I found her rocking her small body in the bathtub. Crying.
“I’m under so much stress,” she said.
She was. My daughter was the lead in the school play that wasn’t coming together. She sang in a musical group that recently performed multiple times a week and had a solo to perfect. The high achiever had the usual homework and was struggling with being an 11-year-old girl.
She felt different and alone and wondered if she measured up.
“I know,” I said.
“You don’t understand this kind of stress,” she said.
Oh, but I do. I may not be able to braid hair or bake or craft like other moms, but I practically made a religion out of coping with stress.
I grew up in a dysfunctional family. I’ve battled addiction. I face deadlines daily. I know stress.
I could help. I wanted to.
So I dried her off and she talked and cried and got it all out. Everything she was feeling. Everything she feared. I didn’t stop her.
Because one thing I learned in a family where “sharing” is shunned is that holding it all in is not an effective way to deflate the anxiety balloon.
Then we went through my arsenal of coping strategies.
They are too numerous to list here, but it included:
- Deep breathing.
- The importance of getting enough rest. (And its companion piece: never getting too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.)
- Focusing only on doing the next right thing.
- Leaving tomorrow’s issues for tomorrow.
I saw her off to school the next day and wondered how she was doing. I recalled my own mother’s wisdom that has stuck with me all these years. I was in the throes of some crisis, what exactly is lost on me now. But I must have been my impatient self. I wailed to her that whatever “it” was sure was taking too long and trapping me in a muck of self-loathing. She told me:
“You don’t get over things. You get through them.”
The inference being we don’t soar “over” painful things, we must trek through them, however long it takes, and the journey will get messy.
What wisdom would my daughter take from our talk? What words of mine served as her life raft? Which of my coping tools gave her hope and peace?
I picked her up from school and my daughter was her usual self. Composed, focused and not at all interested in talking to me. She wanted to go Starbucks.
You seem to feel better today, I pressed. What turned things around for you?
“Fine. I’ll tell you. Dad told me that I seemed to have a lot on my plate, but I was handling it all well. And he believed in me.”
Wait…what? Then… huh.
Maybe what my strong, capable daughter needed wasn’t a million words hurled at her or tricks for stress-free living.
Clearly, all she needed was a reminder that she had her own wisdom that had seen her successfully through her previous successes and missteps.
And we believed in her.
“Same,” I said. “I mean, yes, that’s what I think too.”
I’m hopeful YouTube videos can teach me how to braid hair.