A few months ago I wrote ‘A Letter to My Sweet Daughter’ about an experience at swimming lessons. That morning I watched the instructor saying something to the class. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I watched my daughter look up and there was a slight shake of her head. The other kids were smiling but she was not. I let my eyes follow hers as she listened to her teacher say something one more time and I watched her shake her head. I saw the teacher move her along the wall to join the class next to hers while he took her fellow classmates up the stairs to the top. I then watched my daughter slowly look up to make eye contact with me. She was not smiling. She looked worried. I could see the beginning of tears. I walked over and crouched down. My daughter then quickly said, “Momma, I don’t want to do that slide. It doesn’t make me feel safe.”
I saw her take a deep breath. Waiting for my response. I could see the fear that she thought I may tell her she had to try. That she had to be brave. Honestly I thought about it. Those words were right at the tip of my tongue. I almost told her to just go with the class. I could have said to stop worrying and give it a try. But I took a deep breath and looked at my sweet daughter and I could feel her struggle. Surprisingly, I found myself smiling at her and instead of telling her she needed to be brave and go down that water slide I said, “That’s ok sweetie. I never want you to do something that makes you feel afraid.” Her eyes lit up and there was her brilliant smile. She exhaled and simply said, “Ok, thanks Momma”. Today I am grateful that I had this moment of clarity. I thought about the courage it took for her to admit her fear and make the choice she did. Her courage to tell her swim instructor and her mommy that she was afraid because what she was asked to do didn’t feel safe. I am still thinking about that day. I don’t want her to do anything that makes her feel afraid. Challenged, yes. Maybe a teensy bit nervous, sure. Butterflies are one thing, but afraid? No. That feeling inside when you just know something doesn’t feel right to you…I want her to keep connected to her intuition. That day at the pool, the floor to ceiling water slide and my daughter made me realize something huge about our ability to say no.
I realized my daughter was being brave. It took all she had to tell her teacher no, and then look up at me and tell me she felt afraid. She listened to her heart. She understands there are times to be brave and there are times to know her limits. That sometimes it takes even more bravery to not do something and to stand up for yourself. She knows when to stand her ground no matter what. For herself. When I think about it almost all children are good at this. They challenge themselves (and us) trying new things daily. They push limits and stand their ground. Sometimes we see it as plain stubbornness, but if we look close, at times it may be more than that. It may not always be just to disagree. It might be bravery. We have a choice about when to let them have that say. We can let our children say no. We don’t have to push our children into something they aren’t possible ready for.
I know as my daughter gets older, the more times she is brave by listening to her heart, by saying no, her confidence in herself and in her choices will grow. I know that by my respecting her decisions of when to push herself and when to back away will strengthen her self-esteem. I hope that every time I validate her feelings when she says she is not ready that I help her stay connected to her inner bravery. I hope it will be easier for her to continue to say no, when it will really matter, throughout her life. I want her to be able to say confidently say no to friends, boyfriends, situations, anytime where she doesn’t feel ready or when the situation feels wrong. I want her no’s to mean something when she says them. I want her to believe in her choices.
I know her confidence will also grow when she does challenge herself by saying yes, but there will be a balance. A balance of external and internal bravery that will make her a strong well-rounded woman. I want her brave yesses to be ones of excitement and positive challenge, not ones of fear. I want her to never lose the ability to voice her feelings. I want the times she is brave by saying yes to leave her feeling proud, not feeling compromised. I know from experience when we say yes, but are really feeling a no, the outcome does not leave a feeling of accomplishment or self pride. I will help her to continue to evaluate her choices by asking her to explain why she is saying no and listening to her reasons. Really listening.
Oh, and that water slide, my daughter may choose to go down it at some point. Or she may always be afraid of them. Adrenaline may never be her thing. This is okay with me. There is nothing wrong with not liking those types of activities. Parenting is often trial and error and I am grateful for the times I feel like I got it right and that my children often help me out along the way.