Four Ways I Plan To Help Nurture My Daughters Growth Through Puberty
My daughter turned 10 in July. A whole 10 years old. It seems as though it was just yesterday that I was holding her in my arms and screaming, “You bet NOT climb on that damn table!!! AH EH!!! GET DOWN!” and I’m scared shitless.
I’ve been afraid since she started turned 8. It was around the age of 8 years old that I noticed my chest changing. My mother didn’t want to deal with the idea of her 8 year old having breasts, so I spent more of year 8 and 9 smushed down under a training bra and a too tight tank top paired with a large loose fitting shirt. The following year, at age 9, I started my period. (Hold my wine while I cry about this)
One of the fears I had when I found out I was having a daughter was the idea that she would prematurely be pushed into puberty before “I” was prepared. Before “I” was ready to deal with the idea of my little baby going through those awkward changes so early. I wanted her to enjoy her childhood. Unfortunately, my dreams were shattered not too long ago when I had to have a talk with my child about masturbation.
So you can imagine that I am beyond ecstatic that she has yet to show sign of book or spot and outside of a few underarm hairs and randomly sprouted leg hairs, I don’t see any signs of the “others” popping up any soon.
But I know that it’s coming.
It’s coming very soon. Soon I will be looking into the face of a girl who has not begun her journey to “womanhood” and I will have to guide her there. Me. The woman who still gets grossed out at the idea of having to change my diva cups. Yes. It’s nasty. I don’t care. Soon I will be responsible for teaching her a whole new list of guidelines that I, quite honestly, am not prepared to teach her. Not because I don’t know how. Rather because I don’t want to. I don’t want her to grow up. I want her to stay young and innocent for as long as possible. I’m not ready for her to grow up. But that’s selfish and due to biology having the annoying habit of interfering with people’s lives, I have no choice but to prepare myself now. I can’t hide from it and I can’t stop it from happening.
We all love our children, but sometimes we want to send them back. Get a full, or partial even, refund and leave them at the gate. I’ve had my fair share of conversations with which every God or Gods are responsible for pairing children with parents and I am sure that my conversations have only begun. She has already adopted my dry sense of humor, my sarcastic tongue and my “matter of fact” styled attitude. Me imaging all of that on a 13-16 year old new age model of “me” honestly has me ready to drink and I’m not even a person who fancies drinking. I’m sick.
Loving her means accepting her child for who she is.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by fear - so much so that it prevented you from doing something you wanted to do? I have. In fact, I am more than sure that most of the things I have failed to complete or follow through never came to fruition as a result of my own fear of success. My inability to picture myself successfully bringing forth whatever it is that my mind continues to tell me can’t be done. Done by me that is. Fear has the power to hold you back from taking risks, following your dreams, or becoming successful at anything you attempt to do. If you allow it to control you for long enough, it can eventually erode your quality of life and keep you locked in a prison of inactivity. I’d argue that fear, in itself, is a stronger force than determination.
Believing in yourself can be difficult when you have limiting and derogatory messages playing in your subconscious mind. Most of these messages were recorded during childhood but the effects reach far beyond that. Years of being told that you can not do something or that something doesn’t quite suit you eventually begins to wear down your confidence, forcing you into a bubble of insecurity propelling you into a whirlwind of never-ending self doubt and confusion.
How many of us have had our parents compare us to another child they know? A family member? Or even our classmates? It always seemed hypocritical that parents are quick to remind you that they aren't your "Friends parents" but will in the same breathe compare you to the children of their friends or people they know to compare you failures and successes to another.
Far too often parents forget to celebrate their children for their individuality and fail to respect their individual interests. We all want what's best for our children and it most definitely is our job to raise and teach our children have to be productive members of modern society. It's our job to show them what they need to know to survive but ultimately it is up to them to take the lessons we've taught and apply them where and as needed. We can't control that. But we sure do try. From academics to sexuality, it is super important that we remember that our children will make decisions that are different from our own and we have to respect that.
Being supportive even when its not what I want.
One of the issues most of the parents I know have is accepting all of their child's accomplishments and failures. I've found myself guilty of doing this and recently had to take a step back to acknowledge that while I was so focused on the things she did not do to my satisfaction, I completely ignored all that she had successfully done because it wasn't something that I placed great value in. I based my daughters level on success on what I considered success over her own ideas of success. I never noticed that she had stopped bringing me her art drawings that she was so proud to get an A on. I didn't notice that she stopped telling me about the new song she learned in class. Because to me those were just "filler" courses. Not to be viewed as important as her academic based classes. Those were the ones that mattered and I should know better.
