to communicate with her. I’m trying to remember what I need to hear when I was beating myself up for a mistake, or if I wanted to even hear anything at all.
Even as I’m still figuring this all out, here are a few things that work for us:
Like me, my girl is a pretty private person. She lives mostly inside her head. Before she’s even said a word or asked a question, I’m certain she’s run through the catalog of information in her mind to see if she already knows the answer to what she is about to say or ask. That can make our conversations difficult to initiate. But as her mom, I can always tell when something is off or when she is upset. So what I’m learning to do is be comfortable with silence at first. Ask a question like “What are you thinking about?” or general questions like “How was your day?” and then allow her to share in a stream of consciousness when she’s ready. Sometimes her answer to my first question might be a one-word answer (an attempt to deflect from having to open up). Still, if I don’t immediately jump into a monologue when she first starts to share, I find that she will open up if I’ll just be quiet for a few minutes.
Once I’ve listened, and I can tell she has shared pretty fully with me, I can begin to press in. Often, I can share an experience that might be relatable, or I can help her think logically through a problem. (She is still very logical at this age, even though she is beginning to become more emotional). I remind her often that I’m always proud of her, just for who she is, and not because of anything she does. I tell her I couldn’t love her more if I tried. I try to encourage regularly and consistently. I have also found that it is easier and often more effective to hold on to issues I’m seeing her work through or struggle with and bring those up in quieter or less tense moments, rather than in the middle of an emotionally charged situation.
Since she (well both of us) tends to be more serious, I actually have to think about, plan for, and create moments for us to have fun. If I’m not careful, more of our interactions than I would like can be focused on the details of her busy schedule, a thing she is learning at school, or a question she has about the phases of the moon or what we are having for dinner each night next week or her multiplication tables. I want us to laugh together at least a few times a week. I want her to feel free to be silly with me, and I need to let my guard down and be silly with her sometimes, too. Maybe we could stop for frozen yogurt on the way home from dance practice, create or color together, or even just watch her favorite show.
At the end of the day, we’re all learning how to parent. And each kid is different. Learning to parent my kid who is the most like me (inside and out) is turning out to be harder and more rewarding than I could have imagined. It is healing for my inner child, and hopefully, it is helping my girl as well.
Do you have a kid who reminds you of yourself? If so, do you find it easier or more difficult to parent them?