In my ongoing quest to provide the conditions that my children need to flourish and grow, to feel both deeply nurtured and “called forth” into their potential, I am always walking a fine line. I make judgment calls every day. Is this too much for them? Should I push them a little? Am I being too indulgent? And, at the risk of stating the obvious, it is not easy. I try to stay true to my inner compass. I try to “see” my children clearly and provide what is needed. And, no matter what, I try to remain in my Big Mama posture so that, even when I make questionable calls, they sound true.
But little things can throw me off. My eight-year-old daughter especially has a gift for persuading me that her intense emotions (demands, wants, fierce requests) should guide my choices. “But I need it!” she’ll cry desperately. Now, I know that I am in charge. And I can’t let my alpha-prone, sensitive girl drive the bus. But you would not believe how convincing this kid is! Not only is she passionate and volatile, she is brilliant and insightful, often seeing things that I have missed. In other words, I often find it extremely difficult to parent her.
Sometimes her upsets are so gargantuan, I’ll do anything to stop them. And this leads to a bad, bad landslide of giving in. I forget that it’s my job to hold her in futility—to say a firm, clear no so that she can grieve and adapt when things don’t go her way. I fall back into making things work for her, which then leads to her feeling like her upsets can steer the world in any direction she wants. Big mistake, I know.
Sometimes, however, her emotions do guide me. And it’s when I listen to them from a place of clarity and maturity that I know I’m on the right track. First of all, as a home schooling mama, I try to listen to my child’s deepest longings. They are clues to what she needs for fulfillment and happiness. When she expresses giddy joy at a dance performance and then performs a two-hour epic show for us at home, I get a pretty good idea about what to sign her up for.
I also listen to her emotions when they are telling me she has had too much. Too much stimulation, too much futility, too much pain, too much exposed vulnerability. Then I know that she needs privacy, connection, and a space to drain (cry).
Neufeld Institute faculty member Cindy Leavitt recently shared with me the concept of “Orchid Children” and it resonated with me so much. Orchid children need pretty extreme conditions in order to thrive. Parents can feel like they are bending over backwards in order to provide the conditions that these sensitive, special children need. It’s easy to lose your compass when you feel like you are doing contortions for your child! Wait! I’m not supposed to be doing this! I’m supposed to be saying no, holding futility, and giving her a chance to adapt.
Yes, that is all true, but with my Orchid Girl I have to make some pretty careful calls. Sometimes I’m wrong. But sometimes, even by accident, I hit it just right. And I give her what she needs to blossom. For example, she recently got her first pair of roller-skates. Now, this is not a child with a natural gift for physical pursuits. She loves to express herself physically. But she has some challenges, especially when it comes to balance and isolating muscles.
So, I took her interest in roller-skates as a good sign. Yes, I said wholeheartedly, delighted that she wanted to try it. And it went well beyond that. She was determined. She fought against her balance problems and spent the entire afternoon outside, skating, leaning heavily on me (exhausting all my muscles and patience) and falling. Over and over again. Falling. Hitting her little tailbone, bruising her pride. She fell enough times that it became too much for her. She put away her skates and stayed indoors.
The next day she asked if she could roller-skate in the house. Ugh, I thought. No. Our neighbors upstairs will be irritated. It could damage the floors. I’ll be worried all the time. Just… No. But she persisted. Eventually, I decided we could give it a try.
It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done.
That child roller-skated… slowly, carefully, painstakingly around the house. Rollerskating on carpet is actually quite wonderful when you’re trying to get the feel of wheels under your feet! All around her were strong things she could hold onto to help her stay upright: tables, refrigerator, counter, beds, couches. She was exploring her capabilities, developing her skill, trying something she really wanted to do, and allowing herself to fall, in a safe place. The conditions all around her were perfect for learning to roller-skate. And little by little, she could go a few feet without holding something. Bit by bit, she began to move like a girl who knows how to skate.
This little adventure, this thing I was so hesitant to do, ended up illuminating the concept of “providing conditions” for me. In this case, my child needed some pretty specific conditions in order to face the vulnerability of learning something new. Sometimes I think, dear God, really? This is too much! How will I ever figure out, let alone provide the conditions this child needs? How will I know when to create a beautiful set of conditions for her and when to just say no?
All I can think is, I’ve just got to keep recalibrating this inner compass. I’ve got to fine-tune it until it’s a master instrument. I’ve got to make sure that I’m seeing her with exquisitely clear eyes. I’ve got to see when she’s fussing because she hasn’t been told no in four days, and when she’s fussing because her heart is about to break and she needs to be protected. I’ve got to know this child inside and out, so that both she and I know, deep within ourselves, that I am her answer. She can trust my judgment calls.
She is still slow on those skates. This is not a fast process. Orchids don’t bloom with one good day of sunlight. They require a long-term commitment, a skilled gardener, and carefully considered care. Sometimes it’s exhausting. But watching that Orchid Child glide across the kitchen—face full of joy, eyes glittering with a sense of her own possibility—reminds me that it’s worth it.