As a digital creative who uses my creative mind to provide and sustain my lifestyle, I know completely the importance creative sciences are to the development of a person. Yet, here I was forgetting to nurture my daughters creative mind in exchange for the standards set forth for a school system that hasn't been current or hip to current trends in decades. The same system that lied to me and told me that two degrees and $100,000 in school loan debt would guarantee me a great job that has the potential to pay me three times what I am in debt for.
We find ourselves living vicariously through our children hoping to do all of the things we wanted to do through making them do it. If they fail, mess up or simply don’t take interest in what we are interested in or feel as though they should have an interest in, we pull back our love and support. Punishing them for not succeeding where we feel it important while ignoring the things accomplished. It crushes their confidence. It teaches them early on that their strengths aren’t good enough. They learn that they will always need to be more than who they are in order to receive love and support. I suppose it is one of the reasons why I am such an over achiever. I was taught that respect is something that is given to those who do more and have more.
I don't want my daughter to feel as though her happiness and level of achievement should be based on my personal preferences and I definitely do not plan on encouraging her to fight for a position, career or lifestyle for no other reason than the appeasement of others who see more value in her than her potential to be a means of cheap labor. She is worth than that. She deserves to live a life where her decisions are her own.
I keep that in mind when encouraging her to try something new. It could be trying a different food, making new friends or even signing up for a new sport. When I make suggestions, I always ask her if that is something she wants to do. If she says no, I use that as an opportunity to ask questions that would give me a chance to peek inside her mind in hopes of helping her figure out what she does want to do and encourage her do it. Barring anything age inappropriate, of course.
When she is trying something new I let her know that there is a risk that she might make mistakes and that it isn't necessarily the mistake that matters, but most importantly whether she admits or owns her mistakes and learned a valuable lesson from that mistake. It is better to admit it and to try to take a lesson from that mistake.
Did you know that you're still being influenced by the things your parents and others said to you decades ago?
What many people fail to realize is that fear is nothing more than a conditioned response. It's a natural reaction to a frightening or unfamiliar situation meant to protect us from rejection and disappointment. Each time someone told you that you were no good, you believed them. When someone told you that you'd never amount to anything, you believed them. When someone told you that you were stupid or learning disabled or weird, you believed them. And you still believe them to this day even if you're not consciously aware of these underlying beliefs.
At one point in my life I had the dream of being an entertainer. Like most pre-teens I dreamt of gracing the stage, seeing my name in bright lights and having thousands of people admire my talents and hail me as a great “legend”. I spent hours alone in my room learning how to mimic the voices of all of my favorite singers including the late great Whitney Houston. I studied her runs. Her adlibs. I practiced my range until I was sure my throat was going to close up from being overworked but I was determined to be ready for my moment to shine. That moment came when I was about 12 years old when my church choir, led by a pretentious snob of a male who thought he was the end all be all of judging vocal capabilities.
To be honest, he couldn’t sing that great and neither could most of his siblings but for some reason they been gassed to believe that they were the prodigal musical family of the church. I never thought any of their voices were great but for some reason people kept asking them to sing, so it is what it is. The choir was practicing for youth Sunday as we always did and were a lead singer short. I had volunteered many times before and was only met with denial because they did not feel that my voice was up to par, so I had long since stopped volunteering. It was at this moment that I was asked to lead “He That Endureth To The End”. Trying to hold in my excitement I eagerly accepted and spent the next two weeks rehearsing day and night. Perfectly my pitch, minding my range while making sure to hit every key and every note flawlessly. I was ready. More than ready. This was it. This was my moment.
That Sunday morning I was a nervous wreck. No one had heard me sing before. At least not intentionally. I felt every emotion rush through my body. When it came time for my solo, nervous and trembling, I walked over to the mic and I opened my mouth. I sang. But it didn’t sound like it did when I was practicing at home. Instead of my voice sounding like smooth butter, it was shaky and unsure. Instead of hitting the notes that I had confidently hit while at home, I skipped over those notes opting to not run at all. In the back of my mind I just knew that I sounded horrible and although I got a standing ovation and was congratulated for my performance I carried that fear with me. I never felt “good” enough. That “one” person ruined my confidence. To this day, I refuse to sing around anyone. The only ones who have heard me sing, freely and with confidence,
There are certain aspects of my psyche that I simply cannot unpack no matter how hard I try. Mostly because doing so would require a level of commitment to change that "I" personally do not feel comfortable with. The risk is far too "risque" for me in terms of emotional and mental labor. I'd like to think that had I been afforded the proper nurturing and support needed to develop my confidence, I wouldn't be so afraid to extend myself in areas where I know but am too afraid to show reveal about myself.
Making room for life lessons to be learned without intervening.
