I read your column every week and like what you say about attaching to our kids, but I have a hard time connecting with my younger child. I was raised in a home were children were seen but not heard and my daughter is fiery, emotional, and highly opinionated! I admire her strength (and sometimes even feel a little jealous of how bold she is). But there are times when I find her overwhelming. Any suggestions?
Many times I've worked with a parent who was brought up being told to keep her feelings to herself -- scolded if she dared to express her thoughts or wishes. Lo and behold, she grows up to find herself parenting a passionate, dramatic son or daughter who makes noise about every injustice that crosses his or her path.
It never ceases to amaze me at how our children can become such perfect teachers in our lives.
Clearly, you have raised your daughter differently from the way you were brought up. Give yourself credit for establishing a climate of safety for her to be herself; that is no small thing.
Still, it can be challenging to raise a child whose temperament is different from our own, especially if we are mild-mannered and our child is a noisy ball of self-expression!
I often talk about something I call Snapshot Child Syndrome, which is when the actual child in front of us differs from the idealized one we thought we were getting.
It sounds like your daughter doesn't resemble the child you might have found less difficult to raise, despite offering you a chance to claim your own voice. Allow yourself to feel disappointed about that; it's okay to grieve for the child you didn't get -- one who might have been more similar to yourself, or simply less feisty.
Then ask yourself what triggers those overwhelming feelings. Is it the ease with which your daughter voices her opinion? Notice what you tell yourself when she speaks boldly. You may find old beliefs surfacing in your mind, like, "She should be more compliant", or "She shouldn't disagree with adults."
Check in with mind and heart to see if you actually believe what you're telling yourself. Is it true that your daughter's life would be better if she were more compliant? How might her life be better if she weren't compliant -- if she didn't automatically agree to what others asked of her?
And is it true that she shouldn't disagree with adults? This may have been a strong message delivered by your own parents, but in what ways did it limit you? Were there times when your life might have been better if you had felt empowered to disagree with others -- peers and adults? Can you find ways that your daughter may be served by questioning the opinions or demands of those around her?
By reframing a child's difficult behavior, we can often find our way to becoming less resistant to it. And if we're willing to really explore how that frustrating behavior awakens unexpressed qualities in ourselves, we may find ourselves embracing the very qualities in our children we previously found unacceptable!
Few would argue that it is easier to raise children who are soft-spoken and compliant but please -- don't try to change your little firecracker. If she is accepted as is, then as she matures she will even out and become better at modulating herself.
In the meantime, get the support you need on those overwhelming days, and then deliver what your daughter needs most from you -- the feeling that you like, enjoy, and admire her, just as she is. It will be healing for you both.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.