We have two children. Both girls, turning 10 and 12. To protect their privacy, I’ll call them number 71 (for my younger one, the soccer player) and the dancer (my big girl, starting seventh grade, with all of the drama and glory that goes along with it).
They have been a lesson in reality acceptance and meeting people where they are.
Probably from the very first. My husband and I were married in August. At the time we were living in London and both working as lawyers. It was the first time either of us had made any real money and we were excited to travel and buy stuff with our newly acquired (relative) wealth.
I was working a lot in Ukraine, doing securities work, and traveling regularly. My husband was working in Eastern Europe as well, so we would sometimes find ourselves meeting up for the Friday evening British Airways flight home from Moscow – at the time it was the banker special because it seemed every investment banker in London was doing some sort of deal in Russia, or Ukraine, or Turkey, or, or, or…we talked about kids, but we were only 27 and, like I said, the money was great. We came up with a three year plan for travel, etc. and, at the very end of that plan, we thought we might try for our first child.
About a week later, I fell asleep in a meeting with some senior government officials in Ukraine.
I got back the next day and was still tired. Really tired. Turns out, I was really pregnant.
The best laid plans.
6 months later the dancer was born (no, she wasn’t really early. I was just REALLY pregnant). Two years later, her sister, number 71 came into our lives.
I thought I knew what to expect from both of them, turns out I was really wrong about that too. It wasn’t that parenting was hard, though it was and is, it was that I had to let go of all my ideas about who they were or what they needed.
When the dancer was in preschool, I worried that she didn’t have enough friends and needed to have more play dates (despite her not asking for them). I invited so many kids over and pushed and pushed her to play with them because I didn’t want her to be lonely and unhappy. Turns out. She’s an introvert and didn’t really need more than a couple friends (this has changed as she has become a tween). She was happy all along (well, less so since I was forcing her to play with kids she barely knew/liked).
Meeting people where they are and accepting them is hard when we’re just getting to know people as adults. It’s REALLY hard when they’re your kids. You want them to be happy, but the reality is that their happy might just look different than your own. This is a strange and wonderful thing to accept. It’s freeing, in a way, because you realize that you absolutely can’t MAKE someone feel any which way, you can just support their efforts to build their own lives worth living.
I love my girls more than anything and still struggle to see things from their perspective, which is often intensely different from my perspective. Their values are different than my values and their needs are certainly different from mine. It’s been a good lesson to me in being mindful of the perspective through which I view their lives.
I would be lonely if I didn’t have a bunch of friends and acquaintances and an active social life. My daughter, not so much. I hated softball. Number 71, not so much.
They’re not me. It might be so much easier if they were. Then I would know what they need. I would know all the ways to make them feel loved and cared for and supported. Instead, I’ve had to learn their ways.
It’s made me a better therapist and more accepting person. It’s also given me a way to let go of the friendships and relationships that don’t work for me. You have to meet people where they are and, sometimes, where they are is not where you want to be.
There’s an old adage about when a person shows you who they really are…believe them. It’s totally true and something I remind clients of all the time. It made vulnerability much easier for me when I realized that if I ask someone to meet my needs and they can’t, it’s probably not about me or my needs – it’s a reflection of where they are. If someone repeatedly can’t meet your needs, you don’t get to change them, but you do get to choose to whether or not to continue in the relationship with them.
They’ve shown you who they are. Now you get to accept them. Or not.
Of course I choose to accept my kids, no matter how they are and if that means giving up (postponing) some of my best laid plans, that’s cool. I accept that reality. Totally worth it.