Lessons Learned: Honoring Your Kid’s Pace

I’m penning today’s Lessons Learned essay in honor of Laurel’s 10th birthday.

Longtime readers (or those who have read Minimalist Parenting) know that Laurel is a sweet and sensitive soul who has struggled with transitions. School transitions were incredibly challenging for us during the day care and early elementary school years, and until recently, our forays into extracurriculars and camps were either epic failures (meaning, mission aborted) or ridden with anxiety.

I’m not going to lie; there have been many moments when I wished Laurel was like her classmates who easily breezed from one thing to the next without question. Who tried new activities without batting an eyelash. Who waved goodbye quickly and cheerfully at drop off before jumping into the next activity. It was hard to feel the stares from other kids and parents during the drop-off meltdowns. It was panic-inducing (for me) to feel a teacher's elevating frustration. And it was utterly infuriating to hear people say, “What’s wrong with her?” (I can hear you if you’re saying that within 2 feet of me, by the way.)

Because nothing was wrong with Laurel. Her experience was just her experience.

However, despite knowing in my heart that Laurel wasn’t faking it -- that it was simply her personality and where she was developmentally -- I struggled with her stress-laden transitions too. I know that part of my frustration (perhaps even resentment at times) was totally my own baggage. As a kid I wanted to try everything but wasn’t able to pursue anything (due to finances). When I finally was able to partipate in school activities, I jumped in, fearless and ready to take center stage.

I haven’t been a Tiger Mom by any stretch, but there have definitely been instances where I have pushed Laurel’s pace (e.g., catastrophic swim lessons at age 4), and the results were disastrous -- painful and ineffective for all parties involved. So I decided to stop. I stopped projecting my baggage on Laurel. I stopped pushing her pace. I decided to hang back and simply let her grow. The stress immediately dissipated and the fledgling steps where Laurel decided to try something (on her own terms) were much happier. It was a perfect example of the power of doing less.

Over this past year Laurel evolved rapidly. She faced challenges and uncertainties, adapted when necessary, came out the other side, and became ever more resilient. She made it through a tough year of fourth grade, participated in an overnight trip to the Museum of Science (without me or Jon as a chaperone), and signed up for violin and made it through the concert (despite never practicing #badTigerMom). This summer, in a major departure from previous years, Laurel was eager to go to camp and sad when it ended. (When she said, "I'm so sad camp is over!" it took all of my strength not to have a total "NO WAY!!!!" freakout.)

And then last week, while we were on vacation in Maine, I watched Laurel tackle three challenges for the first time: she jumped off a jetty intro frigid water, scaled a rock wall (almost to the very top...her burning forearms were the only reason she didn't keep climbing), and maneuvered a towering, three-story rope obstacle course, including a zip line from the third story. Though she had every opportunity to back out, she was ready; she plunged forward with both excitement and nervousness on her face. And when she came out the other side, it was all excitement and “I want to do it again!”

I may or may not have cried behind my sunglasses.

Laurel, I’m sorry for the times when I put my agenda and my pace ahead of yours. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t listen to your internal compass and pushed you to really uncomfortable places. I mean, being uncomfortable and figuring out how to tackle fears and nerves is part of life (and I will continue to give you the space to practice dealing with that!), but you have helped me learn that a person may be better positioned to problem solve and tackle a challenge when you're not grinding against the emotional brakes. I’m grateful for you every day. Thank you for 10 years of lessons learned. Thank you for your patience with me. Happy birthday, sweet girl.

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Image credits: Christine Koh