Indulge this mom for a minute while I tell you a few things about my first-born daughter. Graham and I have been at this parenting thing for a bit now, and we are here to report that the sweet spot of childhood is about a decade in (don’t despair you moms of sassy 3-year-olds! You’ll get there.) Our Maddox is coming into her own. She’s clever and quick-witted, empathic and generous. Just last week she got her first babysitting gig for a neighbor and she nailed it. She bought a sketchbook with the earnings and has been working on her watercolors. A few days from now she’s participating in a regional debate tournament. She just wrote a counter-argument defending restrictions of free speech on college campuses, and I’m all, “Whose child are you?” She’s a cool kid, y’all, and I’m a proud mama.
Recently, I took Maddox with me to a community event. It was an weird day for me—another daughter of mine had gotten sick the night before, and I just wasn’t feeling my best. We hung out there for a few hours but as we drove away, I admitted to Maddox that I had been lonely at that event. I only had conversations with a few people, and ended up feeling friendless in a large crowd—the worst kind of lonesome. My daughter, who had been having a blast with her buddies, turned to me in the car and said, “Oh Mom, I am SO sorry.”
“No, no, that’s okay,” I told her. “I’m okay.”
I took time to explain that not every event, every moment, and every interaction is going to make you feel like a million bucks. There will be times when you experience unbelonging, and that’s not a bad thing. I told her how my struggle with solitude at the event made me even more grateful for the friends I have, and the time I regularly get to spend with them. I explained that feeling left out enables a wider capacity for empathy for those who are secluded or marginalized. The hardship of standing alone—however momentary—is actually a good thing because it builds resilience.
Why did I bear my heart to a 10-year-old that day?
Because I don’t want to shield my daughter from my own vulnerabilities, especially as she enters her pre-teen years.
I don’t want to wear so much armor that she can’t connect with me when she’s feeling left out, alone, or pushed aside. I want her to know that she can share her feelings, her tears, and her burdens without shame or fear of recourse. That she will always belong in this family. That vulnerability is not weakness, imperfections are not disgraceful, and failure is not fatal.
And that’s what this parenting is all about, right? Connecting with our kids, softening their hearts, and imparting little bits of wisdom along the way. I sure wish there was a manual for this. But until then, I’m gonna keep it real with my babes, pray for grace, and hope a few lessons stick.