Six years ago, when on a road trip, we had stopped for treats and Will took a good 15 minutes to decide between types of beef jerky. (How different can they be?) Jen and I would have used the restroom, gotten our drinks and goodies, and stood by the car watching the sun setting while he was still trying to make a choice.
I remember thinking I’ve got to help that kid learn how to choose without worrying about making a mistake. He’d grown accustomed to having his choices doubted and questioned. He’d pick a blue t-shirt and his dad would say, “Why did you pick that color. You should pick green.” He would order a coke, and his dad would say, “No! You are having lemonade.”
Will had a history of making “bad” choices, as far as his dad was concerned, so any time he was faced with making a decision, he was paralyzed. Even if his dad wasn’t there.
Now, when Will drives up to a convenience store, he’s in and out faster than I am. And when it comes to making the big choices, like his first rifle or a pair of skis, he does his homework. He looks at reviews online. He asks for the opinions of others. He’ll search out a clerk at the store and pummel him with questions. When he feels confident with his choice – and he does – he proceeds.
It’s a beautiful thing to see.
For as long as I can remember, Jenny has always worn her hair long – really long – down below her butt, long. I used to describe her as being 60 percent hair. I can remember being her age and having long hair. I used to hide behind it. I was concerned about Jen doing the same thing, but I didn’t bring it up, because you know what happens when you plant a thought in a kid’s head.
In the last year, she has been wanting me to cut her hair. My response has been, “Okay. Let’s do it.” Even though I could overthink the prospect of cutting all that hair and propose all the what-ifs, I purposely chose to be nonchalant about the whole thing. “How much do you want to cut off?” It’s only hair. Right? We started with seven inches. She liked it, but two weeks later she wanted three more inches cut off. There was no agonizing or debating or worrying, so I grabbed the scissors and we cut some more.
Each time we cut her hair, I could see a change in her. She became less shy, more confident. Now that her hair falls just below her shoulders, she’ll be in a room full of extended family, listening to the banter, and suddenly, she’ll offer up a hilarious comment. I see the surprised looks on family members. They are so used to her being the quiet introvert. She still is an amazing introvert, but now she is less hesitant about sharing her sense of humor.
Maybe that has nothing to do with hiding behind all that beautiful hair, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence. She made the choice to cut her hair. I did not get in her way. She was allowed to be in charge of a positive opportunity to build confidence.
Signs of Thriving
The jury is still out on whether my approach to parenting two kids with a narcissistic dad is beneficial. It’s a little late to change course now, but I’m always looking for signs of thriving. It’s scary business being the only parent in charge. The costs of messing up are too great. Once in awhile, it’s good to see a glimpse that we are on the right track.
- We’ve gone to the same pediatrician since Will was five years old. (Is it time to look into a new doctor when your kid is taller than your pediatrician?) His doc was telling him that he has turned into a fine young man. He sees all kinds of kids grow up, and a lot of them take some scary turns. He told Will to tell his mom that she’s done a fine job. (That’s when I look to the Universe and give thanks for the sign!)
- I see how they deal with stress. They both find a comfort zone and stay there until they feel like they can handle life again. Will finds a favorite fishing hole. Jen grabs her watercolors and paper and gets in her creative zone. These coping methods will serve them their whole lives.
- I see how they interact with their dad. For the most part, his snide comments bounce off of them. After time spent with him, the kids compare notes, shake their heads and laugh. It has been a long time since either one has taken anything he’s done personally.
- Most importantly, I see how they treat others, not just family and friends, but strangers, as well. They are kind and courteous. They consider the feelings of others. They don’t expect special treatment. They make eye contact. They shake hands. They remember their manners, and they use manners at home, too. (I don’t care if that makes me sound old fashioned.) They treat each other with the same kindness and courtesy, even while driving each other nuts. When they get on each other’s nerves, they know it’s due to stress or hunger or exhaustion.
They aren’t perfect. (That is not a yardstick in my house any more.) They understand the importance of being who they are in a world that throws a lot at them. Most times, they know when to rein themselves in, and when it’s okay to be hooligans.
They also know that their thriving is totally up to them.