When my daughter Isabel was little, we called her “Betty.” Or rather, she gave herself that name. Unable, as a toddler, to make the “L” sound properly, she adapted the nickname my husband and I gave her; “Bellie” became “Betty.”
I’d kneel down to help her tie her shoes, and she’d push my hand away.
“Betty do it,” she’d say.
Her expression grave, she’d then wind the laces around her fingers for a minute or so before letting them drop. As I tied them, she glanced away, ever saving face. When I tried to teach her to make her bed or zip up her coat or do any other chore that required more dexterity and strength than her little hands could muster, it was the same.
“Betty do it.”
Clearly, she wasn’t a clingy, sit-on-my-lap kind of child, and perhaps not surprisingly, she learned to tie her shoes, go across the monkey bars, and ride a bike earlier than her siblings and many of her peers. She was determined to succeed on her own.
I admit that years ago, I did sometimes wish that “Betty” were less resistant to my help. Whether I was running late (and needed to zip that coat or tie those little sneakers in a hurry) or just wanted the pleasure of teaching her a new skill without opposition, life would have been easier if she had been more compliant. But now that she’s a young woman who sets (and meets) ambitious goals, clings to her convictions, and uses her strength to reach out to others, I wouldn’t want her any other way. Here are three things I learned to celebrate while raising an independent child.
What do most successful people (whether they excel at parenting, in the arts, in business, or in any other field) have in common? Persistence. And that toddler who wanted to try things on her own before letting an adult help her has proved to be persistent in her young adult life. If at first she doesn’t succeed, she will try and try (and try) again. Struggling in a class? She goes to school early to ask for help from her teacher. Challenged by a difficult choral piece? She’ll rehearse for hours until she gets it right. And on it goes.
A child more acquiescent and invested in “people pleasing” than Betty might let her parents—and, later, her peers—take the lead in shaping her convictions and choices just to keep them happy. As a recovering people-pleaser myself, too often I’ve sought extrinsic validation by agreeing to help, to listen, and to serve—even when that meant my own needs would go unmet. But a feistier person sets boundaries, has her own priorities, and is comfortable saying “no” to requests that could get her off track.
When Betty was little, I often told my husband that although there were unique challenges involved in raising a “strong-willed” child, I predicted that she would “use her power for good.” You see, from a very early age I saw her heart—whether she was marching across the playground to help another child, inviting the new kid over to play, or exhibiting compassion in a hundred other ways. As a current senior in high school, she continues in this mode, as a committed volunteer with organizations she loves—many of which serve people who are too often overlooked and underserved.
I joke that I can’t keep up with her busy schedule, and she just smiles.
Perhaps she’s thinking, “You don’t need—Betty’ll do it.”