We talk so much about all that motherhood takes from us: our free time, space in our beds, and food from our plates, to name a few. The tax of parenting is undeniable; from childbirth to what I can only assume is forever, we’re in the game of giving. And while it only seems natural to be, at times, resentful (I mean, can’t I ever have a sandwich to myself?), the further I get into motherhood, the more I see it as a two-way street. What I mean is that there are plenty of things I am gaining from my daughter as she grows.
Here are just some of the lessons my 6-year-old has taught me.
1. Feelings Are Meant to Be Felt
For those who put any stock in the zodiac, I’m a Cancer. Need I say more? True to form, my emotions are big and plentiful. I feel everything, and often intensely. Growing up, I had people in my life coach me to tamp down my emotional responses—and when I couldn’t, I was always left feeling embarrassed and ashamed.
Now I see my daughter dealing with the same range of feelings. But without the pressure to deny them, she rides them out as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Sure, she gets angry, and sometimes that has meant a level of aggression I do not welcome—but with some proper guidance, she’s learning to channel those big feelings into something that doesn’t harm anything or anyone. It’s an admirable trait, really, to let your emotions in-and-out without any judgment attached to them. It’s something I’m working toward, too, looking to my little one to lead the way.
2. Style Is About More Than What Meets the Eye
I love watching young children assemble outfits without any care for what’s societally appropriate. Graduating by Zoom last spring, my then-kindergartner insisted on wearing full Snow White regalia, from the gown to the cape. “This is what makes me feel good,” she said. And I love the idea that dressing for an occasion is less about what others think and more about how you feel in the items you choose. To that end, I sprang for a ridiculously impractical pink, sequined blazer earlier this winter because it made my heart flip with glee.
3. The Right Perspective Is Life-Altering
My daughter is reactive and prone to whining. She’s also a terrible listener with her head perpetually in the clouds. And there are times when she is such an instigator that she can push her fiery little sister’s buttons with expert precision.
My method of dealing with these less-than-desirable qualities has often been to ignore them, and instead praise what I find truly admirable in her: her creativity and big imagination; her thoughtfulness; and the way she knows exactly what she wants and how she can achieve it. I love watching my kid light up when we point out something good in her, rather than cloud over when we need to reprimand her. It’s also taught me something valuable about how I live my life. When I focus on what’s working well, the myriad ways in which things are truly beautiful outsize everything else.
4. Caring for Yourself Is Crucial
As my daughter grows, I’m learning more and more that what I do has more power than what I say. She is always watching me, so it pays to model the behavior I want her to mirror from me. Watching her watch me has made me hyper-aware of what’s important: eating well, sleeping well (still working on that one), moving my body, and doing the things that bring me joy.
5. Adventure Is Age-less
I’ll admit that adulthood has made me predictable. I need routine and rest to get through each day. But I am pleased to say that my 6-year-old has lit a spark for adventure in me again. Just the other day, when the first big snow fell in Chicago, the two of us went for a surprise traipse through the forest preserve. It was totally unplanned and completely magical, and one of those moments I hope she carries with her into adulthood.
Having this kid by my side is an invitation to search for adventure, wherever I might find it. Without her, I am 100 percent certain I’d never find myself rushing off to explore the woods mid-snowfall. In many ways, she is a ticket back to a better version of myself—and there’s no amount of meal-sharing or middle-of-the-night wake-ups that can diminish that.
Read More: To My Kids, You Made More Than One of My Dreams Come True