I Stopped 'Pushing' My Daughter & That's When She Learned to Fly

My 11-year-old daughter Laurel is a sweet and sensitive soul who has struggled with transitions. School transitions were incredibly challenging for us during the day care and early elementary school years, and until recently, our forays into extracurriculars and camps were either epic failures (meaning, mission aborted) or riddled with anxiety and tears.


I’m not going to lie; there have been many moments when I wished Laurel was like her classmates who easily breezed from one thing to the next without question. Who tried new activities without batting an eyelash. Who waved good-bye quickly and cheerfully at drop-off before jumping into the next activity. It was hard to feel the stares from other kids and parents during the meltdowns. It was panic-inducing (for me) to feel a teacher's elevating frustration. And it was utterly infuriating to hear people say, "What's wrong with her?" (I can hear you if you’re saying that within two feet of me, by the way.)

Because nothing was wrong with Laurel. Her experience was just her experience.

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However, despite knowing in my heart that Laurel wasn’t faking it -- that it was simply her personality and where she was, developmentally -- I struggled with her stress-laden transitions too. I know that part of my frustration (perhaps even resentment at times) was totally my own baggage. As a kid I wanted to try everything but wasn’t able to pursue anything (due to financial reasons). When I finally was able to participate in school activities, I jumped in, fearless and ready to take center stage.

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I haven’t been a Tiger Mom by any stretch, but there have definitely been instances where I have pushed Laurel’s pace (e.g., catastrophic swim lessons at age 4), and the results were disastrous -- painful and ineffective for all parties involved. 

So I decided to stop. I stopped projecting my baggage on Laurel. I stopped pushing her pace. I decided to hang back and simply let her grow. The stress immediately dissipated and the fledgling steps where Laurel decided to try something on her own terms were much happier. It was a perfect example of the power of doing less.

Over the past couple of years, Laurel has evolved rapidly. She has faced challenges and uncertainties, adapted when necessary, come out the other side, and become ever more resilient. During her fourth and fifth grade years, she made it through challenging social situations, learned to play guitar (and perform onstage!), opted into soccer, and participated in an overnight trip to the Museum of Science (without me or Jon as a chaperone). The past couple of summers have represented a major departure from previous years, in which Laurel has been eager to go to camp and sad when it ended. (When she said, "I'm so sad camp is over!" it took all of my strength not to have a total "NO WAY!!!!" freak-out.)

During a recent summer vacation in Maine, I watched Laurel tackle three challenges for the first time: she jumped off a jetty intro frigid water, scaled a rock wall (almost to the very top ... her burning forearms were the only reason she didn't keep climbing), and maneuvered a towering, three-story rope obstacle course, including a zip line from the third story. Though she had every opportunity to back out, she was ready; she plunged forward with both excitement and nervousness on her face. And when she came out the other side, it was all excitement and "I want to do it again!"

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I may or may not have cried behind my sunglasses.

Laurel, I’m sorry for the times when I put my agenda and my pace ahead of yours. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t listen to your internal compass and pushed you to really uncomfortable places. I mean, being uncomfortable and figuring out how to tackle fears and nerves is part of life (and I will continue to give you the space to practice dealing with that!), but you have helped me learn that a person may be better positioned to problem solve and tackle a challenge when you're not grinding against the emotional brakes. I’m grateful for you every day. Thank you for your patience with me and thank you for teaching me every day.


Christine Koh shared a version of this post from BostonMamas.com with CafeMom as part of our monthlong tribute to moms for Mother's Day. Christine is a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. She is the editor of BostonMamas.com, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, creative director at Women Online, and shares weekly lifestyle solution videos on YouTube. She lives with her husband Jonathan and daughters Laurel and Violet in the Boston area.

Images via iStock.com/IvanJekic; design by Anne Meadows; Christine Koh

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