By Cristin Whiting PsyD
My daughter has been “testing the limits” lately. Even though this is a normal thing for kids to do, it is really unusual for her and has caught me off guard.
It all started a couple of weeks ago. She had a friend over and seemed to do the exact things that she knew she wasn’t supposed to—and had never done before.
How I responded was not my best parenting moment. I took the whole thing personally.
“Why is she doing this to me?”
What followed wasn’t a loving teaching moment between mother and daughter in which I guided her development and maturation. It was a good old-fashioned scolding—the kind that even when it was happening I knew I was going down the wrong path and saying things that I would later regret. The kind in which I was being so righteous, it later took me not one, but two conversations to clean up completely.
A couple of weeks went by and we hosted another sleep over for she and a friend. In the generous way that life does, I was offered another parenting-growth “opportunity”. That is to say that my daughter stepped over the line again…and perhaps even a little bit farther than last time.
Did I react and get angry? Absolutely. But something was different.
After the parenting debacle of the previous week, I had made a commitment to myself. The commitment was to not take her “testing” personally—and above all to not punish her for doing just the kind of thing that kids do when they are learning, growing, and finding their place in the world. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to address in guiding her actions and choices. In fact, it points to a huge opportunity to make a difference for her when my focus is on her and not on myself.
So this past weekend through my anger I remembered the commitment I made to myself and to my relationship with her. Even though I was mad, I actually reacted less and listened more. I made it less about me and my feelings and more about finding out what is going on with her. I helped her think through the choices she was making; starting from the first moment her choice occurred to her as a bad idea and to the unintended possible consequences for having overridden her gut instinct. In the end, she took responsibility for her choices and reparation was made.
The magical moment though came as the weekend was winding down. My daughter came to me and she said that she had taken some time and imagined what it might be like for me to be a parent. She put her arms around my neck and told me that I am a good mom.
In that moment I saw “testing the limits” from a new perspective. My daughter is testing the limits of what she knows about herself and the world in all ways. Sometimes that might be challenging for us both, and other times it is miraculous. What I saw her learn by testing her own limits I am still learning: What it is put oneself aside, to get into another person’s world, and to offer them acceptance and understanding.
And this evening after I read this article to her to get her feedback before allowing it to be published, her response to it was as follows: “I love it. You finally understand me.”
*This article was recently published on MyBridges.net.
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