She can be so caring, sweet, kind and thoughtful.
She can be moody, highly strung, and dramatic with a capital D, and yelling and screaming on top, too. And fiery, strong and wilful.
It’s the latter that’s been in big supply and the former in short, of late.
My daughter is deeply sad and angry since her dad, from whom I’m divorced, moved interstate a year ago. She sees him during school holidays, which amounts to four weeks a year, tops. She’s pissed about that. Big time.
It’s been a rocky ride for her. And now we’ve moved in to a new house with my new partner.
Let’s just say that my daughter hasn’t exactly been an easy child since the day the top of her head nearly hit the bottom of the birth pool. She arrived in a hurry.
She knows who she is and what she wants (what a gift!) and will do what it takes to get it.
I honour all that. I truly do. I want her voice to be heard. I want her to stand up for her truth and speak it. I want her life to be an expression of her creativity and strengths and care and values.
Her school principal says she appreciates how direct she is, and mature. She’s spoken about a presence that my darling possesses that’s beyond her years.
Yes, yes and yes to that.
And, as I continue to navigate the complexities of a new living arrangement, between three people with three different surnames, and behaviour that matches those complexities and certainly isn’t nice, and is pushing my buttons big time and sometimes leaves me in tears when she’s not around, I hear myself say words like this: She’s high maintenance. She’s difficult. She needs to learn to manage her emotions.
I started to wonder if those words were even mine. As in, deep down truly my words. They felt heavy and cringe-worthy in a I-can’t-believe-I-just-said-that kind of way. I wondered whether I’d swallowed those cutting words long before I can remember and they seemingly became mine after years of conditioning about how women should behave to make everyone else’s life easier.
Because those words could only be true if, and only if, I’m trying to put my daughter in a box of how she should behave too. How she should be different. How she should tone it down or be less than or even silent and small.
Why? Because I want my life to be easier. I want her behaviour to be easier – for me (she can do it at school, why can’t she do it at home?).
And isn’t that why us good girls and pleasers are so damn concerned about not rocking the boat?
Because, surely, if we’re nice and good and do the right thing (ie anything that doesn’t ruffle anyone else’s feathers), then we’re acceptable, likeable, and maybe even lovable, too.
And if we’re difficult, or high maintenance, or, goddess forbid, don’t manage our emotions and don’t stuff them down so far we make ourselves sick, then maybe we’re not acceptable, or likeable, or perhaps even lovable, because we’re making other people’s lives hard.
(Note on shoving things down: My nana, who is no longer with us, believed it was not acceptable to publicly fart. She held in her wind for so many years that, when she entered her final years on this planet, she developed a health condition that rendered her unable to continue to hold in her farts. She let them rip, willy-nilly, and didn’t even know she was doing it. When I was a kid and my nana stayed with us, she’d walk into the kitchen farting away. I mean, frequently farting. While it gave us much enjoyment as we smirked at one another and tried not to laugh out loud, I think there’s a moral to the story: don’t hold things in and shove them down because they’ll have to come out eventually, and probably in ways you don’t want them to.)
I want my daughter to know she’s lovable, regardless of whether she makes my life feel easy or hard.
I want her to know that anger is valuable, as is rage – especially hers.
I want her to know that how she feels is how she feels and no-one has a right to tell her differently.
I also want her to make my life easier. Because easy makes life, well, easier.
So I’ve been thinking about all this, and how best to approach it with her, and also how best to approach it in the rest of my life and perhaps yours, so that none of us continues to perpetuate an old story that aims to keep us and other women small and silent, no matter our age.
I can’t say I have all the answers. But here are a few things I’m considering that I hope will be helpful to you, too.
1. Drop easy
I buy into so many expectations of how life is meant to be. I catch myself thinking this should be easier, and if I do the right thing then good things will happen, and I deserve/don’t deserve this or that. Those sorts of assumptions and beliefs can only create pain.
Life gets dished out in such random ways it so often makes no sense. And while I believe life is always on my side, that doesn’t mean everything will necessarily be easy.
In one of my favourite books, Jungian psychologist Robert A Johnson says that the Latin meaning of the word happiness is simply to be with what happens. I dig that, because acceptance is freedom. I remind myself when I’m falling in the trap of shoulds and wanting easy.
So… the question I’m endeavouring to ask now is: What if I drop the notion of easy, and instead become present to what’s happening right in front of me?
With my daughter’s behaviour, this might look like noticing that she needs an outlet to express her pain. The goal, then, is to create a safe container for her to do that, rather than have her dump all her rage on me (once I asked her why she thought she did that, and she said “Who else am I going to dump it on?”), and rather than me getting really pissed because she’s making my life hard, which only serves to fuel the fire.
I might say: “I can see this is tricky for you. We’ll solve this later. Let’s get a drink of water.” Or: “Let’s go to your bedroom and pick up a pillow and thrash it on the bed”.
I say I might say because I certainly haven’t mastered this. I’m trying.
2. Tell the truth
Let’s be honest about what we feel. Because “You’re so high maintenance” might really mean “This is making my life feel hard right now and I don’t like it”.
I reckon if we can see situations for what they are, and own our part in them, we’ll stop perpetuating so-called truths that don’t belong to us and don’t serve anyone else.
Each of us, in our own way, can make a difference. We do make a difference.
3. Be aware of your language
Each time I say something that perpetuates a culture of Programmed Women, because I want someone to stay small and silent to make my life easier, I’m sitting around the boardroom table with the patriarchal masters, perhaps with my feet up, a cigar in my mouth, and a wandering eye when the secretary in the short skirt comes in with my coffee (I felt gross just writing that).
Let’s stop labelling other women and girls. Let’s stop holding hands and skipping with the devil.
We can do better when we know how. We can help one another to have more peace and freedom, and less good and should.
I want that for us all.