We finally got a time with the child psychologist to talk about Little Girl’s social anxiety. Of course, it took so long to get that appointment that she had moved into a relatively good place, but we still had the visit. But “we” I mean Husband and me; the idea, evidently, is to help us to help her, rather than for them to help her.
And it was quite informative. I learned about a large number of things I am doing wrong as a mother to a shy, sensitive, creative, six-year-old: I should stop nagging her about sucking her thumb. I should not try to teach her to read if she’s not interested. I should not insist that she greets people politely and not crawl around under the table in public places pretending to be a cat. I should arrange it so she mostly spends time in situations that are totally comfortable for her.
In short, I should show her and tell her that being who she is great and important and wonderful just the way she is. This sounds really good and makes total sense, is so very obvious, except I also think part of my job as a mother is to help her to stop relying on thumb-sucking for comfort, encourage academic skills, act appropriately and politely, and be able to handle a variety of environments.
However, because I do think her long-term senses of personal and familial security are important, and appreciate the unique opportunity she has in Sweden to a relatively long childhood free from academic pressures, and recognize that nagging about thumb-sucking isn’t making any difference whatsoever, I’m trying to follow the therapist’s suggestions of basically not saying 75% of the things I usually say to her, and let her just be, and convey to her absolute acceptance.
But it’s so hard. I just don’t get Little Girl, I think is the issue. She says and does astounding things every day; she’s so clever, and so interesting, and yet so confusing and infuriating. She’s an innovative introvert, a stubborn creator, and I just don’t relate at all.
And I want to be nurturing and understanding and empathetic, but, especially as I’m not in the best state of mind at the moment anyway (the weather, failed job-searching, unsuccessful volunteer attempts, an inaccurate but nonetheless present feeling of not having any true friends, weight gain) I’m not able to mother in the style that, experts all agree, would best benefit Little Girl, a special person who deserves the best. I lose my temper about small things, I spent too much time pouring over my phone, I prefer chores over play, I choose pursed lips over an encouraging smile. What bothers me most is knowing exactly how I want to be as a mother but not being able to achieve it, not having the wherewithal or the motivation or whatever it is that I am lacking.
This failure is cast into relief by my mothering of Baby Brother, a cheerful and busy fourteen-month-old. Playing with and delighting in him and praising him comes so easily, feels so simple,and requires no effort or thought or coaching. And then I turn around and glower at Little Girl for still not having put away her laundry, even though I have asked her all day, and have to talk myself into, instead of yelling or bribing or punishing, doing what will work and is arguably better for her: making it a game for her, a sorting challenge or a race. Or just letting her go finish building a miniature working replica of the recycling station and put away the laundry myself.
Why does it feel so hard to choose the empathetic course with her, and, worse, sometimes feels not quite worth the enormous effort, especially when mothering her, and of course her less-complex brother, is essentially all I have to do in life?