You have to build a house.
Eldest child is seven now. From child development books I know that this is an anxious age. I see that in her behavior too, but I no longer think her anxiety is because I’m a terrible mother. Apparently seven is an anxious age. Apparently just about all seven year olds think everyone is teasing them in monstrous ways.
But you know what? This gives me a wonderful opportunity to work on a skill I decidedly lack in myself. How do you ignore people who are teasing you? Oh I am not good at that. I take everything too personally. I always have. I’m hyper-sensitive. It seems as though my daughter has the potential to be like me.
Thing is, this kid spends a lot of time talking about how she really wants to be president. She has a whole political agenda. She has policy points she already talks about. Lots of seven year olds say they want to be president. She’s researching the steps between here and there. This means… she can’t spend her life as an over-sensitive delicate flower.
So this morning we had a 15–20 minute conversation about this topic. Kiddo was getting very upset with her father for teasing her. Uhm, what he was doing was using the Let It Go song to sing silliness about him being a monkey. It wasn’t about her in the slightest. But it felt like teasing to her anyway.
So we talked about that. We talked about different kinds of teasing. We talked about street harassment. You are going to have to deal with being teased in this life. She talked through a few ways of deflecting teasing and we shot them down one right after another.
She was quite frustrated with us. We are so annoying.
After leading her slowly and inexorably towards the inevitable conclusion that she can’t control the behavior of other people… she finally expressed, “What can I do?”
You can build a house inside of yourself where you know who you are. You can build big firm brick walls around this house. Inside the house you put the things that you know are true about yourself. The things you do. The things you care about. The people you love. The people who you know beyond the shadow of a doubt love you.
When people outside in the world are saying bad or stupid or mean things you can go into that house and ignore them. You know that they are not inside the house with you. You know that they can’t really judge you. They don’t even know what is in the house. Not really. Never for sure. Just like you can’t see inside someone else’s house.
She said she doesn’t know how to build a house. I said, “Of course not. You are seven. But you can start figuring out who you are. You can start deciding the outside shape of the house. You can start figuring out how to make the bricks. No, you won’t be done this year. This year is going to hurt. But you can get started.”
By the end of the conversation she was noticeably less distressed than she was when we started.
I wish I had been told that when I was seven. So instead I will say it. I will try to listen to it. I will work hard on my house. Because I still haven’t finished building it. I didn’t say that part to my seven year old. I’m trying to mask the fact that I’m not really that much more advanced at these things than my kids.
I learn as I go.