Some of the best parent training is kid-to-mom

by Kristin on January 29, 2010

in Love, family & community

Photo by K. Tennant

See that adorable girl right there? That’s my baby. If you’re thinking “Wait a minute—that looks like a kindergartener, not a baby,” I have even bigger news for you: She turns 12 this weekend.

Expressing shock that your kids are aging and growing up fast seems like such a cliche, but it’s one of those mind-bending experiences you simply can’t describe or explain. I guess that’s why we keep trying.

But I’m not going to try, today. I’d rather write a post celebrating who Q is, what it’s like to be her Mama, and how all her life she has been preparing me to parent an adolescent.

Q is a cheerful optimist, who takes life as it comes, adjusting to less-than-perfect circumstances with grace. In this particular way, she puts me to shame.

After she broke her arm while we were on vacation last summer, Jason and I often joked “Well, if one of our three girls had to break a bone, she would have been our choice.” She was brave all the way to the hospital, managing her emotions, and somehow her pain, too.

Q spent the next two days in the cottage, her arm elevated on a pile of pillows and towels. Her sisters spent time playing cards or doing puzzles with her, before quietly heading down to the beach, where they would do two of Q’s favorite things: Swim and work on their extended fairy village in the sand. Q certainly wasn’t happy about her situation, and she expressed as much a couple of times, but she was determined to not let it ruin anyone’s week. A couple of days after the accident she was wading in the water with her grandma, and serving as general contractor from her beach chair at the edge of Fairytopia.

The exquisite art of being an outgoing introvert

Q is confident and outgoing. She naturally attracts every type of friend, warmly welcoming them into her life. Although I dreaded her transition last fall to the enormous middle school (over 1,000 students), she threw herself into it without an apparent care in the world. Her closest friends from elementary school weren’t in any of her classes or lunch, but within a couple of weeks, she had a great group of new friends.

But Q is also an introvert—she knows herself well, and knows when she needs to be alone. Once her day has contained enough interaction and stimulation, she often excuses herself and heads to bed, glad to leave a house full of people and fun behind her.

It took me a while, as a brand-new mother, to understand what  baby Q needed when she was crying, which seemed to happen a LOT at the end of the day. The more she cried, the more I tried to comfort her. I rocked her and walked with her and sang to her, but nothing worked. Finally I read in a book that some babies get easily over-stimulated and wound up as they grow tired. The best thing to do is to give them space. So I tried putting the wailing Q in her crib and walking away. It worked—wonderful, of course, but also a difficult thing for all of my maternal instincts to accept.

I’m a Mama in training, and Q is one of my best coaches

As I think of Q turning 12, it strikes me how, in many ways, her personality has been great training for me as I transition into the role of mothering older children.

I have to learn to trust that she knows herself—yes, even better than I know her. When I trust that, I build up that confidence and power in her, helping her to be even more independent, strong and wise in her choices.

I should certainly protect her, but not too much. I have to trust that she can handle life as it comes to her. Every time she faces disappointment or hurt—although it might be painful for us both—I need to remind myself that she can handle it, and she’s learning and growing along the way.

And I need to try my hardest to worry less. I am her mother, but I am not God. I can’t fix everything, prevent everything, or even understand everything. I guess that’s a lesson I began to learn 12 whole years ago, when against all instinct I laid my crying newborn in her crib and walked away.

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  • http://thealchemistblog.wordpress.com Gen

    Oh, just beautiful. You just have to remember that the walking away hurts you far more than it could ever hurt her…it’s us big girls who need to be rocked and cuddled!

  • http://gracerules.wordpress.com/ Liz

    Kristin, First let me say that your daughter is beautiful – not just on the outside but from what you said on the inside too. Parenting is one of the greatest and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and my two sons (16 and 22) have also taught me invaluable lessons about parenting and life. I don’t often hear parents talk about how much they learn from their kids so your post really resonated with me because I do feel that I have learned (and am still learning) so much from my kids – from the people they are, what they think, how they cope etc. Being a parent is one of the most transformational events in my life. thanks for sharing this and Happy Birthday to your daughter.

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    What a wonderful post! You write with such love and detail about your daughters, I feel like I know them. Many happy birthday wishes to Q, and to you!

  • Carmen

    Can I pre-order your parenting book on Amazon?

