Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Daughter's (and my) Sadness


My youngest, Evelyn, is very much like me. She is funny and talkative, but would just as soon stay at home by herself and create worlds. What I do with a keyboard and letters on a screen, she does with dolls and toys. I often listen to her narrating and singing stories to herself through her dolls and figurines. Evelyn is an extraordinary reader who gobbles books by the day. She is smart and often uses phrases such as "of her own accord" in conversation with adults. She is a delight and she makes strangers smile just to look at her.

Like me, however, she struggles to believe in herself. She wonders how everyone else seems so secure in who they are, what they know, and the things they can do. She is extraordinarily sensitive to criticism. She has a deep fear that she won't be liked and isn't worthy of friendship or love. Were it possible, I would have rewritten my genetic code before passing these things on to her.

That being impossible, Evelyn and I have these things to deal with. The best I can do for her is to keep working on myself and to listen as carefully as I can to her. Today that meant sitting on our bed with her and talking about what is going on in her life. She and her older sister have been going back and forth, as siblings do, about who is mean and who hates who and which is the worst sister. Evelyn, given to exaggeration as is her father, was sure that no one likes her, that everyone is mean to her all the time, and that she never does anything right. At this she burst into tears.

I could see myself in her scrunched up face.

I stopped myself from telling her to stop crying. I kept myself from saying, it's alright. I told her that I was sorry she felt that way and that I feel the same way sometimes. I asked her to explain and, after a bit, she did.

As parents, we get to see ourselves in our children and we relive our childhood's through them. There were many times when I felt as Evelyn was feeling today and that I sat on my bed crying about it while my mother or father talked to me.

My parents worked hard to make a better life for my brother and me than they had for themselves. That's about as much of a goal as most of us parents have. Just make things better. My folks were burdened by who they were and how they were parented. If I was to raise any complaint about my upbringing it is that I was discouraged from feelings. The idea was to fix the problem, distract me from the feeling, and otherwise push problems away. I see why they went that route, but one of my goals is to help my kids feel their emotions, experiencing them and being aware that this is how life works.

Sitting on the bed with Evelyn, I most wanted to experience the emotions of the moment with her. To do that I had to experience my own sadness and anxiety. I was sad that she felt such pain and anxious that I had no solution for it. I wanted to make my sadness go away and stop feeling anxious. Instead, I sat with those feelings and sat with Evelyn. As it turns out, things were okay. Not great, but okay, and we got through.

Now, Evelyn is in bed and she went to sleep with a smile and several dozen stuffed animals. I'm sitting at the kitchen table still worrying, but not so much that I have to get out some toolbox and fix the pains or wall them off. For now, it's enough to experience these emotions. And when in doubt, I take the emotions to the computer and write on.