My daughter and I were at the park last week — running, jumping, chasing ducks, and playing tag — when the unthinkable happened. When she was mocked and teased by a boy for the first time.
The very first time.
Of course, my initial reaction was full of hurt and sadness, anger and rage. I wanted to swoop in and hug her. To protect her. To go full on mama bear on the little twerp who thought it was okay to make fun of a girl because she (and her friends) were just that: girls.
Because I know how hurtful words can be. I know that pain.
But my mind told me I shouldn’t; my mind told me I needed to sit back and calm down; and my mind forced me to check myself. It told me to stop and pause and leave my insecurities at the door. Because while I hate to see my daughter struggling — while I hate the fact that my sweet, innocent, kind-hearted, and free-spirited 4-year-old is already experiencing feelings of disappointment, rejection, judgment, and being let down — I know that in order to grow, I must let her face these things. I know that I must let her feel these things. And I know that if I want her to become a well-rounded human being, I will have to let hurt. I will have to let her cry.
So I stepped back, stood by, and waited.
I tapped my foot, bit my nails, picked at the skin between my thumb and my forefinger, and watched.
And while my daughter didn’t run away or even cry, she was visibly frustrated. She was upset. And honestly, she was annoyed. But just as I was getting ready to speak up — moments before I stepped forward to yell her name — she decided to say something. She decided to tell this boy he was being “mean” and “not nice.” And while my daughter handled herself well — with poise and confidence, self-respect and pride — I was still rattled because my gut told me I needed to do more.
Because inside, I yearned to do more.
Of course, I know this desire to rush in and save her comes from my own painful childhood — I was a quiet girl. A shy girl. A girl who ran from bullies. Like, literally ran. (I once ran through a row of bushes and hid behind a tree.) And I always cowered.
For years, I stayed silent. I swallowed my words. But now? Now I want to scream. Now I want to yell. Now I want to advocate and intervene on her behalf — yes, even at the slightest provocation.
But I know that’s not what she needs. I know that that’s not what I need. And while I want to protect my daughter from the world — to shield her from all the hurt and sadness, fear and disappointment that will inevitably come her way — I can’t. Because doing so would be a disservice.
I need to help her help herself.
Make no mistake: I know not everyone will agree with my parenting approach. I know it sounds a little harsh. But I’m pushing her in front of traffic and seeing if she runs. I’m not dropping her off in the woods alone and seeing if she can find her way home.
I’m simply standing back, and looking on. I’m guiding her from the sidelines. Which, I assure you, is much harder.
You see, my daughter and I talk about these little incidents long after they end — from what she could have said or done to when it’s time to ask for help.
So yes, while watching her fall down sometimes is hard, I firmly believe it’s one of my most important jobs as Mom.
I’m not here to help numb her feelings; I’m here to teach her how to acknowledge them, how to cope with them, and how to move through them.
Because today, it may just be the harsh words of a boy on the playground; but tomorrow, she could be facing much worse. And I can only hope that when it’s time to send her off into the world, I’ve helped her develop the resilience she needs to make it on her own.