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Help! Who Is This Child?

Feel like you have nothing in common with your child? There’s hope.
Help! Who Is This Child?

When our daughter Brittainy was four, we began to notice a pattern of shyness. Since my husband was a pastor, everyone at the church knew our kids’ names and talked with them freely. This didn’t seem to bother our son, who was easy with people, even those he didn’t know well. But Brittainy’s personality was different. She seemed to hang back, watching people from a distance, often standing behind me. When people would say hello to her, she sometimes looked down and waited for me to speak for her. When this happened I felt pressured to prompt Brittainy to answer politely and I would feel irritation boil up within me. I’ve taught her to look people in the eye and give a response. Why is she acting this way?

I’ll never forget the day we were at her grandparent’s house, introducing her to an aunt and uncle and others she had not yet met. She was hiding behind me, with her face hidden in my skirt. I pulled her out and with my arm around her, encouraged her with the words, “Brittainy, say hello to the people.” I wanted to sink into the floor when I heard her mumble loud enough for everyone to hear, “But I hate the people!”

What if Brittainy and I had nothing in common? What if she didn’t like spending time with me?

I remember having moments of despair thinking that I was raising an antisocial child, who would grow up without any close friends, unhappy and alone. An older and wiser mom friend gently let me off the hook by urging me to relax and give Brittainy a chance to figure out her own rhythm with people. In essence, she was telling me to wait to worry. She said Brittainy was learning who she was and how she felt comfortable interacting with people. As a mom it was my job to teach her respect and love and kindness and help her develop the interpersonal tools to do this. But it was also my job as a mom to watch, wait, and learn who Brittainy was becoming.

Wait to worry is such a great concept. There may be serious issues down the road, but why conjure them up before you know there is really anything serious to face? Pause. Give calm reflection. Learn. And wait to see what will unfold.

My Child Is Not Me

As Brittainy got older we could see she was a talented athlete. She loved basketball and soccer and anything that allowed her to play outdoors in her basketball shorts and tennis shoes. She would spend hours out on the driveway perfecting her free throws and three pointers. Sometimes she wore her soccer shin guards long after practice was over. She saw absolutely no reason to ever wear a dress. She considered glittery nail polish and hair accessories beyond ponytail holders things to be avoided. In her opinion, sweat was the evidence that fun was being had, and you hadn’t really had any fun until you were covered in it. Compare that to her mom (that would be me). I grunt when I shoot a free throw. I tend to fall down when I run (and even when I don’t!). I have never donned a pair of shin guards out of fear they would surely make my legs look fat. When I was in college I took tennis as my physical education credit so I could wear a cute skirt. I avoided sweating whenever possible (I like to refer to it as glistening), and I’m much happier on the bench watching a sport than playing it.

This became an issue.

Since Brittainy was a sports lover, she and her dad and older brother often talked basketball over dinner. The three of them would head out the door and shoot baskets after the meal was over, while I watched from the sidelines holding a mug of coffee. It was fun to see the three of them having fun together, but it began to make me wonder about what Brittainy and I had in common. More often, our points of polarization began to surface. We didn’t agree on how she should wear her hair. She detested the clothes I suggested and said everything I bought her itched. I loved to browse in shops and look at shoes and clothes, necklaces and earrings. She thought this was so very boring.

To bridge the gap, I decided to plan some mother-daughter dates so we could spend more time together. I started by asking Brittainy what she would like to do.

The moments I wasted on fears and worries that she and I would never find common ground or get along were truly wasted ones.

“We could go over to the field and play soccer.”

I’ll have to admit this suggestion didn’t fill me with joy. Running, sweating, and chasing a ball around didn’t sound like a good time to me, but I was all in if it meant spending time with my daughter. For our first outing, we did plan an afternoon on a field near our house, but it didn’t last long. I had no skills. I was slow. Brittainy wanted to teach me how to do a bicycle kick. I wondered what bicycles had to do with soccer. She wanted to practice blocking balls at the goal, but I kicked the ball so slow a grandma could have beaten it to the goalie box. She wanted to practice scoring, so we switched places, with me as the goalie. She had to tell me more than once to not duck from the ball.

