growing up

Realizing My Daughter Is Her Own Person

Toddler in pink tutu and ballet shoes standing in vintage hallway (cropped)

Ravi is almost 5 years old. Our little person who surprised her parents six weeks before they thought she was due continues to surprise us. A lover of music, Ravi can recall countless melodies. An endless source of energy, she can stay up late and arise early the next morning ready to play. She’ll play for hours as she reads books, builds, draws and dreams.

However, as Ravi’s imagination and independence grows, so does her defiance.

I imagine that in Ravi’s minds we, her parents, have this God-like power. Poof! Food appears. Dinner is ready. Magic! Here’s ice cream. A new book. Another adventure. But I also know that we have a Pharaoh-like quality too, imposing chores and duties that don’t make sense, yet. Go to bed! No more playing! Enough! Quieter, please! How does this little person hold the dissonance of her parents being loving providers and ruthless disciplinarians?

Of course, we’re not ruthless. But in her mind, when we refuse ice cream no matter the reason it’s as if a tornado has just ravaged our entire home, leaving her family and most prized possessions in utter ruins. The rules aren’t arbitrary—but when we enforce them she still pushes against them with every fiber of her being, always reaching for the cookies even after we put them away.

What I especially appreciate and marvel at is Ravi’s ability to save this part of herself for her parents. Ravi is pleasant, maybe even shy, often delightful with nearly every other person she encounters. Don’t get me wrong, she certainly shares those qualities with us. But at home, she is unleashed. As a young parent, I’ll be the first to admit I’m figuring things out as I go along but in Ravi’s mind, I must have been acting this cruelly for thousands of years. (Parenthood has been around for much longer, kid).

Yesterday I picked up Ravi from school. Her friend Molly also got picked up by her babysitter.

“Let’s take the stairs,” Ravi said.

I obliged.

Molly appeared with her babysitter holding her hand, pushing her towards the elevator.

“Take the stairs with me, Molly,” Ravi says.

“I want to take the stairs,” Molly said to her babysitter but the sitter didn’t hear or care and instead ushered her into the elevator.

Ravi looked at me. Her shoulders rose, her brown little eyebrows lifted, and she said, “Oh well.”

We go downstairs and there are dozens of people milling around. It’s busy. I don’t hold Ravi’s hand, though: she’s used to running along and setting the pace. She pierces through the crowd of many and doesn’t go to the exit where I’d like us to go (so she can get to her music class in time) but instead makes her way to a large glass wall.

She sees Molly there. They need to schmooze.

And in this moment, I remember again that Ravi really is her own, unique, semi-independent little human being. Yes, she’s been provided with structure and order all day in school—but she can choose to play with different table-top activities. She can choose with whom to play. When the bell strikes, the caretakers return and then what? I’d like to think that we provide Ravi with enough freedom to explore within rules, but I can imagine she feels like we are pushing at her autonomy, too.

Slowly, Molly gets ushered out and I too shepherd Ravi outside. I hold her hand and squeeze it gently.

I love this little person more than words can describe.  And it occurs to me that she and I have a similar type of balancing to do, a similar careful dance.

Just as I hope Ravi will appreciate that we love her despite and even because of the rules we enforce—I also hope I can learn to balance wanting to provide her with support, routine and structure while honoring her growth, choices and directions.

I’ll probably mess up, Ravi, and I hope you’ll forgive me. In the meanwhile, keep being your beautiful self: defiant, delightful, inquisitive, pleasant and passionate.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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