What a Child Needs

holding each other up

I’m not a mind reader. I can’t know what you want if you don’t tell me.

I said that to her and then as I often do, I began to wonder about the truth of my statement.  Do I not know my own child that I greet each morning and kiss each night? That I have watched and waited with, listened to and loved, held and released surely as I breathe?

In some ways, no. As she grows and spends less time at my side, I find that I don’t know all of her stories anymore. She has inside jokes about moments that happened with friends instead of me. She goes to parties that are full of kids I’ve never met. She sends and receives messages on her iPod that I’ve never read. Part of her life no longer includes me and I don’t know who she is in those moments, what thoughts and feelings are passing through her.

In some ways she’s becoming more of a mystery than she was when she was brand new to me.

And yet, I know what it means to be a girl nearing adolescence. It was the best of times and it was the worst, too, as I just wanted to fit in but didn’t know how. I remember the longing and the anticipation and the uncertainty.

More importantly, I remember that she is my daughter and I see her. I’ve always seen her as she observes the world with her wide, watchful eyes. She takes it all in, tucks it away and then puts her heart on the line. Every time. So do I know what she needs? Of course, I do. It’s what every child needs.

Time to be let go.

Time to be protected.

Time to be herself.

Time to experiment.


As she wanders off the path I’ve cleared for so long, she won’t always know where she’s going or what she may need along the way. People can’t always know what to ask for so it’s my responsibility to have some clue about what to offer. Parents can’t have all the answers, nor should we as part of becoming a self-reliant adult is thinking, feeling, making decisions and accepting accountability.  I know that I will spend restless nights wishing I could fix things and make everything right, holding back my strong opinion as The Way To Go, or wanting to say no, just so I don’t have to worry. At this stage of the game, though, my suggestions are helpful guidance; signposts that suggest what might lie in several different directions, indicating their distance while I remain planted firmly where she can always return. Maybe to choose again, maybe to get more information, maybe to just re-fuel but it’s clear that I will always be available for her.

When I am paying attention, I get to read between the lines. I can notice when something seems off or missing and I can make an educated guess. I do know my daughter very well and I can make very accurate assumptions about what she needs, even if just space. I can try to be a step ahead and offer what may fill a need that she maybe can’t articulate. Relationship is becoming incrementally more important as I rely on her self-esteem, intuition and good sense while she steadily grows in a direction away from our home. It’s years away but the seeds are planted now. Kids don’t always want to ask for the net but they need to feel that they are safe to reach, safe to fall. The risks become riskier (in my mind) if only because they happen more often out of my sight. Because I can’t always be there, my biggest priority these days is to make one message clear:

I am on your side.

When I became a mother, my child came into my world. And here she remained, in the world as I define it. I took her to the stores and parks that I liked, dressed her in the cotton clothes I preferred and fed her the wholesome food of which I approved. As the years pass, I find that I am the one who is entering her world, doing things I swore I would never do, being the person I swore I would never be. Yesterday when asked what my hobby was she replied, “being a soccer mom.” I about fell off my chair.

This is the common ground. As she makes her way into uncharted territory, as her life unfolds in these new ways, so do I, so does mine. Just as I can’t know the right choice always, neither can she. Just as I will make mistakes, so will she. Sometimes she won’t always have a good answer to my question and will be silent. Me, too, and that’s okay. And this, right here, is what every child needs: to feel an understanding for who he or she is in this moment of his or her life. Not where she’s been or where she might be going, but in every snapshot of time. Not when she gets everything figured out, not when she gets on the right path, not when she does all the things that my worldview deems “arrived.” How would it feel to have a sense of belonging, always?

Every child needs to be seen, to be heard and know they are not alone. Hold out the net with understanding that, in truth, we are all just holding each other.


  • Katelin


  • Claire

    I loved this post Flo – so beautifully expressed.

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