Last year, as my little girl finished up her year in first grade, I had a realization that I probably should have had earlier.
As a kid grows up, the parents are learning almost just as much as they are.
Because as it turns out, if she’s never had a year in first grade, I’ve never had a year parenting a first-grader! It’s easy to forget what we’ve learned, even if it seems profound at the time; I think it can be good to make an intentional effort to write the lessons down to reflect on again later. (Plus, I’ve heard a thing or two about learning from people who have traveled this road before you…or even who are traveling it alongside you.) I wrote a “what I learned” post last year, and thought I’d do it again this year…with the obvious second-grade spin.
While she was learning her multiplication tables, the life cycles of plants and animals, how to write paragraphs in different styles, and the branches of American government, here’s what Mama was learning:
My issues are not necessarily her issues. I don’t think it’s any secret around here that I have issues, and if you’ve spent any time with me here or in person or on my podcast, you know what those issues are. I live with pretty severe generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar depression, and since I’ve lived with a lot of this all my life, I’ve always had my eyes open for signs of the same struggles in my daughter’s life. We often see what we’re looking for, though —- even if it’s not really there. I’ve had to remind myself repeatedly over the past year that while she and I may be very similar in a lot of ways, we are not the same person. Our struggles will not be identical, and I shouldn’t treat her as though they are. If something is hard for me, that doesn’t mean it’s hard for her. If I struggled in a certain situation as a kid, that doesn’t mean she won’t thrive in the same situation. My needs from my mom aren’t what she needs from me, and we’ll both be better off if I mother her as she needs me to. The apple may not fall far from the tree, but it does fall from the tree.
Her issues are definitely mine. She doesn’t struggle with the exact same things I do (thank GOODNESS), but some of her struggles have become apparent this year. Because I’m a highly sensitive person with mental illness (and a mama, after all), I can’t easily separate myself from her struggles. They dominate my thoughts and dreams, and bring me to tears at random and inconvenient times. I’ve blamed myself for some of the things she’s had a hard time coping with, and I’ve second-guessed every word I’ve spoken to her. When baby bear is having a hard time, mama bear is, too. I need to be careful with that going forward.
I can be an advocate for my daughter. I’ve never been one to make waves or cause a scene, but if I need to do that to protect my daughter…well, I’ll do what I have to do. It’s not easy and definitely doesn’t come naturally to me…but yeah. Mama bear and all that. I’m learning, too.
She’s far stronger than she thinks she is. As her mama, I see incredible things in her. I see a sense of humor that is super quirky and fun…a compassionate spirit that genuinely cares for other people…a mind that can imagine and create entire worlds…a tender heart that feels life deeply. Most of all, I’ve come to see an amazing strength in her that can come only from Jesus. She walks into hard situations with her head held high. She faces disappointment better than I do. She carries an extraordinary load of worries and responsibilities (because even though I try, I can’t seem to convince the world that she’s only eight). Even so, when she looks at herself she doesn’t see any of that. It breaks my heart. The way I see it, it’s my job to make sure she hears Truth more often than she hears whatever she can tell herself. The Truth she needs to have drilled into her head and heart? She’s stronger than she thinks she is because God is bigger than she thinks He is.
It’s incredible to watch your child do something you cannot do. My little girl? She’s an unbelievable artist. I don’t mean in the sense that, “I’m her mama and I think she’s incredible at everything just because I’m her mama and there’s nothing you can say to convince me otherwise.” I mean, she’s an incredible artist that real-life artists acknowledge. She can draw. Like….really, really can draw. I really, really cannot. I lack so much of what makes an artist an artist, namely the ability to take the elaborate image I have in my head and transfer it onto paper. Words, yes. Pictures? Not so much.
And watching her play softball? Amazing, because this mama here took piano lessons that (not amazingly) did not require me to have physical agility and the ability to focus on an entire field of players, or to coordinate my body in such a way that bleachers full of enthusiastic parents would be excited about what I did. Physical coordination, for me, is still elusive; watching her so ably do what I’ve always wished I could is phenomenal.
It’s incredible to watch your child do something you know she gets from you. She asked me recently if she’s half me and half daddy. I thought for just a second before I told her I thought the makeup was more 10% Mommy, 10% Daddy, and 80% her. That 80% (and the 10% from my husband, for sure) is where those skills that I lack come into play. The 10% from me, though? It’s undeniable. She’s a natural writer. She can create amazing stories from three-word writing prompts, leaving everyone who reads it wanting more. She’s recently been compiling a series of comics involving different animals who teach about science and nature. I can’t do creative writing as well as she can (enter again the 80%), but hearing her teacher announce with confidence that “she’s gonna be a writer”? That makes my heart swell a little bit. Genetics are pretty amazing.
It’s really, really not worth it to sweat the small stuff. I’m naturally a “sweat the small stuff” kind of person, but by this stage in parenting I’ve embraced the fact that not every battle is worth fighting. Her fashion sense is not mine, and her clothing choices for school will (often) make me cringe and shake my head. Will I make her change her clothes? I will not. Her backpack is in a constant state of disorder, and reaching my hand inside is a little bit scary. I never know what I’ll find, and it looks an awful lot like a bag full of trash sometimes. Will I make her clean it out and keep it that way? Until it becomes so heavy that she walks hunched over under its weight, I will not. She can do things her way, and I can be okay with that. Which leads me to my next lesson…
When I allow myself to do me, it allows her to do her. If I’m pressuring myself to live up to an impossible standard of beauty, housekeeping, and overall Pinterest perfection, that pressure will overflow and affect my family. If I relax and settle into who God made me to be, she (and my husband) can do the same. (If this resonates with you, check out a message I recently gave at my church. It’s one I, myself, have had to revisit a couple of times already.)
There are literally dozens of unsung heroes in every school. I learned this during her kindergarten and first-grade years, and relearned it again this year. I’ll most likely relearn it every year of her education. If you know me personally, you’ve heard me rave (ad nauseam) about my daughter’s public elementary school. It is an extremely special place, but it’s because of the individual people that it is that way.
My daughter’s teacher this year went above and beyond to accommodate my girl’s struggles. She watched out for her and gave her extra care, even while managing a classroom she described as “extremely social.” (I was the room mom, so I spent a lot of time in the classroom. Calling that group of kids “social” is a mild understatement.)
The guidance counselor took extra time with me and my own concerns. The school nurse was attentive to her allergies, making even this extra anxious mama feel at ease. When my daughter got a concussion at school, both the principal and the school nurse called us at home to check on her. The ladies in the media center hold books they know she’ll like. The school secretaries know her by name and remember whose class she’s in.
All of those small, everyday efforts combine to create an environment I wouldn’t trade for anything. My daughter spends almost as much time with those hardworking ladies as she does with me, and every interaction with her helps to shape her memories of her childhood. I’m so grateful that based on what I see, her memories will be golden.
There are (many, many) times (every single day) when I wish I had this parenting thing all figured out. The gray areas and judgment calls make me crazy, and thinking about the long-term consequences of my every word makes me want to curl into a ball. God is gracious, though, and allows me to learn on the job. Have I made mistakes? Of course. More than I can count. Will I make more mistakes? I have no doubt that I will. But having learned some of the lessons I’ve learned, my prayer is that I won’t make the same mistakes again. She’s growing day by day, and so is her mama. It’s a journey we take together.