One of the hardest parts of parenthood is how your child’s problems can so often cause your own childhood emotions and memories to float to the surface. I experienced this myself a few weeks ago when Sophie came home after a particularly challenging day at her gymnastics class.
After a challenging gymnastics session, Sophie ultimately broke down in tears, crying over the fact that no matter how hard she tries, she can never earn the much-desired “gold star sticker” that is bestowed upon one of 15 5-year-olds in the class. Apparently this Survivor-esque contest has taken it’s toll on Sophie, leading to this massive break down in frustration. She further confessed – through tears and sobs – that she tries so hard to concentrate and listen and sit still, yet one particular little girl (who happens to be a friend of hers) constantly distracts her. And as a result, the sticker is never within Sophie’s grasp and she just doesn’t know what to do.
Hearing Sophie tell me this story made my heart sink and tears immediately welled up in my eyes. Of course I felt badly for Sophie because I felt her frustration and pain. But the sadness I felt were not just for Sophie. They were for a little 2nd grade girl who was chastised by her teacher and forced to stay after school because a classmate got her into trouble for no reason. Yes, that little 8-year-old girl was me. Listening to Sophie’s story, I was suddenly in 2nd grade again — feeling scared, frustrated, and helpless. Choking on my words and tears, I shared this story with Sophie who said that girl didn’t seem like a very nice friend.
After the crying subsided (both Sophie and mine), she seemed to get over the gymnastics episode fairly quickly. Me on the other hand? Not as much. For the entire day following this emotional conversation, I still felt so badly for Sophie. Every time I replied the episode and heard her words, I started to cry all over again. I couldn’t understand why I was still so upset when clearly she had moved on.
But that’s just it. She did move on. But I was still experiencing the pain I felt when I was 8-years-old. Sophie’s pain felt so real and raw to me because of that same injustice I felt when I was only two years older than her.
I’m realizing this is will be the tough part of parenthood for me. Not knowing what old wounds and memories will be reopened by Sophie’s experiences, and the encounters she has with the mean kids or the friendships she makes as she grows. Suddenly the days of worrying about her watching too much Nick Jr. seem trivial.
I do worry about the emotional toll this new stage of our lives will take (for me mostly). But I also know that Sophie is incredibly strong, and so was I as a kid. She will make her mistakes and I know she’ll get her feelings hurt countless times. Which means my feelings will also be put through the ringer. I guess we can only do so much for our children. So as I wait for the next emotional debacle, I will start stocking up on Kleenex.