29 November 2012

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?


17 Responses to “Therapeutic”

  1. a Says:

    I was just watching a video about introverts based on the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – sounds like maybe something that would help? The message is that although society wants us all to be extroverts, it’s fine to be an introvert.

    Nothing will stop little girls (all of ’em!) from being irritating sometimes. I find myself doing the same things – I don’t want to get involved in some make-believe play with elaborate rules that change from moment to moment. I want my daughter to do the stuff she’s told to do. I have to make a conscious effort to play with her. I keep reminding myself that she won’t want to hug me and shower me with kisses forever, but that doesn’t make it any less creepy when she does it for half an hour at a time. I guess it’s just a stage – both of her development and of mine.

    I’m guessing it’s harder with another who’s at an easier stage in life, due to the contrast. But it will be OK, because you’re making the effort. And if you look through your post again, I think you’ll find why it’s so hard for you – you’ve listed the things that are disappointing you right now, and that makes everything worse.

    • antropologa Says:

      Yes, she complains that I don’t play with her, but then when I try, she complains I don’t do it right. We do best with board/card games, physical activities, reading books, and her narrating all manner of thoughts while we take walks. If she is whiny, the best thing to do is get her active. In the winter it’s a bit harder for me in this regard but for her even in a snow storm she’s happy to play with sticks in the front yard.

  2. Alexis Says:

    Hrm. Well, I am an introverted, socially anxious adult who was an introverted, anxious six year old… and interestingly enough I don’t entirely agree with the psychologist. I think we can be accepting as parents and also set limits. We unconditionally accept our children as people, but we don’t always accept their behavior. It’s very delicate getting shy kids to expand their social horizons; they do need to be pushed (IME) but very gently and supportively.

    I also suspect you’re doing a much better job than you think you are. And my almost-six-year old is currently doing her utmost to push MY buttons regarding things like picking up, so I do suspect the age is an issue too. And most days, I think I’m not doing a particularly good job of it.

  3. christy Says:

    Don’t beat yourself up. This phase will pass, and soon you’ll be delighting in all of LG’s little quirks again. I don’t talk about it much, but Izzy is such a strong-willed little boy. He is very intense and very reactive. Sometimes he pushes me to the edge of insanity. And just when I think that I can’t handle his defiant, aggressive behavior for one more minute, he’ll pass into a delightful and well-behaved phase. Then I’ll start being a delightful mother again.

    Although we haven’t been to a psychologist, I do read lots of books on issues that are bothering me (I am currently reading, Setting Limits with your Strong-Willed Child). It always makes me feel better – like I am taking actions to solve the problem. So, maybe find a good book on introverts?

  4. Sara Says:

    It sounds like a tough situation, but it also sounds like you’re doing better than you think. You DO appreciate LG, obviously, even if you don’t “get’ her. You are entitled to be human too, and not to be perfect all of the time. And I agree with you that she at the very least needs to learn methods of coping with stressful situations, rather than just being taught that she doesn’t have to cope with them at all.

    It’s interesting for me to read this reflection from an involuntary SAHM, since I sometimes feel like a total crap mom because I have to finish up work at home, so I end up ignoring my kid. I have a pretty burning envy for stay-at-home parents, or at least part-time-employee parents. I guess the grass is always greener.

    • antropologa Says:

      About the SAHM mom thing, I should probably post to clarify. I want to be a SAHM who teaches one or two nights a week when my husband is home or maybe, maybe, during the day a tiny little bit. I don’t want to work anything like full-time.

  5. Hemborgwife Says:

    I am not a mother but I am a daughter of a women who is so different from me and I suspect as a child she felt the same way of not getting me. I think just in the past few years as she has seen me get married and establish my adult life she has been able to appreciate how my quirks which seemed odd to her before now suit me. I am a very introverted person, right now the only person I have regular face to face contact is with my husband which suits me fine but also relates to as a child I would choose one friend to come for my birthday and my mom was the one inviting the 10 extra kids.

    In my experience what suited me and her was her putting me in group activities like girl scouts and I would have to interact but also I could sit quietly and work on my crafts when I wanted.

  6. wilma smith Says:

    Even a therapist can’t make Little Girl into the person you wish she could be. (The child you can respond to naturally and impulsively.) This isn’t a condemnation of you or her, but an observation from a parent who has been through four different children and their friends (?) and four grandchildren. Each one of them is and was a different as they could be. I reached out for help when it seemed I was failing completely as a parent, wife, person. Learning that you must not trust a therapist to be always right in each case was hard. Sometimes you need to fire the therapist or use what they say in part only. Teaching your child the social necessities is desirable. Learning acceptance and patience is desirable. Both are achievable. Finding time and happiness for yourself is essential if you are going to survive parenting without an overload of guilt. When putting away clothes, do it with her with the promise of some activity she enjoys after. Showing by example works best and to do the teaching while with her will help. I know this is not always possible, but patience and acceptance of the situation (which is fluid and ever changing) and knowledge that she is completely herself and not an extension of you will help you get through these difficult feelings. While it is easy to feel distanced and even alienated from others while you are so busy with this stage of your life, please know you are not alone or any other negative thing. It was such a joy to see your post. I used to despair of my children and “grands” loving reading, but continued to read around them daily and leave interesting things around as well as take them to museums, libraries, science centers and ask them to help me read labels in stores. They are all voracious readers. For his eighteenth birthday, my grandson asked for books and we went shopping together! The oldest “grand”loved manga and my sons loved comic books! They all graduated to books, nooks and inquisitive minds.

