My 6-year-old daughter came screaming into the house as I put the final dinner dishes in the dishwasher. The clang of the appliance’s gate clattering our dirty tableware synchronized perfectly with the front door of the house, bursting open with my child’s wail. Startled, I asked if someone had been hurt.
My daughter sobbed through her story – a misunderstanding had happened on her bike ride with her brother and it had escalated to this. My daughter is sensitive – there are no warning signs to signal an impending meltdown. She accelerates from happy kid to crisis in mere seconds and it can be immobilizing for everyone. And it can be challenging to unpack her upset, to find the cause of it, and help her center herself again.
But I persevered with her. And she did calm down enough to tell me what had happened to upset her. She had gotten her direction all mixed up. She thought home was one way, but she was really going in circles. No one was listening to her. She wanted to come back home through the alley instead of the street, her brother wasn’t listening to her, and she freaked out thinking they were lost.
“I have a feeling no one in the world has ever felt!” she cried.
“And what feeling is that?” I asked.
“Confidence losing.” she said. More tears. Big and fat rolling waves from a deep well inside. “I lost my confidence and I’ll never get it back.”
In that moment I felt the impulse to correct her. To tell her that losing confidence is something everyone faces and it’s a big part of the game of life. I thought for a split second that sharing a story about all the ways I’ve lost confidence would help. But in the next split second that feeling was overtaken by a knowing that she needed me to let her feel it, and all I could do was hold space for her experience and be an ear and unconditional heart. She shared a lot of what was on her heart. I asked questions instead of giving answers. She calmed down and we agreed on a plan: when she felt like she was losing her confidence, her ‘confidence losing’ feeling, she’d take a few deep breaths and try again. Her bike ride drama had in fact been only a trigger for a bigger experience that had happened at school, and a lingering fear she’s been carrying that she can’t do several things she wants to do.
This is pretty big talk for a 6-year-old, but that’s my kiddo. She’s always been wise beyond her age, and has a deeper understanding of the bigger picture. When she’s allowed the space to just have a meltdown – if I love her through an upset instead of punishing her or judging the events, we have conversations about some pretty deep concepts. I know I’m planting seeds of confidence and fortitude. I refuse to make her sensitivity wrong.
I did eventually share with her a few times I’d lost my confidence, how I had to practice some things many times before I felt strong enough to trust myself to do them. We agreed she can practice until she’s stronger, and she began her bedtime routine with a much happier vibe.
But the conversation stuck with me. We hear a lot of disembodied motivational quotes and watch inspirational success stories, but how often do we think of the minutia? The day-to-day grind of practice and commitment required to achieve our goals and dreams? How quickly we lose our own sense of confidence and accomplishment over trivial things – someone offers feedback that is hard for us to hear, or we don’t see the results of our efforts for what seems like a very long time.
The process of idea to actualization can be a brutal roller coaster of doubt and uncertainty. Sometimes, we do fail. We have to start over from the beginning or scrap a plan entirely. Sometimes the things we’re asking for just do not happen. Sometimes they do happen, but the results are so different from what we expected that we wonder why we ever even wanted ____________.
Lately I’ve come to a new understanding for myself. I don’t ever fail, no matter how it appears in the moment. If I don’t get the results I’m after, I know I can look at the situation from a different angle. I can let go and ask what else is possible. If I’m still working on myself and fighting for my own happiness and dreams, then I’m never failing. It’s a judgement I’m no longer willing to abuse myself with.
I hope this is a lesson my daughter can internalize because she sees me doing it every day, and not because I offer platitudes. I hope I can be the person I know I can be, and that by BEing that my daughter knows that her ‘confidence losing’ is just a tiny blip on an otherwise beautiful trajectory.