Last week my daughter turned four. As a parent I’ve been keenly aware of my “impact” on her, what I tell her, how I talk to her, what I expect of her in hopes of not completely screwing her up for life.
Anyway… when we’re in a store and she really wants something (that I’m not willing to buy her) I often tell her she can have the thing, and then ask her if she has the money to pay for it. She says no and then we brainstorm what her options are if she really wants this thing. It usually ends up in some problem solving and then her putting the item back on the shelf until she can get the money to pay for it. This usually happens without a huge tantrum and without her throwing herself on the ground crying (which happened quite often before I figured this little trick out).
Last week being her birthday she received money in a card from some relatives. She was THRILLED to actually have the money to pay for it! Whatever IT was that she decided on. It was very exciting for her and she thought about what she wanted to buy for quite a while. We met up with my Mom and took her to the store to pick out a horse, which is one of her very favorite things.
She looked at every horse related thing, and every other toy in the store heavily weighing her decision. She finally chose a horse with a rider that was in her price range and set out to the check out to pay for it.
She put her horse on the conveyor belt and stood there looking so proud. I told her to get her money out ~ which was in her pocket. She reached deep in her pocket and the shiny smile left and was replaced with a look of utter panic. She checked the other pocket and then just looked at me with such confusion.
I checked her pockets and low and behold, her money was gone. I took a deep breath and tried to think of the best way to handle the situation. What was going to be best for her, allowing her to learn, to live through the moment and grow from it.
However, while I was thinking… (mind you it was all of 25 seconds) my Mom swooped in and told the cashier to just put it all together and she’d pay for it. (All three of us had things to buy that day). The cashier rang it up and before I could even finish giving her a hug and think, the situation was over.
As we were walking out the door my Mom said, “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want her to get upset and start crying”.
Why the hell not??
She just experienced a really frustrating, scary and upsetting situation. She just realized something that was there a minute ago can suddenly be gone the next time you look. Why can she not feel sad or afraid or mad? Why can she not express those feelings? Why can’t she cry in the middle of Target?
Is it because our family has a little tiny rule that says “You’re not allowed to be anything but HAPPY!! (dammit) If you’re not happy you better hide away in a room somewhere and NEVER show you’re unhappiness to anyone else”? Yeah, maybe. It got me thinking and I could distinctly remember some pretty crushing times in my life where I started to lose it in public and was told not to cry, or to get over it, wait until we got home or go to my room if I was going to cry.
I can understand the rush to swoop in for someone that lives with that rule. My daughter can be over the top and inconsolable at times. I can see how my Mom might think she was going to die if my daughter started wailing with grief over her lost $20 in the middle of Target. I get it.
But … it’s not the truth.
The stories we made up. The stories we live our lives by are not the truth. They are just that; stories that we made up. They are also stories we made up years ago to protect ourselves as children. They are no longer necessary, true or sometimes useful as adults.
Those stories are so ingrained and they seem so much like “who we are” that they have become default. It is the only thing we know, so we use it. If these beliefs serve us, by all means we should keep them. However, I’ve yet to find one that really serves, and I personally do not want my daughter to grow up thinking it’s not ok to show her emotions. I don’t want her to think it’s not ok to cry ~ in public, or in her bedroom.
The only way we can change our default, old, worn out stories is to take them out and look at them. Put them under a microscope. Ask questions, of the stories, of their ability to serve, of our selves, and then as an adult with an open mind decide. It’s in that moment of objectivity that you can make the decision to change your belief, throw away that worn out story, with clarity and the mind of an adult, who is safe and OK, instead of in the story of a child.
What stories do you tell yourself? How do they shape your life? Are you teaching the same stories to your children or do you hope to teach them something different? I’d love to hear from you… this is still tender terrain for me and seeing it from other people’s perspective helps to shine light on that which is true and that which I made up when I was young and needed the stories.