But we were determined. We planned another night to go get ice cream at the mall. As we leisurely walked by the stores savoring our cones, we passed a fun jewelry store aimed at young girls. We wandered in. There were so many fun things to look at, hats, purses, sparkly tights, and headbands. I suggested a few necklaces I thought Brittainy might like. No thanks. We looked at earrings and I asked Brittainy if she would like to get her ears pierced. No. We wandered back out.

On the way home in the car I began to have a niggling fear. What if Brittainy and I had nothing in common? What if she didn’t like spending time with me? I heard other moms talk about wonderful mother-daughter nights working on fun projects together or trying out new hairstyles and painting each other’s nails. Was I such a sorry mom that I couldn’t find common ground with my daughter? Did this make me a bad mom?

God’s album for your child gives the big picture of lessons learned, of temperaments refined, of maturity blending with experience to produce a beautiful person indeed.

When Brittainy was born, I had dreamed of doing girly things together. Days of giggles and cookie making and talking about things only moms and daughters talk about. As we drove home from our mall date, I began to wonder if I had conjured up a fairy-tale picture of motherhood. And it didn’t account for a child who had a very different personality than mine.

On the way home from our second less-than-perfect mom and daughter night, I asked Brittainy how she felt about our time together. With perfect nine-year-old straightforwardness she said bluntly, “It wasn’t much fun. You like looking at hair stuff, but I’m not you.”

Today Is Just a Snapshot

Brittainy was so right—she wasn’t me. This was a good thing. How many slow, nonathletic shoe shoppers did the world need? Her personality was—and still is—different than mine. Her shyness has turned into a beautiful part of her personality that manifests itself in select, deep relationships. Her love for sports and athleticism is part of her zest for life and commitment to hard work and excellence. The moments I wasted on fears and worries that she and I would never find common ground or get along were truly wasted ones.

Brittainy and I have found we both love some of the same movies—anything featuring a snarky Meryl Streep performance gets us going. We’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada together more than once; it’s worth it for all those shoes alone! We have found things we both love to shop for, like fashion forward tops (she makes sure I don’t go for any “old lady” picks) and steals at Goodwill. Brittainy taught me that a keen eye and a little patience can yield thrifty results, and we love to celebrate an especially chic find at the ice cream shop. She loves music and so do I. We both always notice adorable little children with chubby cheeks. I look at her today and remember the frustrating moments of fear, wondering who she would become, and now I wonder why I wasted energy on worry.

I know what it feels like to watch your child in the midst of a terrible tantrum and see flashes of a person you don’t like. I have found it impossible to be patient through their hatefulness or rebellion, and have wondered, what kind of monster am I raising? But my friend and mentor, Reggie Joiner, CEO of ReThink (an organization that specializes in helping parents navigate the parenting path), has helped me realize that many times as parents what we worry about is just a snapshot, a temporary picture of this day alone.

Like Instagram, these snapshots of parenthood capture what your child looks like in this moment, with that crooked smile and patch of hair that sticks up in the back. It is a picture of their current tantrums and personality struggles and behavior issues. No single snapshot can convey who your child will become—the complete, complex album of a life which reveals God’s plan for her. It is this creation—this series of life portraits of your child—which will endure, not the frustrating snapshot moments. God’s album for your child gives the big picture of lessons learned, of temperaments refined, of maturity blending with experience to produce a beautiful person indeed.

Moms, while it is so tempting to base our fears on the snapshots of today, it’s much healthier to ground our hopes on the rich album of portraits your child is growing into.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Sherry Surratt

Sherry Surratt is the Director of Parenting Strategy for Orange Family Ministry. She is the former CEO of MOPS International and the author of several books, including Brave Mom, Beautiful Mess, and Just Lead. You can connect with her online at SherrySurratt.com or follow her on Twitter at @SherrySurratt.

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