Dancing to Her Own Beat
By Deb Peterson, Youth Frontiers’ Office Manager
There are things in life that people tell you are hard – learning a language, climbing a mountain, parenting… Why didn’t I believe them when they said that about parenting?
I had seen friends and family struggle at times with their kids, so I knew I’d encounter some bumps while parenting, but I thought they would be few and far between. Any daughter of mine would follow her parents’ rules, just as I did (for the most part) when I was a child. I imagined my family would be like those on TV – we’d love each other so much that any problems we had would be resolved within an hour and replaced with hugs and laughter. Ha! Now I know how naïve I was.
In reality, my husband and I are blessed with a very independent, strong-willed, single-minded and articulate child. Rather than take direction, Emma prefers to give it – a trait she displayed from an early age and one that I have struggled with as her mother.
At one of Emma’s earliest dance recitals, my five-year-old and her class came onstage and began lining up for their performance. The next thing I saw was our daughter pointing and talking to the other girls. This went on for what seemed like an eternity before the dance teacher and studio owner, Connie, walked onto the stage to see what was amiss.
“Miss Emma, is there a problem?” she asked.
“Yes. She’s supposed to be over there,” Emma answered, gesturing to an empty space on stage.
“Not here?” Connie asked, pointing to the girl’s spot.
“No, over there,” Emma insisted.
Connie moved the girl to the space Emma had indicated (another dancer was missing) and asked, “Is that better, Emma?” Emma nodded. Connie looked up at the audience and said, “Emma will be running this studio in ten years.” I was embarrassed, but Emma was satisfied. The recital went on. This is the child my husband and I are raising.
While it wasn’t too hard to let Emma follow her passions and choose her hobbies – I would always take her to her passion of the week, watch while she tried it out and stay to celebrate or commiserate – there were other times when I felt like banging my head against a wall. Every family decision turned into a negotiation with her – a far cry from my TV family dreams.
The truth is that the combination of my expectations, my upbringing, my spouse and our child made for a pretty toxic home environment for a while. A wise woman told me to let go of the first two in order to keep the other two. My pre-teen daughter essentially echoed those words when, at one point, she told me to stop expecting her to be like her cousins and to learn to see her for who she was. That struck me to my core! All the while I had watched my daughter defy my expectations for her, blind to the reality that perhaps I wasn’t being all that Emma needed me to be.
As my husband and I steward our daughter into adulthood, we focus more acutely than ever on seeing her as she is and celebrating the woman she is becoming. I can see Emma’s strengths playing out so powerfully in her life. She’s an inquisitive, caring person and a loyal friend. She’s a passionate activist who traveled to help others on her first spring break rather than hitting the beach. Even though it scares me a bit, she’s in South Africa right now because that is where she can learn more for her major. She’s taught herself to do amazing things and still thinks she’s always right! I’ve come to realize that sometimes she is.
I’m learning to stop striving for the fanciful TV family life and instead to work toward being the best family we can. This means standing my ground when the matter is truly important, but also intentionally listening for the truth and value in my daughter’s view. This means accepting my child as a unique individual, hearing the deeper issues in our discussions and responding with patience and humility even when I may disagree with her position.
Parenting is tough, but it can be a bit less stressful when you realize that what children need is encouragement, for you to meet them where they are and to let them know that you believe in them, especially when they stop believing in themselves. Instead of always being right, it’s about being in relationship. And really, isn’t that what we all want and need?