About bedtime the other night a storm rolled through the area. I was talking to my mom on the phone and Jesse was getting Ella-Grace ready for bed. He asked her to go to the bathroom. She proceeded to walk towards the bathroom and quickly turn around because it was too dark in the hallway. Now we have one of those night light plugins in the hallway, but it is a good 10 feet to the light switch. Cue the lightning and thunder. What would have been an easy feat for a six year old now became a sizeable meltdown because it was too hard to walk in the dark. Jesse can usually keep his composure but in this instance she did not do what he asked and he was beginning to turn more lights off as a way to reinforce to her that it was time for bed. I said goodbye to my mom and tagged in to the match. If a visual comparison could be used to demonstrate this tagging in, it was very similar to that of a televised wrestling match. He was nonverbally communicating he needed help and Ella-Grace was communicated with her wails that she needed help as well.
“It’s too hard. I can’t do it. Can you just do it for me?”
Given that she is six, typically things involving independence come naturally to her. She never does things quickly but will do them in her own time. In this moment she was literally paralyzed by fear. She was however able to come into the room in which I was sitting – which was completely dark – and talk through what was going on with her. She told me “Mommy, I can’t do it because I am afraid of the dark. It’s too hard so can you just go turn on the light for me?” I saw this moment as a teaching opportunity. I had a decision to make in this moment. I could make it easier on her and honestly on all of us and walk the ten feet down the hallway and turn the light on to hurry her on to bed. If I chose to do that she would learn that when things are too hard, Mommy will come in and save the day.
Unfortunately for her, my super hero cape was at the cleaners so I looked towards option 2 which was to use this moment as a teaching opportunity.
I asked her “What happens when you turn around towards the kitchen?” Sniffling through her tears, she responded “I can see a light but Mommy it is still too dark and I can’t do it. Can you just do it for me?” She was not getting that I wasn’t going to walk down the hallway and turn that light on for her. In my mind, if I turned that light on for her, when she is 17 and has to write a college essay that is too hard, she will expect that mommy is going to do it. When she has her first job and big assignment, if it is too hard, she will give up or expect someone else to do the work. Each of the moments we have with our children help to shape the adults they will become. As parents, we serve as a role model for everything that we do and our main job is to keep the child safe and loved so they are able to learn. I reassured her she was safe and she was going to be able to do this. She agreed to walk down the hallway backwards to turn the light on.
“You’ve got this. You’re safe. You can do this.”
She walked over to the edge of the hallway and looked down into the darkness and promptly ran back to me and said “It is too scary, can you just do it.” I told her “You are going to do this and I am going to tell you exactly how to do this.” At six she still needs my support. I wasn’t going to do it for her but as her mommy I was going to support her through the thing in that moment that seemed like climbing Everest. I took her back over to the edge of the hallway and had her turn around backwards so she could see my face of encouragement. As her mom, I will always be there for her supporting her and cheering her on. She walked backwards towards the light switch with the tiniest of steps. She made it to the light switch and turned it on. The look of amazement on her face when she turned that switch on told me she didn’t initially believe in herself. As she was walking down the hallway, I kept telling her “You’re doing it. You’ve got this. Way to go!”
An important lesson was learned in our household. As Mommy, I am going to continue to cheer her on and support her and help her to see the potential within herself. I am not going to shame her when she doesn’t believe in herself but I am going to encourage her to not give up and then celebrate with her when she accomplishes a task. Ella-Grace learned the skill of persistence through walking in that dark hallway. When we were walking she didn’t give up. She also learned that Mommy is not going to give up on her and truly believes in her. It would have been so much easier to walk her down that hallway and turn the light on or go and turn it on for her.
Afterwards Jesse and I debriefed on the situation. I always call it a debrief because with his military experience and my growing up in a military family it just makes sense to call it that. We celebrated that moment because we knew a skill had been impressed upon Ella-Grace in a way that she might not appreciate until she is a Mommy herself. It was important for her to feel scared and learn how to work through that feeling. There will be more moments like this in the future within our household. Each time we have one I feel like pouring myself a glass of wine, giving myself a pat on the back and a job well done Mommy!
What important life lessons have you established within your household?