  • http://www.jenx67.com jen

    Mine turned 12 in September. As we always say, one day, we must meet up! There is so much angst on my part – of her getting older. Mostly, b/c I’ll miss her so much when she leaves home. But, I also find myself getting excited – thinking of all that is yet to be shared. I am her mother, working toward that day when we have evolved and transformed to friends. Happy Bithday, Q. You got a special momma!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Gen, exactly! That’s exactly what I’m beginning to realize. I need to separate my own pain and fears from hers, and see them for what they are.

    Liz, thank you for saying that—I do feel like I have a pretty special daughter. And you’re right about parenting being one of the greatest and hardest things. It takes work and offers amazing rewards. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Meredith, it’s funny, I felt like I was painting such a flat, limited portrait of Q! I didn’t even begin to touch on her fanatical love for books, for instance (something I know you appreciate). :) But I’m glad what I did write communicated a sense of who Q is. It’s hard, when you know someone so well, to accurately begin to represent who she is.

    Carmen, you are too sweet. I honestly don’t think I’m the right person to write a parenting book, but I promise you can call or email me with questions, whenever you want. :)

    jen, are we really old enough to have 12-year-olds? I’m glad you brought up the joy of what’s to come—all that we’ll share with our daughters as our relationships with them evolve. That’s a good thing to keep in mind. My relationship with my mom just keeps getting better.

  • http://etherealjoy.blogspot.com Joy

    Beautiful from every angle. Your daughter has a beautiful, joyful soul; and is a reflection of all that she learns from time with you and her loved ones. You teach and guide, she teaches and guides back–one of the blessings of parenthood. As you learn to give her space to grow, as you marvel in wonder at her accomplishements, also recognize that your inner child needs the same:)
    Much peace…

  • Nicola

    Congratulations on Q’s 12th birthday! Every milestone for our kids should also be celebrated by us, I think! Wise parents let their children teach them valuable lessons – you are doing so well!

    I understand how you feel about 12 (which I can’t even imagine yet), because I can’t believe that MY baby is turning 6 in March. For some reason, this one is hitting me hard! Six just seems like a young girl more than 5 did (which seemed to me to just be an extension of the whole pre-school thing). I mean, next year is 1st grade! How did that happen?

    But, I glory in it and try to be aware of and open to the lessons that A has to teach me about being a mom and being myself. And, I enjoy so much watching her become her own person, even when that frustrates me!

    As a woman who was pretty much on the fence about becoming a mom and didn’t take well to it at all in the early stages (that 1st six months were brutal for me), I am so glad that I get to parent such a wonderful kid. I marvel at the fact that most parents must feel the same way that I do about their kids. I am thankful to know that my parents felt/feel that way about ME. It’s made me feel connected to people in a way I never expected!

    Happy Birthday Q!

    Nicola

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Joy, I guess this all ties in with the idea that “to give is to receive,” right? It’s all beginning to make sense to me now. There are so many things about parenting that you just can’t really *get* until you experience them. (Thanks for reminding me to acknowledge my inner child, too!)

    Nicola, isn’t it funny how our mind plays tricks on us when it comes to age? I mean, a year is a year, no matter what number you attach to it, but certain birthdays do seem harder to wrap your mind around (whether it’s 6 or 39!). I love hearing about both the joy and thoughtfulness you bring to motherhood—thanks for sharing bits of your journey here.

  • http://hollyhouse.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I love this post because it encapsulates how hard it is to be a new mommy. And how hard it is to watch our babies grow, thinking they are the same little people. And they are, but they start to have secret lives, lives moms aren’t invited to join. And that they do know who they are and what they want. I like your kids and I really like you. You’re a good mom.
    I call my son who’s six my baby because he’s my last. He hates it. “I’m not a baby,” He says. But he’s my baby. My mom still says that to me!

  • Trina

    What a lovely look at the Mom/Daughter dynamic. They will always be our babies, even though we may not be allowed to say it out loud. Happy Birthday to Q and congratulations to you, and all your family.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Jennifer, being a new mommy is SO hard, isn’t it? There are so many expectations, and so-called “rules” that don’t fit your situation (but no clear rules when you really want some). I remember talking on the phone to you after Q was born. You had been a mom for two whole months, and you seemed so calm and wise! :)

    Trina, yes, they will always be our babies. That’s the moment you really begin to comprehend how much joy and trial will be wrapped up in parenting. I think of Q as my baby not because she’s my youngest, but because she was my first. The baby life of the second one has a way of being a bit of a blur.