I love to talk but I’ve decided to try not speaking on behalf of my daughter. I can’t be my daughter’s voice anymore.
Well-meaning strangers and friends alike tend to pepper small children with questions of varying degrees of difficulty. My 3 year-old daughter can be a chatterbox all. day. long. But she is typically quiet and observant in public. On occasion, the stars align and she’ll open up to someone right away, but this is rare.
Even at one of her favorite places – yoga class – she recently asked to, “Take a break,” and wanted to sit in the waiting area/playroom instead of participating in the second half of class. As an outsider, it seemed she was having fun, but she knew she needed the break.
Only a few years on earth but she knows herself well. She teaches me daily about being more receptive to her needs… and my own.
I expose her to new experiences and places as much as possible. My quiet child is quite independent when she gets a good vibe. Preschool, music class, yoga class, playgroups, spending time with a babysitter are all areas where my daughter is given the opportunity to grow. She is quiet sometimes. She’s wild sometimes. She’s talkative sometimes, and she’s thoughtful and observant other times.
When someone asks my daughter a pointed question in public, I have taken a few different tactics. Some might seem more successful than others, but they all left me (and perhaps my daughter) feeling off.
My goal as a parent is to help my daughter feel supported and confident. But when I tumble in and answer questions for her, what am I really saying? Why do I feel like I need to be my daughter’s voice?
“How old are you, sweetie?”
…silence, stares. Scoots closer to mama.
I’m saying that she doesn’t have to talk to a stranger if she doesn’t want to. That’s good, right? I might be protecting her, but perhaps I’m also showing her that I don’t think she has the skills to answer for herself. That if she’s not fast enough, I’ll step in and be her voice.
Okay, let’s try again.
“Aw, how old are you?”
…silence. Turns away to look at something down the street that’s more interesting.
“Oh I don’t think she’s ready to answer, she’s a little shy.”
That didn’t feel good at all either. Now I feel like I’m labeling her and passing judgment. Thankfully, we get lots of chances to try try again.
“So, how old are you?”
…silence, looks quizzically at the asker, then at me.
“I’m not sure she’s ready to answer right now. It’s crazy weather today, isn’t it? I can’t believe we’re not wearing coats even though there’s snow on the ground!”
Now this feels better. Maybe not perfect, but I’m getting there. I’m not answering for her anymore. By changing the subject and engaging adult-to-adult, I feel better than pointed silence waiting for a three year-old to perform.
It also helps me when I feel awkward with a stranger asking for a list of stats about my daughter. There may not be anything sinister going on, but having to share a lot of information right away is uncomfortable for me.
If the goal is to connect with another human being and have a nice conversation, I’m not sure me spouting off, “She’s three, her birthday is in November. Yes, she’s tall for her age. Her name is …” is the only way to proceed. Let’s talk about something else. The weather. Your interesting shirt. Etcetera. I don’t have any issues coming up with random things to talk about. Let’s take the attention away from the kid who might not want the attention right now.
I also don’t ask her to say goodbye, to say thank you or to say please. We practice these things at home regularly, but I don’t force her to say anything. It’s putting words in her mouth. Similar to speaking for her. Instead, I model the behaviors I would like to see from her. If a friend hands her a glass of water, I say “Thank you for the water!”
Since I’ve been ultra diligent with speaking for her – or not – I’ve noticed her opening up more. Even if it’s just a squeaky “thank you” in front of friends, family or strangers.
Reading this post, I had a brief thought that I’m being too sensitive. But then I quickly brushed that thought aside. My ultimate parenting goal is to empower my daughter to be herself and pursue her dreams.
My daughter will encounter any number of uncomfortable and difficult-to-navigate situations in her life. I want to do my best to prepare her, but I don’t think putting her on the spot in front of strangers is the best way. Nor is being my daughter’s voice.
Ask me in 5 minutes what new “best” response I’ve cooked up to the inquiring minds we meet daily on Church Street, at the grocery store, or at the playground. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to learn and get better at this parenting gig. Fellow parents, lie to me in the comments and tell me I’ll have all the answers and be an expert at parenting my kid in all situations someday.