    Warm regards,



  7. Cloud Says:

    Does your husband “get” Little Girl more? I find that in some respects, my husband understands our oldest daughter more than I do, and in others I understand her more. Neither of us has the whole picture, though, so we both struggle sometimes. I completely sympathize with the feeling like you can’t be the kind of parent you want to be- I feel that quite a bit, too. But all we can do is keep doing our best, and try to do right by our kids. From what you write here, I think you are a great mother, and are probably doing a lot better than you credit yourself for doing. But it is hard, because you won’t really know for another 15 years or so. Hang in there.

    • antropologa Says:

      Yes, he relates more to her, and doesn’t obsess about some things about her, like her relationships with other children, like I do because that kind of thing isn’t really on his radar like it is on mine. But he gets just as frustrated about stuff like her not responding direct questions.

      The fact that we won’t know how she “turns out” and how we have screwed her up for some time really worries me, because I just want her to be happy and healthy and behave responsibly and I just don’t know if what I am doing with her now will lead to that, if I even really have a role.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I’m glad you finally got a time to talk about this with someone outside the family. We are just starting to recognize some anxieties in Little Swede and it has been interesting to see how both my husband and I respond to it differently, and how much it creates anxiety in us as well. I can imagine over time there is a risk that this becomes a deciding factor in how we handle all kinds of situations — so I can imagine your having dealt with this for so long, it isn’t easy to just turn off like a switch.

    I know my husband really has a hard time relating to our little Swede’s anxieties, because he has very little anxiety. Its hard for me because I have also had anxiety issues and I hope more than anything that this doesn’t become an issue for my child because I know how hard it is — but I can also totally relate. Either way, it has brought up a lot of things in both of us, that I am sure affect our child. So it is interesting to hear the feedback you have received. Right now we have only been working with the preschool.

    I’m sorry to hear you are having a tough time, but hopefully this can help you all get to a better place. Wish you guys lived closer….

  9. Alyssa Says:

    You have wonderful friends who have given you wonderfully thoughtful things to ponder as you raise your girl. I found I could relate to all of the comments in raising my son, who has ADHD. Being a bit of an emotional person, I will try hard to stay calm but after the fifth or sixth time of asking to pick up toys, I yell and then he gets in gear. This annoys me to no end. Having said all that, I can tell you this from a teacher’s (with 16 years experience) perspective – they all turn out ok. They really do. My brother was a hyper naughty kid – he’s a very successful adult. The teachers told my mother to keep my sister out of college because she had learning issues – she’s a very successful business woman. Both have families with great kids too. Me – the doctors told my parents I would never read or write or drive or go to college because I have a weird eye disorder called nystagmus. I believe they were hugely wrong. Accept Little Girl for who she is and who she is not AND accept yourself for who you are and who you are not. You are all perfect.

  10. Rae Says:

    I like the therapist. I had a conversation once with my therapist about my introversion. She asked me what I would do if I were sitting at a dinner table with people I didn’t know very well. I responded that I would be constantly trying to think of things to say, reminding myself to smile and nod and act interested, and be engaging and funny. She then asked what my natural inclinations would be, and I explained that I’d prefer to just sit quietly and listen. “Why wouldn’t you just do that, then…be yourself rather than act differently?” I looked at her like she was crazy and said, “Because then people would think I was weird. Or rude.” And then she told me something so simple that it completely blew my mind. “If someone thought you were rude or weird for being yourself, for being quiet and just simply listening, there is a problem with them, not with you. Your introversion is not a problem. That is who you are.” She gave me permission to be myself. She took away the weird stigma of introversion that the world had made me feel about myself. Nothing else has ever really felt as freeing as that discovery.

    • caro Says:

      Wow – shyness is *hard*. My eldest had a couple of years where her shyness/introversion/social anxiety were huge and ever present, and those were my toughest years of parenting so far. (And I consider myself an introvert and shy person, so this is without your sense of complete strangeness about the behavior … more just despair that my kid was experiencing pain of a kind I remembered and hated.) We had a turning point one evening when I said to her, “It’s ok to be shy. It’s part of who you are. It’s part of who I am, too.” (Whoa–self-acceptance AND parental empathy all in one paragraph!) That wasn’t a magic cure-all conversation but after that we both experienced much less tension around her social behavior. It was hard to get to that talk, though, and really mean it.

      Also … I realize this isn’t true for everyone, but I have always found that the times when parenting is “essentially all I have to do in life” are the times parenting seems hardest. I’m not saying “get another job!” (sounds like that is tricky right now anyway), just pointing out that your singular focus on parenting right now may be making it tougher, not (as it seems like it should) easier. As someone said above, I bet you are doing way better than you think you are.

  11. Melissa Says:

    I sympathize completely. I don’t always feel like I’m the best mom for my kids either. I feel like I have about an hour of solid playing in me before I get grumpy and want some time to myself, and I also just want them to do what I say when I say it.

    A went through an extremely shy phase too. I don’t know that I completely agree with the the therapist; I felt like I had to walk a fine line between respecting her shyness and (very gently) pushing her outside her comfort zone. I don’t think arranging the world to be completely comfortable for a child does them any favors, because you can’t control every situation and if they haven’t learned they can manage certain things, they tend to fall apart if one little thing goes wrong. So in my book I don’t think you’ve been doing everything wrong!

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