When I realized my kid was not like me, I could tell by the look in my daughter’s eyes that I’d breached a moral line.
My loving and kind-hearted daughter had been dealing with teasing and bullying all year. We’d been struggling to get the school and specific teachers to react in any way that could make us feel like they cared. I’d become even more jaded as the months rolled by, and the teasing continued.
“I made Miss Rebecca a birthday card; it’s her birthday today!” my daughter told me after school one day. My reply? “I really don’t care about her or her birthday.” My daughter gave me that look. How could I be so cold? Her eyes searched my face for any amount of empathy or even a hint that I was sorry. I knew my face was drawn and pinched in that disapproving grimace only mothers could make.
As I looked down at her while we were walking home, my face softened. Here was this lovely, empathetic little soul who only wanted to ensure everyone was happy and included. She didn’t deserve to be picked on because she played with the “different” child in her classroom. She didn’t deserve to be poked and laughed at because of how easily they could make her cry. But somehow, she remained this soft, sweet girl she’d always been, making a birthday card for the teacher who’d repeatedly made her feel like she was to blame for being bullied.
My response was to get angry, get my back up, and retaliate. My full mama bear mode was unleashed. But I also knew that this was my personality. I am guarded and careful and don’t trust people. I had a lot to learn from my little girl.
We are different, and that’s okay.
So often, we parents worry about how we raise our children to perform. Are they getting good grades? Are they making the right decisions for their high school classes? Do they have productive hobbies? Will they be successful, make money, and find a partner we can stand to be around?
It’s so easy to forget that kindness and empathy are the most human qualities we can possess. Altruism is how we survived as a species and flourished throughout millennia. We are tribal animals. We succeed by extending our hands and caring for those around us.
I was so caught up in ensuring the teachers were held accountable that I neglected to recognize the power of kindness and empathy that my daughter so naturally spread to others. Her bullies weren’t making this teacher birthday cards. And what better way to show that authority figure the true nature of my little girl and how she so clearly wants everyone to be happy and get along?
Recognizing that my child and I are so different is a precious gift. Learning that I could turn to her as an example of compassionate humanity made me soften myself and chip away at those hardened edges that had built up in reaction to the pain I couldn’t control.
The lesson I learned from my child.
Author and researcher Brene Brown said in her book Daring Greatly,
“Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.”
I hadn’t recognized that one way of dealing with conflict is to counteract it with compassion and grace. My daughter didn’t let the teachers or hurtful classmates change who she was. She stood firm, continuing to play with the child who had no one else, making people birthday cards and befriending any new student to the school. She volunteered to help out with the younger students. And she became a part of her school’s “Green Team” to spread positivity and eco-friendly initiatives to her classmates.
Meanwhile, I’d pulled back on volunteering for teacher appreciation. I’d brought the bar down for teacher Christmas gifts. I’d completely blocked out the idea of joining the parent-teacher community. But I knew I had to become more like my daughter if I wanted to change things. The most courageous thing I could do was not to let these disappointments reflect in my choices and twist my personality. My daughter is unlike me, but she has a lot to teach me.