Learning to Not Need to be Needed

The other morning my youngest did something that completely shocked me. Yes I know that by now NOTHING these people do should truly shock me, but she succeeded. I woke her up, telling her it was time to get ready for school, and the first thing out of her mouth was “I don’t want you to go on my field trip today.”. Yes, you read that right… the 4-year-old bluntly uninvited me to go to her K-4 class’ Ag in the Classroom field trip to a garden and lunch at a farmer’s market. Stunned, I tried to play it off by smiling and saying “Oh! So you want to ride with a friend to the garden?” and she said “Yes ma’am.” I then asked if she wanted me to meet her at the garden, and I was rejected yet again.

Y’all, I have never EVER had one of my kids NOT want me to accompany them on a field trip, especially at the age of 4. In fact, I’ve actually had the older kids FIGHT over who I would go with when both of their grades were going on the same field trip, so getting shut down this morning was a first for me. I’m not going to lie: it didn’t feel very good. Like, this is my BABY -the baby of all of my babies- and she just did the very thing that I’m sure will be coming from her big brothers any time now.

What the heck happened here?! I’m used to having to PEEL HER OFF OF ME and carry her when she gets tired and now this?

Part of me is confused and sort of hurt, and another part of me is proud of her. This sense of independence and self-confidence is exactly what I’ve always wanted for her; it makes me feel like I’ve done a good job of preparing her to take on the world bravely, one step at a time. She has so much energy and desire to explore everything around her that her boldness sometimes scares me. I’m terrified she will “wander too far” or trust someone without deferring to a trusted adult, and that her adventurous nature will end up hurting her somehow. We constantly talk to her about stranger danger and WHY we shouldn’t automatically trust everyone we meet, but I’ll look over at a high school football game or a group gathering of our friends and she’s sitting on the shoulders of someone I barely know. People in these situations are generally “safe” (we are in a small community and the kids attend a small private school) but my God, how do I teach her that she just can’t DO that at will? It’s hard to contain her, and her impulsiveness worries me. With four stair-step kids I can’t sit on her every second, and I think kids NEED to be able to explore on their own. Helicopter parenting inhibits that sense of security and adventure that I want for my kids, and frankly it’s impossible when you have a bunch of healthy, curious kids, but I still want to protect them.

Her birth order may play a role in her independently seek out whatever she wants; she knows that she’s one of four children in our family and that I can’t possibly handle things quickly enough to satisfy her impatience. She gets that honestly. I’m the type of person that will go refill my own drink at a restaurant when I’m tired of waiting on an inattentive server; I refuse to be held hostage by the ineptness or business of others, and it looks like she’s the same way.

There have been several occasions where I’ve told her we will get a shaved ice later on at a football game only to look up 10 minutes later to see her coming towards me eating a shaved ice that she’s sweetly asked one of the cheerleaders or a the kind parent of a friend to buy for her. I’m big on teaching my children to be polite and not impose, and she gets in trouble when she does something like that because she’s been told to wait and has disobeyed. One time I said, “Sweetie, we can’t just ASK people for things”, and she said “Why not?”. It slapped me in the face that she had a valid point in that so many of us allow social constraints and expectations, negative self-talk, and fear to keep us from asking for what we need or want in this life, and the fact that she understands that at her age is an awesome thing.

I ended up deciding to NOT go on the field trip for several reasons, knowing that my absence would allow her to experience whatever sense of autonomy she wanted; it’s not all about me and my desire to be there with her. Being that I’ve stayed home with my children I’ve been able to go on most of their field trips and attend nearly all of their school functions, no matter how insignificant, and it occurred to me that maybe it’s too much. Maybe she needs space to grow, and maybe she will better appreciate it when I do take the time to attend. I’ve worked carefully to show my kids that I do have a life outside of them by having hobbies and taking time to do grownup things without them, and that while they are a large part of my life, they’re not my entire life. It seems she’s imitating that, whether she realizes it or not and that’s a good thing.

My daughter no longer sees me as the center of her universe, and while that’s sad to me in several ways, it’s also exciting and liberating.

For the both of us.

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