When You Stop Being a Good Daughter
Have you ever felt pressured to suppress a child's big emotions because your parent, in-law, spouse, or school administrator (if you're a teacher) is uncomfortable with the little one's behavior?
If so, I'm going to share with you a mindset shift that will help you make respectful and empathetic choices even under pressure. This story is about motherhood, but the lesson applies to anyone who works with children.
The story starts like this...
This past winter I went to Los Angeles with my seven-year-old daughter, ten-year-old son, mom, brother, and niece. You can imagine what this was like from a seven-year-old's perspective: no routine, sleeping in a strange place, eating restaurant food, and dealing with the over-stimulation of Christmas. A recipe for emotional disaster, right?
My kids had been troopers: patiently sitting in traffic, walking long distances, and adapting to being with adults they rarely see. On the third morning of our trip, my daughter was happily coloring with her cousin on the floor of my brother's bedroom. The adults decided that we were all heading out to have breakfast, so I walked into the bedroom to let my daughter know.
I calmly told her, "It's time to put on clean clothes so we can go have breakfast."
And then I walked out of the room to get my backpack ready.
Now, I thought this was a reasonable request issued in a polite tone. But boy was I wrong!
My pint-sized firecracker came out of the room looking furious and exclaimed: "You can't boss me around!" Then she made a gesture like she was spitting on the floor (but no saliva came out), and she stomped upstairs.
My mom, who was sitting on the couch next to me, literally clutched her Virgin of Guadalupe necklace and gasped: "She spit! Aren't you going to do something?"
At that moment I had two choices: I could chase after my daughter and berate her for her insolent behavior as my mom expected me to... Or I could wait.
Wait for what? Wait for my child's anger to pass and for her reasoning brain to come back online.
I could feel the enormous weight of my mom's expectations bearing down on me. But unlike other times when I've found myself in this situation...
This time I chose to wait.
I told my mom: "She's angry. I can't reason with her right now."
She looked at me like I had grown three heads, but I just continued calmly packing my bag. In my mind, I visualized my child's brain in "flipped lid" mode and this kept me grounded. Focusing on my breathing also helped.
A few minutes later, my daughter came back down, dressed and ready to go. I extended my hand and asked her if I could talk with her outside the apartment (because I didn't want anyone to intervene during our conversation and re-trigger her). Once in the hallway, I took a deep breath, prayed for clarity, and knelt down to her height.
I said, "I noticed you were really angry when I asked you to get dressed. What happened?"
There was hellfire in her blue eyes. "I was coloring and you made me stop! I wasn't done yet, it's not fair, you always tell me what to do," she replied.
And that's when it all made sense. When I innocently asked her to get dressed, two parts of her psyche clashed: the part that wanted to comply and do what her mother was asking (her "good daughter" part) and the part that was deeply immersed in a beloved creative outlet (her authentic Self).
I verbalized all this for her in words she could understand, and asked if it was accurate. She nodded. I could see in her eyes the relief that comes with being understood.
I apologized for not noticing that she needed time to finish. Then I said, "In the future, if I don't notice that you're in the middle of something that's important to you, you can say, 'I'll go get dressed as soon as I finish this page.' And I'll know to wait. Are you willing to do that?"
She nodded. I said: "Spitting is never a good way of showing people how you feel. It's rude and spreads germs. Now that we have a plan and understand each other, I know you won't spit again. Understood?"
She looked remorseful and nodded, then we hugged.
I learned many things that day, but the reason I'm sharing this with you is because I learned that your consciousness as a mother MUST take precedence over your conditioning as a daughter.
I read somewhere that you become a good mother when you decide to stop being a good daughter.
This decision is not an act of blame or criticism towards your parents (they were probably good parents doing the best they could with the tools of their generation). This decision is an act of courage and maturity because your child needs you to respond as the capable adult that you are now, not the dependent child that you once were.
It's OK to disappoint the grown-ups in your life. So the next time you find yourself caught between your child and your conditioning, you have my permission to stop being a good daughter and be the mother your child needs.
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