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Understanding Your Child — And Yourself! — When Things Get Rough

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Last week brought another milestone — Coraline’s first parent-teacher conference. Because I believe in a benevolent universe with comedic timing, the meeting was right on cue. Coraline and I have been way out of sync lately; just as I did a few short months ago, I’ve been feeling like I don’t understand my child at all, like we’re not connecting. It is frustrating and disheartening (and undoubtedly a self-fulfilling prophecy).

The child Coraline’s teacher spoke about seemed relatively unknown to me. All the challenging behaviors I experience day in and day out at home are non-existent at school. She is an engaged and enthusiastic learner, confident, social, and imaginative. I was simultaneously bursting with pride and hating myself for thinking she’s so difficult. I’m her mom — shouldn’t I know her best of all? Apparently not. A friend who teaches kindergarten at a local private school once told me that the kid a parent describes is never the kid she sees in class. Why that’s the case is hard to say, but it’s tough not to take it personally when your kid seems to save their worst behavior for you.

A spiritual advisor I see every few months once offered me some insightful advice for such times (after gently informing me that Coraline was sharing my frustration, also feeling a lack of connection and understanding). She pointed out that heated moments of discord are not when we most appreciate and understand another person for who they are, even when they are our beloved baby. Instead, she instructed me to observe Coraline when we’re not interacting — like when she’s playing with a friend at the park or sleeping — and allow the feelings of love and deep connection that overwhelm me to create a reserve I can draw from in the contentious moments. “You do see her,” she insisted. And she’s right — I do. Which leads me to believe that the difficulty I perceive is not Coraline’s, but my own, born of all my grown-up stress and my own insecurity. I’m glad to have Coraline’s teacher to remind me of my daughter’s true nature. And I’m glad I have my daughter to remind me of mine.

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