The Character Movement

My Daughter, My Teacher

This blog post was written by Jane Leyden Cavanaugh, School Relations Representative and Joe Cavanaugh’s wife.

When my daughter Tess was born eight years ago, my world predictably shifted. No matter who you are, having a child will change your life and teach you so much about your own strengths and weaknesses.

Here are three big lessons that my daughter has taught me:

Let go of perfection. Last Christmas, I gave Tess a piano book for beginners. She immediately started to play “Joy to the World” and loved it. As a piano player myself, I began to correct her finger position and pointed out when she would hit a wrong note. She gradually became so annoyed by my corrections that she threw the book down and stormed away from the piano. That’s when it hit me. I’m going to suck the fun out of playing the piano with my need to make her play “perfectly.” I needed to let Tess be a seven-year-old and experience the joy of music. Eventually, she’ll learn the rules of piano, but it shouldn’t be my responsibility as a mom to teach her those – that’s her piano teacher’s job. I’m here to support her enthusiasm and encourage her gifts. I’m here to let her make mistakes and enjoy the experience.

Express your feelings. We have a saying in our household: “It’s okay to be mad, but not mean.” Tess is a passionate person with emotional highs and lows, like her Italian father, Joe. She’s so good at expressing what I have spent much of my life repressing: emotions, both good and bad. I grew up in a typical middle-class, Midwest family. Somehow I picked up the message that I shouldn’t get angry and I should only express my positive feelings. Joe and I work hard to teach Tess that it’s okay to feel mad and frustrated, but it’s not okay to take those emotions out on other people. That’s the distinction that’s so important, and it’s something that I’m still working on. It’s wonderful to see my young daughter express her frustrations with kindness and respect and it’s important for me to figure out as a 50-something-year-old how to do the same.

Apologize and let it go. A couple weeks ago, Tess and I had an argument over a small, somewhat trivial matter. The argument quickly escalated and I told her I was upset and needed a break. I went into my bedroom, closed the door and took a few deep breaths. About one minute later, I heard a gentle knock on the door and the pitter-patter of little feet scurrying away. I opened the door to find the note below:

I immediately went to Tess’ room and thanked her for the note. She said, “Okay, Mommy. Now let’s play!” I was so amazed by how quickly she was able to say she’s sorry and let go of the situation. I could have stayed angry and not played with Tess in that moment, but why would I waste that precious time? Why would I want to drag up the emotions of five minutes ago? Tess is an excellent teacher when it comes to living in the present moment.

As adults, we all know these lessons. We know that we need to be good, kind, respectful, forgiving, etc. But knowing and doing do not always go hand-in-hand. My daughter has shown me what it truly means to let go of perfection, express my true feelings and move on with forgiveness. And Tess’ lessons for me have just begun. I’m thrilled to be her student for years to come.

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