I guess it might be clear to you by now that the emotions and behaviours of my eldest daughter often cause me a bit of angst (to say the least). So, it goes without saying that on our recent weekend away, our relationship was at the forefront of my mind.
I’ve been contemplating a lot lately (since penning my thoughts here) the root cause of our combined anxieties, and to be honest, I seem to be going round in circles looking for a definitive cause. Somewhere to lay the blame. Not that her behaviour is too extreme or concerning, it’s more our relationship I worry about. And I want her to grow into a nice person. You know? That basic kind of stuff that can play on your mind as a parent.
After thinking hard about it and trying to be as objective as possible, I feel the biggest issue for her is a conflict between her desire for independence, to be “the big girl” (maybe that’s me, pushing my eldest too far?), and her lack of confidence and self esteem. She wants to do it all. And she wants to do it herself. And there has been no middle ground. If she can’t do it, she falls in a heap, or screams, or abuses the nearest person.
Until recently. I’ve noticed a bit of a shift lately and am starting to think that a LOT of hard work on my behalf is finally paying off, but I’m not going to jinx it, so let’s just say things are improving for now.
I’ve been trying to think about the old rubber-band-of-attachment analogy (from uni? I can’t remember!) and how it applies to our relationship. Whether she doesn’t feel nurtured enough, either by my own lack of nurturing in her infancy or just because she was always going to feel this way due to her personality. Whatever the case, I’ve been trying to rein her back in, attach to her as much as possible. Love bomb the hell out of her (more on that another time), playfully parent with her, kiss her, cuddle her, remain calm when she melts down (easier said than done) and do my best to spend lots of one on one quality time with her. Basically trying to restore a bit of trust between us.
My thinking is that by holding her close, we can start the journey of independence again, this time with a very intact rubber band that she can feel very securely around her heart, so that at any stage she can come back close to me and try again. And again. And again. So that she can gradually stretch the rubber band, a tiny bit further, and further and further without feeling thrown out to the wolves all alone and feeling she has to make it in the big bad world without any help.
I want her to know I’m always here, that being the biggest and the eldest doesn’t mean she has to put on a brave face, that success doesn’t mean not asking for help, not persevering, being perfect first go.
And, for the first time in a long time, I feel this approach is working. She is calmer, she is trying, she is less embarrassed and angry about asking for help.
Just yesterday she was trying to get her new shoes on, and I could feel myself tensing up, waiting for her to lose it. I felt that walking-on-eggshells feeling as I quietly and nervously asked her if she wanted my help. And she did! “Yes please, I can’t undo the knots.” I was gobsmacked!
So, our recent weekend at the beach, staying in a quiet holiday village was the perfect opportunity for her to feel some success. For me to test the strength of our rubber band. I knew it was risky, but I really felt the benefits would pay dividends.
While away we were staying in a villa by the sea, short walking distance to the local general store. There were no roads between us and the store, just foot traffic and cyclists, several other villas and a playground. On our first day there she came with me to the store to buy the newspaper and again to buy supplies for dinner. On our second day I casually gave her a $5 note and asked if she’d pay for the milk while I looked at the magazines. And finally, on our last day, she and her little brother walked from our villa to the store, bought themselves an ice cream and walked back. Alone. My husband and I waited excitedly inside our patio, peering over the fence, praying they wouldn’t be coming back with their tails between their legs. Now, this was no NYC subway ride, but my goodness you should have seen their little faces when they did come back! The smiles said it all! That sweet ice creamy taste of success was well worth it. About 2 minutes after returning she offered to go and buy me an ice cream. And she did.
So, the ice cream story was me going off on a bit of a tangent, but really, my point is that by bringing her in close, holding her hand, letting her know there’s no expectations, that I can help, that I want to help, that I can cuddle her to sleep, that I can tie her laces and brush her teeth, we seem to be repairing the bond, and both trusting that rubber band again. And we had ice cream to prove it!