Parenting During The Discovery Years

As you watch your daughter wake up, your job is relatively simple. You sing to her, pray with her, snuggle with her, and teach her about Jesus. You create space for her to grow, but stay near enough to cuddle. You allow her to toddle down the lane, but only within the sound of your shouts of admiration and delight.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? We know it's not. We know that many of you with daughters in the Discovery Years feel much like Anne Lamott, in her book Operating Instructions:

There are a couple of things I want to remember about Sam's earlier days, his youth, now that he's kind of an old guy with no umbilical cord. The first thing happened the day my friend Peg and I brought him home from the hospital, during what for me felt like the most harrowing ride a person could take through san Francisco. The first time we hit a pothole, I thought, "Well, that's that, his neck just snapped; we broke him. He's a quadriplegic now. But we did get him home safely____

You may have felt the same fears on your baby girl's ride home from the hospital . . . or during her first bath . . . or the first time you watched her big brother swing her over his head. Parenting is a terrifying, wonderful job. And every age has its parts that are terrifying and its parts that are wonderful.


The AdVcndurouj Years: Six to Enliven

I would be starting to school in a week. I never looked forward more to anything in my life. Hours of wintertime had found me in the tree house, looking over at the schoolyard, spying on multitudes of children through a two-power telescope Jem had given me, learning their games, following Jem's red jacket through wriggling circles of blind man's bluff, secretly sharing their misfortunes and minor victories. I longed to join them.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

As a young girl, I (Melissa) longed to be Queen of the Merry-Go-Round. The merry-go-round was the focus of all energy and powermongering of the children at AB Austin Elementary School. Each day at recess they started the merry-go-round spinning, and everyone who dared pushed and shoved their way to the center. Only an elect few were able to make it. Whoever did gained the unofficial, widely revered title of King or Queen of the Merry-Go-Round.

Like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, I longed to join them. One day, I finally decided it was time for me to claim my throne. The merry-go-round started spinning and I hopped on. I pulled myself with the bars, tried to nicely throw the other children off, and finally reached the pinnacle of my hopes—the center. I sat there for a few moments of glory, watching the disappointed faces whirl around me. As the whirling continued, however, something tragic happened. My dress was somehow caught in the spinning gears. It no longer participated in the spinning, while I did. What that meant was that my dress started wrapping itself around me . . . tighter and tighter and tighter. The merry-go-round could not stop fast enough, and my reign ended as quickly as it began — with my lunch coming up all over my beautiful dress that my grandmother and aunt had made for me. My dress had to be cut and I was escorted off my momentary throne.

It is easy to hear that story and to shudder in sympathy with my humiliation. My memory of that day, however, is one without shame. It was more of an adventure than an embarrassment.

My willingness to go after the throne and my lack of self-consciousness about the outcome are representative of girls in their Adventurous Years. Girls age six to eleven are freer, with fewer limitations. They don't feel as much of the self-consciousness that haunts girls throughout adolescence, and they rebound from their hurts much faster than those in the Narcissistic Years. Your daughter comes home from school complaining that her best friend played with someone else at recess. You sit down to listen as she talks and spills tears all over the kitchen table. And just as you are getting up to call this friend's mom to tell her how terribly her daughter hurt your daughter, she is on her way out the door to play kick-the-can with her neighborhood buddies.

The adventurousness of girls is a relative term, however. Growing up, Melissa was on the wild side of adventurous, while Sissy was more on the sweet side. Melissa chased boys, picked neighbors' flowers, and climbed in and out of windows. She always gathered the neighborhood kids together to tell them what their next escapade would be. Melissa's life in her Discovery Years would make a great coming-of-age movie.

Sissy was a much quieter six- to eleven-year-old. Sissy liked to milder adventures. She took gymnastics and dance lessons and loved to ride bikes with Ryan and Blair, her best "boy" friends. But she would have watched the merry-go-round from a distance and wouldn't have climbed in or out of a window to save her life. She stretched herself by reading and learning. She liked to play games and sports that didn't require daring and didn't draw that amount of attention.

It is important to realize girls age six to eleven are different. They all are adventurous, but that adventurousness comes out in various ways. Some are quieter than others, but the freedom of this time is still there.

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