My daughter is a challenging mix of brainpower and willpower. The qualities that can make her difficult to parent are, ultimately, the qualities that will probably serve her best in life. Stubbornness turns into perseverance. Bossiness turns into leadership. That said, as her mom, I find myself questioning how much to guide her and when or whether to intervene, especially socially.
She’s a know-it-all. It’s a quality that adults call “precocious” and sit-coms celebrate. In the early years, other kids either don’t notice or easily tolerate it. But, as we begin to navigate the early years of pre-tweendom, kids are starting to notice. And they aren’t tolerating it anymore.
She is shy, sometimes debilitatingly so, which makes this trait seem like a cruel twist of fate. For all of the things I thought I wanted for my child, once she’s out there at school or camp or the neighborhood pool, I care not a whit about her winning the spelling bee or the 100-meter backstroke. No, I just want her to have friends. I just want her to be accepted and acceptable and for the other kids to enjoy her quirky qualities like I do. So it’s especially hard as her mom to watch her finally get the courage to speak up and to have it go so horribly wrong.
Instead of hearing gleeful giggles during a game of Sharks versus Minnows, her shrill cries of, “Nuh-uh, you’re out!” carry across the water. (She is also a rigid rule follower and tattletale. Sigh.) When her brother is solving a crossword puzzle, she peeks over his shoulder and tells him the answers. During the tortoise talk at the zoo, she pipes up with everything she knows about the species. She corrects other kids during guessing games. She interrupts. She micromanages.
I know she has to figure it out for herself, and I know that my interventions will only make things worse. Even though she’s only seven, it is clear that I am already “so embarrassing” (her words). How to balance these competing needs? I want to celebrate and encourage her confidence and capability. I want her to be proud of her intelligence and curiosity about the world. But I also want her to grow her emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy. I want her to see how her constant need to be right and to correct others is cloying. I want her to be okay with mistakes — hers and others’. I want her to have friends.
I am trying to be grateful for the bliss of these tender years. The fact that her EQ hasn’t grown yet means she has zero awareness of how others perceive her. Her self-esteem isn’t taking a hit when kids roll their eyes…yet. When she becomes aware of this, I can only hope that my EQ is attuned and that I am ready to build her up. I don’t want to quash her confidence. The last thing the world needs is more smart girls who don’t speak up.
It’s funny, isn’t it, this paradox? As moms, we spend half our time wondering if we’re doing it right and wanting to be know-it-alls, at least internally. But who can honestly say she enjoys a know-it-all in real life? Perhaps what we all want is the ability to know everything and the self-control to manage how and what we share.
I know my daughter will grow into herself at her own pace. Until then, I can only hope that those around her will embrace her entirely, with grace for her flaws and admiration for her assets. And perhaps the next time I meet a kid who rubs me the wrong way, I’ll dig a little deeper for my grace and admiration, too.