My eldest had a favorite pair of boots when she was about ten to eleven years old.
She wore those boots way longer than she should have and scrunched up her toes when they became too small.
The first photo evidence I have of the boots is November 2010, and the last evidence I can find is January 2012. Her feet definitely grew a lot during that time, and more than outgrew those boots. She had other shoes, but refused to give up those boots.
I always assumed I would be informed when clothes, shoes, styles were outgrown.
I have four kids and they’re usually really vocal about anything that isn’t just right for them. We’ve had tantrums over socks and tags and soap and hair.
I trusted my kids to tell me they needed new shoes. I asked if the boots were ok, but I should have checked and verified. It was a difficult time for our family, with moving across the country and deployment.
I could make a thousand excuses, but I failed to understand there was a problem in time.
Having too small shoes for about two years gave her hammer toes and affected the tendons and ligaments in her legs. She complained about the leg pain, but never about her toes or feet, or having too-small shoes. I purchased the kids all new shoes, but failed to fully inspect those boots, though I do remember checking at least once and I think she purposely scrunched her toes…and I just believed her.
When we went to the doctor, they were too quick to refer to a specialist – who recommended surgery! Then, we got another referral for physical therapy. We got new shoes, threw out the boots. The PT helped a lot. I also massaged her feet, legs, and back with essential oils. She was at the cusp of puberty and it was almost too late for healing, but we were all very diligent to help her heal and remind her to do her stretches.
She had to stop running track since the pain was too much. She never did pick it back up. Luckily, she was able to participate in Civil Air Patrol and did well in all the physical activities for the few years she was in it.
It’s so hard to watch a child suffer. It’s even worse when I know I should’ve been on top of it and prevented it.
There were too many years when I was in survival mode.
There were too many times I was neglectful and relied too much on my eldest to be older and more mature than she was.
Since I had no village, no family, no friends, no help…I relied on my kids to help…for us all to work together, especially when their dad was deployed. While this sounds great on the surface, it was not feasible long-term and it was really, really hard for all of us. I certainly learned self-reliance because no one else was reliable.
I had her babysit and told myself that she enjoyed the responsibility. She still brags that she potty-trained her siblings. I know she’s proud of that, but I am ashamed that it’s mostly true. She did too much, too soon, and lost much of her childhood too early. She didn’t deserve parentification.
I tried so hard to maintain balance and push her to play and experience fun things, but many of those things she had to do alone while I kept her siblings from interfering or disrupting. I know she is still resentful that I wasn’t always able to be there and give her my undivided attention all the time.
I projected my overly mature childhood onto my daughter and I enmeshed my emotions with hers. I expected her to be like me. And I wasn’t even fully aware that I wasn’t healthy then. So much damage was done.
And the church encouraged all this and told me that I was doing a great job in spite of everything I felt deep down inside that I was doing everything so wrong and I felt so lost and alone. I had no one, no help.
The church and military communities failed us.
I was supposed to be training up a mother’s little helper and raising my daughters to be good wives and mothers. Thankfully, we all balked at those proscribed gender roles and we are better now in our spiritual pursuits. But there is so much healing still taking place.
The boots are just a metaphor for all the times I missed the mark for about ten or more years with my daughter.
It’s not like we couldn’t afford new boots.
A tween girl often isn’t in a place to express herself safely or even know what’s wrong when that’s all she knows. There were some very bad times for several years and I was not always at my best in dealing with issues I had no reference or guidance for, and my kids are “good kids.” I was a “good kid.”
But I want more than just appearances.
This episode further pushed me in a different direction as a parent. I knew something had to change. I’m sad that this catalyst was necessary, but the outcome has been good. The trajectory has continued in a healthier, gentler direction for years.
My eldest child has taught me so much as a person, as a mom, as a daughter.
She taught me what it’s like to speak up for injustice. She’s always been vocal. As a baby, it was colic. As a wee girl, she was bossy and argumentative. As a teen, she was defiant. As a young woman, she is a leader.
She taught me compassion. She always looks to help ease others’ pain. I am proud of her for taking soup to a sick classmate and offering rides to friends. She has helped others to her own detriment at times. Yes, she’s been taken advantage of, and that’s the risk. She continues to have a huge heart.
She taught me a lot about mistakes and regrets and how to make amends, how to truly apologize and forgive. We will never get closure from her abusive father and his family. His parents have passed, so there is no one to ask about events anymore. My parents have no relationship with us and I have confronted them multiple times to no avail. We are really all alone, but she just shrugs away that pain and finds comfort in her friends who are her chosen family.
It seems like I have spent almost my entire life fighting. Fighting to be seen and heard, fighting for my daughter, fighting with my daughter, fighting society to be better for her and my other kids.
She sets boundaries and doesn’t stay in relationships that become toxic. I am proud of her for recognizing when friends and lovers are mean, unhealthy, or not right for her.
She knows when to quit. I always pushed through and maybe that wasn’t the best thing for me, but I saw few alternatives. I had different choices then, and certainly couldn’t envision the future that I am living now. She resents that I pushed her into early college and a part-time job, and I do regret that, but I still don’t know what else I could have done. I’m sad that her young adulthood is so hard and she doesn’t get to enjoy much, is struggling financially, trying to find her place. Outside circumstances with COVID and the university going on strike affected events beyond our control.
We are healing together.
While I wish she had never had to suffer the trauma of being the “guinea pig first child” and had to help to raise me as a parent, I am so pleased we are still close now that she’s an independent adult.
Here’s to more growing closer together.
- Gabor Maté
- John Gottman
- Harriet Lerner
- Susan Cain
- Elaine N. Aron
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
- Jesus, the Gentle Parent by LR Knost
- Motherwhelmed by Beth Berry
- Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson
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