To our darling H, today you turned 7 and I have got to tell you Mummy is frightened.
From the moment you were born, you have been mesmerizingly intense. Where most new-borns sleep, not you, alert and watchful, you never took your wide eyes off Daddy all night as I came round from the general anaesthetic.
Since then you have been brilliantly fierce, passionate, driven and determined. Full of life and energy. You love with your whole heart and are affectionate and sometimes jealous. At 17 months you became a sister for the first time and then again at the age of 3 years and 3 months. Since then you have given and shared willingly and easily, you have cared, nurtured and protected your siblings and have been more responsible than your years. You have been unapologetically confident and self-assured. Amongst your peers you have been a leader and a prized friend.
But now I am worried. I see you darling, at a cross roads, on the beginning of your journey towards your teenage years then onwards to womanhood. I know that the next few years are a fundamental part of your development. For the first time, I am witnessing you struggle with new emotions, with relationships and I watch as I see the first unravelling of your precious self-love.
Yesterday, I began reading Steven Biddulph’s, ‘10 things girls need most’ and was not surprised to read:
“the Department of Education is reporting that a third of all teenage girls in the UK suffer from depression or anxiety. They are calling it, “an important and significant trend”. The NHS says the same; they report that 20% of girls are self-harming – three times as many as ten years ago. Not only that; 13% of girls have symptoms of post-traumatic stress – something we associate with serious trauma or harm. Eating disorders, body-hate, having unhappy and unwanted sex: are all on the increase.”
Never has my role as a mum felt quite so important as it does today. More than anything I want to get it right for you, but what if I don’t?
I used to think we were so different – I didn’t recognise myself in the spunky little girl, not afraid of anything and yet just lately, I see myself in you so much. You are only just seven but in the last few weeks I have been alarmed to hear you ask if you are good enough, worrying that you are a bad daughter, a bad sister, a bad friend. When I think about how intensely we love and adore you, I wonder where it comes from.
Last week, for the first time, you didn’t want me to comfort you. I was the cause of your pain and you resisted me when I tried to hold you and wipe away your hurt. My parenting style needs to change: whereas past chastisements have been taken at face value, I now see you internalising them, flipping the admonishment to be a reflection on your value, your worth and how you are loved. I cannot speak quite so firmly or frankly as I seek to guide you as to what is and what is not acceptable behaviour, because if I do, I see it dampen the spark in your eyes and you are questioning yourself.
When you pushed and pushed me away last week with a force that came from deep felt hurt and fury and told me you didn’t want me, I was absolutely terrified. I wanted to scream out: “no, darling, please, don’t let this begin already, not now, not so young….not ever, I will always love you, no matter what, I want to be the person you trust more than anyone else, without question. I am your safe harbour and I never want you to feel anything but love and care from me….”
I’m so scared darling that I am going to mess this up.
It was parents evening this week and we were so very proud of you. Not because of your many achievements but because of the little girl we spoke about. Someone who is choosing a strong work ethic, who is striving hard to improve and who enjoys improving herself. Someone who is polite and helpful. Kind and caring. We have seen a change in you, as you move towards the next stage of your development and so have your teachers. We see you choosing who you want to be.
For our part, we want to protect that feistiness and joy that you have had so far. The little girl who could do pull-ups, “because I just had to believe harder Mummy”. The little girl I call Kissy McKissy because you smother us with love and wrap yourself around every part of us with your bony little limbs! The little girl who just runs and runs because she loves the thrill of it. The little girl who believes in herself and who until this moment has felt 100% loved and secure.
Please, please, please don’t let us lose her. Please, please, please don’t let us have any part to play if the edges of this amazing little girl become a bit blurred or a bit frayed. We are your protectors and I hope beyond all else, that I can be the mum I need to be and that I do not let you down.
I am going to go now darling, because I cannot see the screen anymore. You are my love and my hope and my heartbeat. I already miss the preschool and early years you and those beautiful easy days at home. Please don’t let me miss you, at your most natural and most incredible. I hope I can find a way to keep you close and to keep you whole.
Lots of love