I swear every time I took my daughter to the park, the chorus to Private Eyes by Hall & Oates would echo in my mind:
They’re watching you
They see your every move.
I couldn’t escape other women gawking and gossiping about our headstrong Comăneci-Knievel spin-off and my seemingly passive approach to parenting.
When Others Gawk and Gossip
I wish it was paranoia, but I knew they were watching because their big mouths felt the need to compete with their big eyes.
“Oh my!” they would gasp uncontrollably as she strutted across the top of the monkey bars on foot. There were many delightful epithets. As stand-alone phrases each sound quite complimentary, but when partnered with distorted facial expressions and pearl-clutching, they are not.
Often, “better mothers” would stand at the ready to catch her in my “absence.” Since she first walked, I watched her master numerous death-defying acts without hesitation.
I often felt outsmarted and unmatched by her ingenuity and bravery, but I also believed in her ability to prevail.
Those moms were unaware that while I sat calmly on a park bench nearby, risk calculations were pinging in my mind. On the inside, I was gasping, too, but hello sister…can a Mama just have a respite while her kid plays at a park?
I mean, I’d wrap her in bubble wrap, but she’d just pop the bubbles to see what noise they’d make.
Other regrettable times, the stares and fake smiles from others caused me to forget about my daughter’s needs or feelings. I would attempt to course-correct her, not because she was in true danger, but in an effort to win their approval for being a “good mom.”
Sometimes You Have to go Your Own Way
Around Kindergarten, it became clear that for the time I needed to do something different for her. I could no longer internalize others’ unhelpful input. I would have to become a steel fortress of unconcern over other people’s opinions and trust myself to know my child and do my best for her. She was curious about the world around her and she needed freedom of play and exploration without the constant disdain of adults. Doing the best for her meant thinking outside of the box and taking a non-traditional path to parent and educate my child.
As time went on, I began to care less and less of what others thought, about my children, my parenting, or anything in my life, frankly.
I embraced the reality that praying nearby was a worthier endeavor than anxious hovering, which created doubt in her and conflict between us. Of course, I am always open to wise counsel from a professional or someone already successful in a similar situation.
Mama Knows Best
In the process of letting go of the need for approval, I got better at discerning my needs, hers, and their hierarchy of importance.
At the beginning of my motherhood journey, I wanted to be thought of as a good mother, but now I just want to raise a good human being.
If you are frustrated over your child’s ability to go along, ask yourself what and why they are resisting. Sometimes, their resistance is a red flag to an adult’s poor behavior, a challenge in their learning style, or simply their unique design. We must also remember that children develop on a curve, not at a specific time.
Be careful not to measure your child’s behavior or growth by other children or another person’s static deadline. Help them harness their quirks and differences by steering them in a way that maximizes their potential for success in their unique design.
Parenting them in a way that encourages and celebrates their differences also helps tamp down childhood anarchy and big emotions.
We Need Brave Mothers and Courageous Children
In 1777, 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode 40 miles on horseback to warn of approaching British troops. Nine months before Rosa Parks, 15-year-old high-schooler Claudette Colvin was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Malala Yousafzai was only 15 when she survived a shot to the head by a Taliban gunman and went on to become an international activist for human rights. The list of courageous young girls goes on and on. Those young women did not become fearless overnight.
Before Sybil rode that horse, I’d wager a bet she cursed a corset and defied some other societal standards, as well.
While I am inspired by the stories of these amazing young people, I also think of their mothers standing in the shadows, wringing their hands in distress. “What will the neighbors think? How am I gonna get you out of this?” And the ultimate real-talk question by any parent of a daring child, “what if you get hurt or die?”
As you ponder raising your strong-willed kid, remember the ways the world has been changed for the better when Mamas didn’t hold so tightly or impart their anxiety and fear.
If Sybil’s mother met her at the barn and stopped her from taking the horse, would we even be America?
Where would the world be without the voices of Claudette and Malala?
The Importance of Getting Out of the Way
Two of the hardest things I have ever done in parenting are (1) to get out of the way of my children, especially when there is a risk, and to (2) blaze my own unique parenting path according to their design. But I promise the effort and resilience put forth, in the beginning, will mostly likely return blessings in them of self-confidence, grit, and fulfillment.
Had I worried about those private eyes watching me, would I have diminished the monkey bar climbing bravery that led to a fearless sailor? The little girl who scaled heights at the playground can now, at 13, sail a boat alone across Pensacola Bay.
I know this, it would have crushed a beautiful spirit that was born with the courage to include new people or speak up for what is right.
If we tune out the noise of the world, we know the truth about our children, about their design, desires, strengths, and weaknesses. The goal of motherhood isn’t to avoid the disdain of the eyes at the playground or your aunt at Christmas break, nor to replicate ourselves or our anxieties, but to advance humanity by releasing strong, confident, self-sufficient humans into a world desperately in need of them.
Even when it is exhausting and others do not understand, be brave, mothers of the daring and teachers of the courageous, you have what it takes.
Let go of the world’s opinions and lean in close for this season of intentional guiding. When your little one walks across the monkey bars, refuses to do the dance recital routine, or sails her boat alone out of the harbor, just know not all watching eyes are judgmental.