Call me crazy but I’m a parent who tries to give her kids as much breathing room as responsibly possible. I’m finding that even after every attempt I’ve made to step back and give space for my kids to figure out and be whoever it is they are, they are still suffocating under a weight of pressure. There is no escaping law in this life, try as we may to fight it, it will find each of us and with it, bring burdens.
Not too long ago, my daughter came to me and wanted to make a big change. As you might already suspect, I say ‘yes’ to my kids far more often than I say ‘no’, but I always want to discern what’s going on inside of them before I give my answer. I prodded her with a few questions which led us into an incredible conversation, revealing a massive encumbrance of stress and fear she had been carrying.
It all sort of came roaring out of her red face towards me as if my questions were the final push against some invisible crack in a dam that just couldn’t hold together any longer. A full list of life laws. Laws that were being handed to her while she was out in the world trying to trudge her way through. They were knocking her down at every turn while she was trying to pass her next math test and not trip over her own feet walking across the cafeteria. These looming expectations lay over the heart and mind of my daughter like a heavy wet blanket, drowning out all sense of wonder and joy at new discoveries. With each burden she revealed, my heart grew heavier for her. I listened to her tear soaked angry rant about how being a girl meant getting married and having children on top of being beautiful and successful. She stressed to me that all her friends knew where they were going to college and she wasn’t sure that she even wanted to attend college, let alone have any idea what she wanted to do with her life. In utter frustration, she blurted out that pregnancy sounds really weird, changing her last name unappealing, and asked me what would happen if she didn’t want to do any of it.
Honestly, I stood there, shocked. Shocked that somehow as much as I have fought with myself to save my daughter from my hopes or expectations, these specific ones found their way to her and attached like a virus inside of her rapidly developing mind. My head started spinning, trying to figure out where on earth she was picking up on this kind of specific pressure. Coming up with nothing, I snapped back to reality and to her, still standing in front of me, waiting for an answer.
“So, don’t do any of that.”
A confused half-smile spread across her face, “What? Are you serious? Mom.”
Maybe I couldn’t protect her mind from contracting this ridiculous virus of societal bullshit, but this was the moment that I could rush in and fight like hell to remove it with my bare hands. I took a deep breath, and dove in.
“Kiddo, you’ve got one life. Just one. It’s not mine to live, it’s not your dad’s, or your friends’. It’s your life and you can decide exactly how you want to live it. The rules you hear that say you must get married, or have children, or go to college are complete bullshit. If you don’t want to get married, don’t. If you don’t want to have kids, don’t. If you don’t want to go to college, then don’t. But here’s the thing… you are 12 years old. You don’t even need to know whether you want any of that right now. What you want now will not look anything like what you want when you’re 18. The truth about your friends is that they don’t have a clue where they want to go to college, all they know is where their parents want them to go. They are simply regurgitating expectations that have been placed upon them. All you need to do right now is be a 12 year old girl. Listen to K-Pop, watch anime, dive into your art. Enjoy being a kid. Eventually, you’ll have to figure out how you want to support yourself as an adult, you won’t want to live with your dad and I forever. You need to make good grades so that if you decide later that you want to go to college, it’s an option for you. But all you need to concern yourself with at this moment is passing 6th grade. As far as the pressure to be beautiful, well, you don’t have a choice. You already are beautiful, inside and out. So just chill. Figure out who you are and what you enjoy, that’s enough right now.”
By the end of my speech, we were both crying and laughing with relief. This may be coming across like I’ve got all the answers, but I’ve honestly no clue what I am doing as a parent of a pre-teen. I literally feel like I’m just winging it moment to moment. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to relieve burdens that are unnecessary and offer words of life and comfort. I dig down deep and think about what I wish I had heard or what I did hear that didn’t work, say a quick “help me Jesus”, and then throw responses into the air and hope to God I don’t screw her up. Frankly, parenting is terrifying. I wonder if she has any clue just how scared I really am most of the time. What I want more than anything is for her to know that she’s loved, accepted, and supported in this life, whatever decisions she makes. I don’t want to control her, I just want to be here with her. I want to help her breathe.
Standing in the middle of my bathroom, on this particular day, I was able to accomplish that much.