My Daughter and I Are Different and It’s Going to Be Okay

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It’s crazy to me how I literally grow a human being, and yet she turns out to be so different from me. We look alike, but my daughter and I are opposites in so many ways. Learning to parent the person she is becoming, rather than the person I’m most comfortable with, has been quite the learning curve. Did I mention she’s only seven? Lord, come close.

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My daughter has big feelings. Her highs are so high and her lows are so low. And we talk about it all the time. I’m doing my best to help prepare her for the reality of the world and all the thrills and disappointments her future holds. But all the parenting books and blogs and YouTube videos just don’t get it. The problem is, I don’t either.

I used to get super frustrated by my lack of understanding when it came to my daughter. I still do at times, but I’m attempting to see her passion as a gift rather than an annoyance, and it’s really helping our relationship. I don’t get it right all the time, but this parenting gig is a marathon, not a sprint.

My most recent victory happened last month when my daughter decided she didn’t like ballet anymore. It started as a long whine whenever it was time to get ready. Eventually she attempted various negotiation techniques. I wouldn’t budge. My heels were dug in pretty deep to this ballet thing. I mean, I took ballet well into high school and loved every second of it. The rules, the strict dress code, the precision and technique – my type A, perfectionist heart ate it up as a kid. I felt it was my motherly duty to expose my free-spirited daughter to an extra curricular activity that required her to fit inside the box for an hour. I mean, she needs to learn self-discipline, right?

Remember the time I mentioned she was seven? Don’t worry, apparently, I forgot as well.

After dropping her off at ballet one evening (post whining and failed negotiation attempts), I got a call from the studio that my daughter was sobbing in the bathroom and kept saying she was going to throw up. Gulp. Either she had contracted the fastest stomach bug in the history of germs, or I had pushed my daughter into a mini-mental breakdown.

I picked her up from class and we had a long, heart-to-heart that evening. She shared how hard it was for her to not talk with her friends at ballet because of the “no talking” rule. She cried when recalling all the times she’d been singled out because she was adding her own flair to the routine and it wasn’t received well by her teacher. I knew then I had a decision to make. I could use this as some kind of “life lesson” and force her to stay in the class, because “sometimes we have to do things we don’t like.” But I’ve read the recent stats on kids and anxiety and it’s horrifying. Does my seven-year-old really need to “buck up” and hide herself away for an hour each week simply because I liked it and so should she?

We decided to consider other options. She had a few friends in gymnastics, and maybe we could try a class. I called a nearby gym and set up the trial appointment. When we got to the class, her eyes lit up. The colorful leotards, the girls laughing while they spotted each other, the team photos all over the gymnasium, my girl was in her happy place.

She rocked that first class. Can she do a handstand? No. Can she do a cartwheel? Nope. The splits? Not even close. Did she try anyways? Yes, and she was cheered on and encouraged by all the other little girls in the class. Loudly. Because you get to talk at gymnastics.

I know she’ll still need to learn technique, and she’ll definitely have to learn some self-discipline in gymnastics, as well, but she fits there so much better. She can’t wait to go back again this week, and I can’t wait to watch her. I’m realizing my job as her mother is less about making her fit into the box, and more about helping her smash it. 

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Amber is wife to her elementary school crush and mother to three kiddos, ages 10, 7, and 4. Having recently moved to Portland from California, Amber is embracing her “new normal” as she navigates parks in the rain (bring a towel), the line outside Pip’s Donuts (it’s worth it), and where to find good Mexican food (still searching). As bio mom to her two oldest and adoptive mom to her youngest, special needs child, Amber understands and appreciates the importance of “mommy-time." Amber is also a grad student and soon-to-be Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapist. She shares the highlights and gems of what she's learning on her Instagram: @learnandliveproject.

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