You know that feeling, in the pit of your stomach. The one that says, “My kid is really hurting and I don’t know if I can fix it?”
That was my 7:38 a.m. mommy tummy.
My oldest daughter is struggling. She is struggling with all the normal things of being a tall, ten year old girl in the fifth grade, mostly involving living in her own skin and being comfortable in it. Those conversations are hard and body image has been a struggle of my own since I was about the same age.
I was just like my own daughter- a tall, ten year old girl in the fifth grade, and I’ll never forget the names people called me or the references they made around me. I’ll never forget how only a short time after turning twelve I spiraled out of control with my own negative self-image that I thought, “Huh, not eating sounds like a good idea and will solve my problems.” I’ll never forget how having an eating disorder helped me to ultimately feel “in control”. I’ll never forget how many years it took other people to pull me out of it and the many years it has taken to deal with the damage that I did to myself emotionally (as in still to this day….but that’s a different blog post). I’ll never forget how being catcalled made me think positive about myself at the young age of thirteen because I thought that meant I was becoming worthy of someones attention. I’ll never forget the first time I was sexually assaulted (although at the time, I didn’t know that’s what it was) and didn’t say anything and therefore allowed it to keep happening. I’ll never forget how ALL of that and more made me feel and how powerless I felt against it- all before even entering High School.
I share this to say that we all have struggles and we all handle them in different ways. That was the path I took because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t speak up and stuffed it all deep, deep inside.
My daughter is beautiful. She is amazing. She is kind. She has her whole life in front of her, yet I see her teetering on the edge of the same dark path that I chose. My daughter is resourceful, talented, funny, courageous, responsible, creative, empathetic, a problem-solver, and yes-tall. She is also tough, dramatic, wears her heart on her sleeve, easily gets upset, can be stubborn, is a fantastic debater, and shows great “leadership skills”. She is way more than this small list of adjectives and I bet your daughter or son is, too. Our girls and boys cannot and should not be defined by simple words or yesteryears gender rules, but rather by what they stand for and who they stand with.
I DO NOT want my children to ever feel how I felt. I NEVER want that pain for them, but pain in life is inevitable and pretending that I can protect them from it is irresponsible of me. Instead, I must empower them to think positively and to stand up for what’s right and what they believe in. As a parent, I must pass on the tools I was given so that they can also rely on them throughout their life. I’ll start with giving them a moral compass so they don’t ever feel lost. And a flashlight so that they always have light to drive out the dark. But, the most important one (at this time) is teaching them that they have the power to say yes or no.
They need to be able to have the strength to say, “Yes, I agree with that and can support it.” or “No, I do not agree with that and can not support it.” Whatever the that is-whether it be a social injustice, giving someone a hug (or more in their near future), supporting a policy, saying something when they see something, or just following along with friends. The that can even be an action or the lack of action.
I bring this up, because by 8:30 a.m. the mood and meandering thoughts of my daughter had shifted from feeling bad about herself to feeling bad about something happening around her. In that moment, I was given a teachable moment and could remind her the difference between being an upstander and a bystander. Being an upstander means that you are saying, “No, I do not agree with that and I am going to do something about it.”
So, before her ride showed up to take her to school I pulled her into our sun-filled living room and gave her a little pep-talk. I can tell she is hurting and she needs me to show her how to handle that with grace, kindness, and an even head.
I told her that sitting down and expressing herself is never a bad thing and that she doesn’t need to point fingers, but instead say what she is feeling because of what she is seeing.
My hope is that she’ll have these small lessons and that over time they add up to her ability to say yes or no to the choices and situations she will encounter as a young person. That one day she will have the strength to say, “No, that’s not right.” when she see’s someone being mistreated or when someone mistreats her. But more so, I want her to know she has the power of choice in saying yes or no.
I won’t know how her day will shake out for a few more hours, but I do know that by the time she left for school she felt a little better. The pain in her eyes faded away and the twinkle waded back in. (Thank GOD, because I love that twinkle.)
As parents we can only do what we feel is right for our kids. I am only ten and a half years into this parenting thing. I am not an expert, but I am an expert on heartache. I am certain that those life lessons of mine before the age of fourteen have a silver lining. I am certain that they will make me a better parent.
Today, I am an UPSTANDER for what is right in my family because I am raising three socially responsible children and leading by example through KINDNESS. Today, even though it is hard, I choose HEARTACHE because that means that I FEEL something. Today, I choose to stand with LOVE and GRACE and COURAGE because that is what I stand for.
We are NOT powerless.
There are no happy accidents~
****If you want more information on being an UPSTANDER. Check out The Bully Project’s website for more.****