I heard once that being brave doesn’t mean that you aren’t afraid; being brave means doing the very thing you are afraid of. I love this distinction because I think too often we let fear choose our path. We are good at avoiding the uncomfortable, so much so that it limits our growth. Isn’t it almost always the case that when we are in the midst of something hard we are growing in some capacity? Maybe it’s emotional growth, maybe its social growth, it could even be academic growth. Regardless of what it is, it’s taking in experiences, and allowing yourself to be soft enough so that they mold you just a little bit.
A week ago my daughter wanted to get her ears pierced. This wasn’t a totally new idea, but one that has been coming and going for about a year. I’m not one of those mom’s that has big feelings about young girls having pierced ears – I personally think there are bigger things to fret about. What I do care about is honoring my daughter, while at the same time helping her to find understanding and ownership over this decision.
I could tell that this time when she asked it was different, she was committed. “When can I?” she asked us over and over. We set a date and made a chart – it would be 6 days until the big day. She was excited and giddy at the thought of being able to have earrings of her very own.
Over the course of the week we had conversations about the responsibility of having your ears pierced, making sure to clean her ears well every morning and night. We also talked about how ears get pierced. I wanted to make sure she understood that there would actually be holes in her ears, and that it would hurt a little bit when they pierced them. “I know!” she’d say with a smile.
As we filled in earrings on her chart each day and the big day grew closer we started to notice some behavior changes in Darby. She was a little more on edge, and a little more charged each day. It seemed like tiny events would send her into a tailspin. We saw lots of tears and her brain would get stuck. Making decisions about something as simple as which shoes to wear for the day was nearly an impossible task. We kept asking ourselves, “What’s going on with Darby?” and then it hit us – she’s worried about getting her ears pierced.
This is the thing about young children – heck it’s even the thing with a lot of adults – they don’t often have the ability to put words to their feelings, let alone understand why they feel what they feel or even further know how to navigate them. Darby had been carrying this worry around all by herself and it was getting heavier and heavier each day. This worry was consuming her and we needed to help her work through it.
“Baby girl, I can see you have some big feelings, I notice that you have tears, and your eyebrows are furrowed, and your brain is kinda stuck. Is it sadness your feeling?”
“I don’t know.”
“I have a guess about what may be happening could I share it with you?”
She just nodded her head yes.
“My guess is that you are worried about getting your ears pierced. I think that it is something you really want but you are afraid of how it will hurt.”
Immediately she burst into tears. I wanted to take all the worry away. I wanted to just say something that would make it all better, in fact I think that is the natural reaction for most people. The truth is there wasn’t anything I could say or do that would take it all away. So I just held her for awhile and we sat in those feelings together.
I reminded her that getting her ears pierced wasn’t something she had to do, that at any moment she could change her mind. I also realized that she was committed to the idea. Yes, she was scared, but she wasn’t going to let that feeling get in the way of what she wanted.
“Do you wanna hear about a time when I wanted something so bad but I was also afraid?”
Again, she just nodded her head.
“It was the day you were born. You were still in my belly and we were at the hospital because you were ready to be come out. Dado was there, and I just started crying. I wanted to hold you in my arms so badly, but I was so afraid that I wasn’t going to know how to be a good mom.”
She looked up at me with her blue teary eyes and giggled, “What?” she asked as if that was the most absurd thing I had ever said. “You were afraid?”
I looked at her, now my eyes filled with tears and said, “Very afraid, but I decided to be brave. Did you know you can be afraid and brave at the same time?”
We hugged for a long while and then she said, “I am scared of getting my ears pierced but I still wanna do it.”
We had to revisit this conversation a few more times until the big day arrived. When it was time she walked into the store like a boss. She sat in the chair, they marked her ears and when the lady ran to the back to grab her earrings she quickly asked me “But can you hold my hand while they do it?”. My heart skipped a beat. “Absolutely” I said.
Thirty seconds later she was holding a mirror admiring her new crystal studs. “It didn’t even hurt!” she whispered. We walked out of the store holding hands and it was everything I could do not to cry. I was so proud of her, but not because she didn’t cry, because she didn’t let fear get in the way of something she really wanted. She was brave.