I got beat up until my sophomore year in high school. There was one particular girl who continue to bully me and harass me simply because she could if she knew that I wasn't going to fight back. She knew that I was not going to defend myself so it was easy for her to throw her wait around and make herself look bad. And I'm sure she did it because she wanted to impress boys and she thought that the boys saw that she was this big bad tough person that they would flock to her. The last time she bullied me I was leaving the gym after morning and for reasons I still don't completely understand or know all of these years later she rushed me and just started beating on me. Later that day after school we all ended up at the McDonald's up the street from my house and once again she decided she was going to pick on me but this time it was over some boy that she liked that she saw flirting with me. I don't know what snapped in me that day but I finally fought back. That was the last time that I got beat up.
That day I won that fight I made a promise to myself that I would never allow myself to be in a situation where someone else head control over me. I promised myself that I would never allow anyone to rollover me, take decisions for me, or make me yield to what they wanted me to do. I’d die before I allowed any person walking this green earth to put fear into my heart. Unresolved issues from my childhood fueled a rage and anger so dead that eventually I become a monster with a temper that would make Satan himself run. If I even thought that there was a chance you was trying to “get one over on me” I was going to create chaos.
Given my past, you can only imagine how I felt when I learned that my daughter was having problems earlier this year with some other children in the apartment complex. I immediately jumped to action ready to fight kids and parents over my daughter. I made my way around the complex making it clear to all who could hear my voice that I was not the Mama Bear to mess with. I will fight you and your child over mine. It wasn't until I found myself on the doorstep of someones mama threatening to wrap my fingers around her throat if her daughter bothered my daughter again.
Later the night as I was talking to my daughter about the events leading up to the fight that happened I learned that although my daughter was not the provoker of the fight, it could have been avoided by simply minding her business. I learned that she jumped into the fight to protect her friend who was in the middle of fighting the other child. I've always taught my daughter to defend herself and protect her friends. I've reminded her that true friends always have each others back but I failed to put circumstances around that protection. I forgot to tell her to protect herself first. I could only be but so upset and took that as an opportunity to explain to her what discernment was and the importance of making educated choices before jumping in the midst of something that doesn't directly involve her especially when you are unsure of whether or not the person or persons you are putting your safety on the line for will return the favor.
As painful as it was to go through this, it was a necessary lesson that she needed to learn. No one could learn that lesson for her and it wasn't something that she would understand until she was in that position. No one is obligated to protect her. She had to learn that this life was a lonely one and most of the her time spent here trying to navigate this life would be spent alone so it is important that she starts putting herself and her needs at the forefront of her thoughts at all time.
I had to remember to let go and fight the impulse to do everything for her. Mommy isn't always going to be around or able to throw her weight around on your behalf and by constantly intervening, I am actually further handicapping her. So give them the space. If you just do everything for them, they will never learn. For example, you asked them to tuck in their bed, but the bed wasn’t done neatly. Tell them that it was a good effort and show them how to do it neatly. You also need to give them their own space to solve their own problem. You can help them but don’t solve it for them. Instead why don’t both of you sit down together and try to solve the problem together.
Keeping her interested and actively engaged in the world around her.
I would love to hide my baby away. I want nothing more than to protect her from learning, hearing or experiencing certain aspects of life before I felt she was ready, unfortunately I don't have the luxury of safekeeping information from her. I can't protect her. The world moves in a matter of seconds and it is my job as her mother to make sure that she has all of the tools necessary to be able to able the many curveballs life throws her way. She's only ten. But in today's society, 10 is no different than 16 and my failure to properly arm her would only end in disaster, so I must.
I started out as that parent who was adamant about keeping my daughter as innocent and ignorantly in bliss as possible. I was sheltering. I never let her out of my sight for a second because I needed complete control. That worked when she was 6, I can't do that at 10 and the older she gets, the harder it will be for me to be able to hide the world from her. So, I have to teach her.
Don't get me wrong, I still have my limits on what she can, do see, engage in, etc. but I have been actively working on finding the balance. I've established an open line of communication that I hold will carry over into her teen years and remain throughout her adult life. How I see it, I would rather her learn from me, than learn from someone in the street because she will learn. How she learns relies solely on me. Of course, there are things that she won't be able to learn from me. She's a different generation and I have to keep in mind that, as it did with my mother and myself, time will create a generational gap that may or may not see current lessons relative in the future. That is why is important that I get her in the habit of being engaged and aware of what is going on in the world around her, in her home, in her schools, in her social circles and so forth. It's important that I get her talking about these experiences, get her comfortable with confronting them and help her navigate through the mess that will be thrown her way.
People underestimate the power of a parents word and how effective it can be when shaping the decisions and actions made by children. Our children listen to us, we simply have to give them something to listen to.