I’ll be the first to admit, I often “help” my children much more than necessary. Whether it’s getting their clothes picked out, pouring them cups of water, or otherwise bringing them things they could get themselves, I’m guilty of all of it. I’m trying to be better though. I’m telling them to get their own cheese stick from the refrigerator or figure out what shoes to wear without my input. Baby steps.
When Sienna gets out of the bath, she still wants my “help” or at least morale support while she dries off and gets her pajamas on. She’s always freezing cold (as “freezing” as you can be in a house that’s 77 degrees!) and won’t believe me when I reason with her that the faster she dries her body and gets her pajamas on, the warmer she’ll be.
Last night, I wasn’t feeling particularly stressed or hurried, but for some reason I told her to get herself dried and dressed. She didn’t need me. Her reply was of the whiny, tired variety: “Mom, I do need your help!”
As I scooted her towards her bedroom, I said “It’s so frustrating to have a nine year old who can’t seem to get themselves dressed alone.”
Sienna has remarkable emotional intelligence, and I noticed her surveying my face to see how I felt. Although my tone wasn’t particularly harsh, I was aware that my face expressed frustration and disappointment.
She looked at me with deep hurt in her beautiful brown eyes, “Fine, I don’t need you. Just go, Mom.” I tried to play if off and apologized flippantly. Her look bore into me, “Just go,” she repeated.
I saw a flash of teenage years and what our future interactions could look like. I’ve hurt her and made her feel inadequate, I thought.
I knelt down and took both of her arms in my hands. “Sienna, I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?” She sank down onto my lap and she said, “Yes, I forgive you. I just had a really bad day…” As she proceeded to tell me the troubles and frustrations of her day, I took a deep breath.
Even before I went through my awakening, there were certain things that I did that built a connection with my daughter. Although all the baby books said to lay her down awake in her bed at night, I literally rocked and sang Sienna to sleep every night until she was 2 1/2 years old. I felt guilty about it for the first year, and then I realized it was our special bonding time and I was going to enjoy it! Then, when she was too big for that, I lay beside her until she fell asleep. When she was 3 years old, I realized that she didn’t need me to be there when she fell asleep. She felt so secure in her bed after years of our nightly routine.
Currently, there are days she asked me to come talk with her while she’s in the bathtub or “help” her by sitting on her bed while she gets her pajamas on. I’m not actually doing something for her and thereby handicapping her development, she just wants me there.
Our family has frequent talks about the importance of apologizing and asking for forgiveness when we hurt one another. Talks are one thing, but opportunities to demonstrate the restorative, reconciliatory joy of forgiveness are precious. They also lead to deeper connection and often the release of emotions that have built up. Sitting there listening to Sienna’s worries about her day, it was so clear that nothing else was as important. Everything else could wait.