One hot summer day, my family and I were at my in-laws’ house for a family pool party. There was music and laughter and kids screaming with delight as they jumped in and out of the pool. It was a pretty typical scene, really.
My children, ages three and five at the time, had very different reactions to the day’s activities. My son ate up every minute of the loud, raucous shenanigans.
But my daughter, not so much.
In fact, she walked into the party, surveyed the scene, and immediately announced she wanted to go home. I spent much of the party quietly rocking her in a guest bedroom because the noise and the cacophony were just too much. As she put it in her little voice, “It’s too peoply out there, Mama. I don’t like it out there.”
Over the years, I have come to realize that, while my daughter and I are similar in so many ways, there is one fundamental difference between us: I am a “yes” person when it comes to social interaction and new opportunities. And she’s more of a “let me ease into the situation and then decide” person when it comes to joining clubs, participating in sports, or accepting social invitations.
I love the excitement of a new challenge or opportunity. So there have been times when it’s been difficult to watch my daughter navigate her teen years. But as I watch her life unfold and see the choices she’s making for herself, I’m also realizing that I can learn from her example.
Rather than seeing our differences in personalities as an opportunity to change her, I’m realizing more and more that her subtle way of approaching life is mature and exacting.
For as long as I can remember, I have said yes to everything, whether socially or professionally. And, more often than I care to admit, I have found myself in situations asking, “Why did I agree to come to this jewelry party?” on a Friday night after a long week, or “What was I thinking when I took on this freelance project?” the week before a family vacation.
Saying “yes” has led me to amazing opportunities and exciting professional dreams, but it’s also led me to feel overscheduled, drained, and exhausted at times. Saying “yes” means I have fed the “people-pleasing beast” that lives deep down. And saying “yes” means I have an uncomfortable relationship with the word “no” sometimes.
But, my daughter? She only says yes to what really matters to her.
She’s not quick to jump into a club at school unless she’s sure the mission gels with her values.
She selects her sports activities based on whether she’ll have enough time to read for pleasure or spend time with her small, close group of friends.
And, unlike her social butterfly brother, she is selective about her friends and the people with whom she chooses to spend her quality time.
At 14, my daughter has somehow figured out how to achieve a balance in her life that suits her just fine.
And the words, “Nah, that doesn’t work for me,” flow off her tongue with an ease that takes my breath away. My 45-year-old self is grateful for the reminder to slow down and live more intentionally.
Recently, my daughter and I had an argument over signing up for the middle school track team. An avid runner, my daughter has participated on a track team since she was in kindergarten, but this year she wanted to discuss taking the season off. While she loves running, she’s come to realize that the stress of competition and the long hours of training aren’t her favorite part of the sport.
But I pushed back, wanting her—just this once—to openly say “yes” to something that we both knew she loved. I wanted her to simply shrug her shoulders and say, “Okay, that sounds great!” instead of mulling it over for weeks. In short, I was asking her to be spontaneous and it led to a conflict where she shot back, “My life, my choices, Mom.”
She was right. And I respect that.
She is never going to be the kid who spontaneously drops everything to head to a party. She’s never going to be the kid who hatches a plan to drop out of college and found a startup company. She is always going to be our kid who “measures twice, cuts once.”
And, as I’m learning, she is also the kid who will eventually come downstairs and say, “Is it too late to sign up for track? I’ve thought about it and I’m ready to run.”