We had kinder photos last week and the photographer, who also happens to be my sister, said to me – “I couldn’t get Lola off the obstacle course! So I don’t know how great the photos will be…”
Lol. “No worries” I said.
“She said to me she was doing a challenge, and her challenge was to finish the obstacle course. She was pretty focused” said my sister.
This was pretty incredible and great news for me. Lola has always been ‘motor skilled delayed’, not significantly, not diagnosably, just not at the same level as her peers. Given her late walking, her 'physical-ness' has always been our challenge – from getting her to walk, to getting her to walk long distances, to running, to climbing. Largely, she creatively finds ways around it – she chooses different play, she plays to her other strengths or she engages someone to help her.
I've sat with this for some time, tossing up if what I was judging as ‘wrong’ was also quite it possibly what was serving her in many other ways; including the compensating over-development of many other skills she focused on instead of gross-motor.
So I guess, I wasn't doing much to 'change it', just observing her, observing me, sometimes saving her or mediating our reality to accommodate her needs, and sitting with what came up within this dynamic. That was until what I had been avoiding was sent crashing into my consciousness....
Lola had her first 'official' party invite the other week, it was quite the big deal, with quite the excitement build up. So here we were at this birthday party and she wouldn’t leave my lap, wouldn't even enter the indoor playground area and I could see we had hit a point where the pain of avoiding her gross-motor 'issues' was now greater than the pleasure. It was now 'in the way' not 'on the way'. I got plugged in, I got angry and mother-guilty and we left. It was a pivotal point for both of us. I lost my shit, I voiced my deepest fears and concerns to my husband, we work shopped ideas on how to progress and I felt heard – all my fears out in the open.
Since then, 4 weeks ago, Lola has consistently looked for opportunities to climb. Wherever we are, she completely independently tries something new, something a little outside her comfort level or just tries playing on climbing equipment. This week at kinder I came outside with her at drop off because she wanted to show me what she was working on with the climbing A-frame.
I assumed Lola's kinder teacher had instigated this change by having a conversation with her and helping her set up a ‘personal challenge’ for climbing, as I’d highlighted this as an issue at the start of the year. So I asked her teacher if she'd had a conversation with Lola about it. “No” she replied. i was a little shocked, i couldn't quite place how this had come about. Her teacher continued “She’s just doing that on her own, she’s gradually moved in comfort zones from indoor play to outdoor play. She’s very focused on achieving her own challenge”.
I was overcome with emotion and gratitude. I stood there in front of her teacher, welling up with tears, hit with the power of all 'my labels' on her, with immense gratitude and with the impact of her smashing it all for me and showing me another way.
All my musings on 'what was wrong with her' were all the reasons she was here; self-motivated, goal-setting and achieving with grit and determination. All qualities I value, but up until now hadn’t recognised as anything more than a 'determined personality'. How blinded we can be by the labels we set and by what our perceptions (or wounds) let us see. She was so like me and yet I hadn't seen it. She didn't do what I said, she did what i did. Quietly. Without the need for support or recognition. Gosh. So powerful.
It got me thinking more broadly around how seriously we take our role as teachers and providers of opportunity for development, learning and growth.
Do we actually need to push our kids in their growth, or when the time is right do they find it on their own? Do we actively need to direct play and learning, or do they discover exactly what they need when they need it?
Magda Gerber answered this one for me in her book, Your Self-Confident Baby:
"Why do many of us want our children to achieve (milestones) as early as possible? Is it because we, as parents, feel success or failure through our connection to our children? Are we projecting our egos and sense of achievement on our children? Pressure damages a child's delicate self-confidence by telling her, "be other than what you are"...
...Parents may push their children out of fear, wanting their child to be "normal". They may become anxious about their child's rate of development...if their child is slower than average, parents may worry or even panic...
....Every average, healthy child learns to sit and stand and walk. It is unimportant when a child reaches these developmental milestones. They don't influence later life. Before getting married, did your husband or wife ask you when you took your first steps or at what age you learned to read? Milestones are not the gauge of a child's intelligence. I always think of Albert Einstein...he didn't speak until her was three years old..."
And more broadly still, what of the role of support and challenge?
Had my daughter not experienced the challenge of fear, social isolation and emotional pain brought on by “not fitting in” at a birthday party that was important to her, would she have the motivation to change? Likely not.
If there is no challenge in the family unit, it will come externally.
We were over-supporting her, so 'she' called in the challenge she needed for her next growth, which she was ready for but avoiding.
What I had labeled as a “hideous experience” is indeed one I now see we all needed to equilibrate and grow and ultimately, I’m now grateful for.
This scenario fascinates me no end. For me, its entangled in discovering our kids genius, in recognising their greatness beyond our limited views and trusting the journey of their evolution.
It also highlights to me the nuances in both family and parent-child dynamics. She was setting me up to feel the fear and frustration she does, clinging on so tightly I 'had' to remove my support enough for her to find her own internal resourcefulness and in doing so, allowed me to face my inner child fears, get congruent with my values, get honest in my communications and grow through witnessing her journey.
How profound is the parenting gig?!
Just when I think I can see its genius, a new level of awareness arises and I am humbled in how little I actually know and how vast the connections are.
There is always perfection at play, even when the pain is so great we're blinded to it's presence.
If you're ready to really understand support and challenge, dynamics at play beyond behaviour and how it's all interconnected to your own growth - then you're ready to come and join us for 5 interactive weeks in June for our Loathing to Loving Program.
Julie Tenner is Co-founder of Nourishing The Mother and is The Pleasure Nutritionist. Julie is a Naturopath, specialising in women’s and children's health, with specific focus on awakening women to their full potential – health for the mind, body and soul – creating lasting life change for you and your family by “coming home” to your magnificence.