“Ohhhhhhaaaaaahhhhhh!” came Charlotte’s high-pitched wail from the back seat of the car as we drove to school. “What?!” said Fenner. “I forgot my books! I have to have them today, the teacher said!” she started to cry. “Oh, did they say you’d have to pay for them if you didn’t bring them in?” asked Fenner. “Yeeah,” she managed through her tears.

This would have been me before the program: “Charlotte, you forgot them again? I put them right on the steps for you. I didn’t check your backpack because I assumed you put them in! I have too much to do in the morning, I can’t remember it all for you! We can’t go back for them now, you’ll have to tell your teacher you forgot again.” What you don’t hear is my tone, chock full of frustration and resentment that I have to make sure about everything because otherwise I’ll look bad and my childrens’ incompetence will be exposed. That plus my annoyance that now we have to listen to Charlotte cry for the whole ride to school and what a crappy way to start the day. Ugh.

No matter what, this program has forever freed me from all that. So here’s what actually happened: “Charlotte,” I said in a calm voice, “We know the books aren’t lost, so all you need is another chance to bring them in.” Charlotte sniffled a bit more, then stopped crying completely, and when we got to school she hopped out and skipped toward the door. And the next day, all on her own, she brought her library books to school.

That’s one small example of what’s possible when you learn to step back and give your child the space to own what is hers to own. When you untangle yourself from their lives. When you send the clear message: I am not depending on you to be perfect. No matter how many mistakes you make, you will not disappoint me because I will no longer turn your problems into my problems. And I will not burden you with my own desires for personal prestige.

Entanglement is just how it sounds: restrictive, limiting, frustrating, burdensome, exhausting. It does no favors, and to a relationship it is toxic. No matter what, I am forever liberated by this program from supermom mode. Supermom mode is the know-it-all, do-it-all fantasy that parents mistakenly strive for because we don’t know any better. For years I thought I was supposed to make sure of everything for my girls. Any time they faltered, I would be there to make sure. That was my job, and that’s what others expected of me. Problem is, I was buckling under the weight of it all and bringing my family down with me.

Now, instead, I imagine a little white picket fence between me and my girls. I can still see them, notice them, pay attention to what they’re doing and experiencing. I can reach out and touch them, hug them, talk with them, smile at them, love them. But the boundary is there to remind me: their space, their world, their life. I am near, but not in.

I’m not perfect either and I don’t always stay on the right side of the fence, but now I know it’s there and I recognize those moments when I leap over it and find myself trespassing again. Whoops! Sorry, my bad. Back up, step over, start anew.

ps So here’s a recent example of me trespassing: Fenner needed snow boots and we happened to be near a store with a 20 minute window between activites. This is a recipe for disaster: a rushed shopping errand with my daughter who has difficulty speaking up when she feels any sort of pressure.

Me: “Ok, c’mon, oh good they have the boots you like, oh look! Pink cammo! I’ve never seen these before, do you like these?”

Fenner: A silent, cautious shrug.

Me (to the sales clerk): “Hi, we’re here for snow boots for her, she’s usually a size 8, yes women’s size, oh ok, so the women’s boots don’t have the same color selection, hmmm, Fenner? Do you like any of these?”

Fenner: In a low voice, “Um, I don’t really like any of these styles.”

Me: “None of them? … Oh, the woman just said that a kid’s 7 is about the same as a woman’s 8, I didn’t know that! Ok, so, over here, Fenner, do you like the pink cammo?”

Fenner: Sitting slumped on the bench “I don’t know … not really …”

Me: “Well c’mon Fenner, you have to speak up! Stand up and look at the boots and tell them which ones you want!”

Fenner: Now fully pushed into her shell she starts to tear up, “Mom, I don’t know, you’re the one who told them to get those pink ones but nobody asked me!”

Me: In the back of my head I hear – Uh oh, I’m a maniac here, but I can’t stop, look at what it’s doing to Fenner! Must … back … off … I take a deep breath. “Ok, just, which ones do you want because we’re running out of time.” I start pointing at the different choices one at a time and finally I point to one and she nods and manages a small smile.

We buy the boots and Fenner seems fine but I consciously visualize myself stepping back over the fence to my own side. I thought I was letting her choose but just by charging in there in a rush and doing way too much talking, it didn’t matter what I was actually saying, the message was loud and clear: We need to get this done fast so I’m in charge. Follow me, answer my questions and we’ll get it done right.

Yikes. Hindsight is so 20/20. It’s not worth getting it done fast. My plan for next time: Take her shopping when there’s no big time pressure and either find a place to sit in the back of the store or, better yet, stay in the car and let her shop and check-out all by herself.

She probably won’t like it at first — she’s so used to getting my approval for her choices. But I know from experience that if we push past that I’ll get to see that proud smile as her confidence bumps up another notch, and our relationship takes another step in the right direction.

Explore posts in the same categories: Weeks following: Miscellaneous

10 Comments on “Liberated”

  1. Vicki Says:

    Brilliant. This post was so good for me to read. Thank you for this gift. I have printed it out and taped it to the wall. Big Font so I can read it easily. Don’t even have to read the entire piece. Just enough to slap me to my senses. Thank you.

  2. Jennifer Says:

    You are amazing. I am crying. Your family is inspiring. Keep writing. Don’t stop. Thank you. Thank you.

  3. Kristin Neibert Says:

    Thanks for the picket fence visual! I think that is going to be a very useful tool for me 🙂

  4. Debby Says:

    Wow! I am printing out paragraph 4 to tape onto my bathroom mirror to read every morning. Thanks for articulating this so beautifully.

  5. flockmother Says:

    Love hearing from you all and so glad this post was helpful — more soon!

  6. Sblanck Says:

    definitely don’t stop writing! I really liked this post. Am passing on to my husband as this is more eloquently said than I can possibly hope for. Love the boot story.
    Thanks this is my inspiration for the day – after a particularly wrong -side- of – the -fence morning!

  7. Wow. I’ve been reading your posts all along and I am so impressed and inspired by you. Futhermore, I ALSO printed paragraph 4 before I even read the comments and saw that someone else did, too! I’m sure I’m just one among MANY who are enormously grateful to you for taking the time to chronicle your experiences. I’ve been working with Vicki’s program for 7 or more years but am reminded by your posts how often I cross the picket fence, and more importantly, that if I remain in a place of choice I can recognize where I am and cross back over again. Thank you. Please keep writing.

  8. Lee Says:

    This post is amazing! Exactly the reminder I needed. Keep writing, you are obviously influencing all of us! Thank you!

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