Its’s weird, but although science tells me that my daughters are growing everyday, in my mind, they stay one age for maybe six to nine months at a time. Then, without warning, they make the leap to the new age, and there they stay for another half year or so. Of course, everyone else sees them progressing slowly, but I can’t. I just can’t!
I remember when my sixteen year old daughter, Riley, was two. If I were to buy her clothes, inevitably they’d always be too small. I’d dress her for daycare in the mornings, and my wife would ask why her long sleeves barely passed her elbows and why her socks were on display although she was wearing pants.
“These are her new clothes,” I’d tell her.
“Well, you got the wrong size… again,” she’d sigh.
Why? Why couldn’t I see that my little girl had grown up a bit? And, although my wife was acting as if she were the queen of toddler clothes sizing, when her sister gave Riley an indoor playhouse for Christmas with a mailbox and a pretend garden, she graciously thanked her for it, but whispered to me, “We’ll have to keep this for Riley to use next summer when she’s old enough for it.”
Of course, Auntie wanted to set up the gift for my girl, and lo and behold, it was the perfect present for her: right size and developmentally appropriate. So, why then can’t my wife and I, both elementary school teachers, recognize when our daughters grow?
Turns out, we are not alone in this phenomenon. We are all aware that our kids are growing daily. We even tell them this: “Eat your carrots so you can grow. Wow, I can see you growing right before my eyes.”
We tend to see our children as if their growth and maturity were paused
But the truth is, when we accept our children at a certain age, the number of weeks, months or years may change, but we tend to see our child as if the growth and maturity were put on pause. So, even though they are moving on, our minds don’t allow us to see this, that is until something happens, there’s a milestone, or someone reminds us: we wake up Saturday morning and your little tyke has made his own bowl of cereal, your daughter ties her own shoes, or your mom reminds you that your little man is not so little any more, therefore you can take off the training wheels.
I had a student, Kyle, in fourth grade who had cerebral palsy. Our room was clear on the far side of campus, so it was a long walk to class. Kyle’s gait was off-balance and looked struggled, but he took pride being caught running in the hall and scolded.
His grandfather cared for him, and everyday after school, Grandpa would make the trek to our room, pack Kyle’s backpack for him, and carry his bag while walking his grandson to the car in front of the school.
One day I pulled Grandpa aside and told him, “Kyle can make this walk on his own. How about tomorrow you wait in the car, and let Kyle pack his bag and meet you in the parking lot?”
Grandpa was tentative and worried. I told him that Kyle was more capable than Grandpa thought, that he’d grown and matured and that Kyle might like a little more independence. So, the next day, Grandpa waited in the car and Kyle gathered his homework and books, stuffed them in his backpack and met Grandpa in the car.
The next week, Grandpa came back to class after school. I thought maybe I had been wrong, and he was going to start packing Kyle’s bag again. But, Grandpa told me, “I wanted to thank you. I hadn’t realized how much my grandson had grown and matured. My mind was stuck with an image of him from a year or two ago. Kyle felt pleased to be able to come down to the car alone like the other kids, and now I’m giving him more responsibilities at home. I needed you to tell me what my eyes were seeing when I looked at my grandson.”
Looking at our children from a different perspective
Why is it I can see other kids grow, but it’s so hard to see my own? I need my wife’s sister to tell me that my daughter is growing. And, I think the answer is because it’s hard for us to let go of our children. We want them to depend on us, to need us, because it makes us feel valued. It’s also that many of our children choose to interact with us in a way that has worked in the past, which means they act the way they did six or seven months ago.
So, my take-away from these experiences is that every month or so, I need to take a step back and try to look at my daughters through the lenses of someone else’s glasses. I need to pretend I am their uncle, a friend of the family, or maybe their teacher. What if this child weren’t my daughter? Has she grown? Has she matured? Is she ready for the next step and more independence?
And, if I can’t do that (which is still the case at times), I need to be open to hearing it from others around me who actually see my little girls becoming a young women.