I realize I have been doing something with Number 4.
And I also realize it’s not good.
Last Monday when my husband and I were at the therapist we were talking about the kids.
And I was telling her how it can be difficult to be Number 4’s sister because she’s fearless and outspoken and proactive and beautiful and ridiculously intelligent and she thinks about other people and is generous with the money she earns and she’s a very naturally gifted swimmer and runner and she just appears to have no flaws. At all.
She’s the kid who you want to have in your group when you are working on a group project because she’s a leader and she gets sh*t done, even if she has to do it herself.
She’s also the kid who will talk to anyone. She’s the kid who will go ask an adult a question when the rest of the kids are too shy to do it.
Because of these things, I’ve always thought that Number 4 would be the kid I wouldn’t have to worry about as far as drugs and alcohol are concerned because she’s super confident and I thought she either felt good enough about herself that she didn’t need anything to help her navigate the ups and downs of life, or she was ballsy enough to not succumb to peer pressure and not worry about what other kids said or thought about her.
But in the past year or so I’ve become a little more concerned.
While being proactive and up for anything is a strength, I realize it can also be a weakness.
Because Number 4 will literally try anything. She’ll try any food, she’ll try any drink, she’ll ride any amusement park ride, she’ll take any dare.
There are few things that scare her.
And she doesn’t let the few things that might scare her stop her.
When the therapist told me that the kids who are most at risk for using drugs and alcohol– or at least kids who are up there on the high risk list — are the kids who are fearless, I wasn’t surprised.
But I was scared.
And I felt my heart begin racing.
So that is now on my radar more than it was a couple years ago. Especially in light of the vaping epidemic that is present among middle schoolers.
Back to that bad thing I realize I’ve been doing.
Number 4 is not your typical 11-year-old.
She doesn’t look like your typical 11-year-old, and she doesn’t act like your typical 11-year-old.
And because of this, she has become my go-to person.
When I need help, I ask her.
If one of the kids needs help finding something, I ask Number 4 to help.
If Number 7 needs help packing up her swim bag for a meet, I ask Number 4 to help her.
When someone needs homework help and I can’t help immediately, I ask Number 4 to do it.
I rely on Number 4 a lot.
Very rarely do I ask Number 3 to help out with these things although he is a year older than Number 4. Because he’s not as reliable or as cooperative as she is.
And a couple weeks ago when a frustrated Number 4 said under her breath,
I am always the one who has to help with everything,
I heard her.
I didn’t just listen to her.
I HEARD her.
She is right.
Being the right hand (wo)man to me all the time is not fair to Number 4.
It puts a lot of pressure and expectation on her.
And although I think she often likes helping out and being treated with respect and being trusted with responsibility, I do it too often.
I really became conscious of this a couple weeks ago when she had a meltdown in the car when it was just her and me.
Number 4 is the kid who wants to do everything.
This past school year she was in chorus and played saxophone in the band and was on the Y swim team and the middle school swim team and the middle school cross country team and the middle school track team and she’s in advanced math and was in a play and she had set a goal for herself to get straight A’s on every report card (which she did).
She can handle a lot.
But that was too much.
And when she had this meltdown I think she was releasing the overload of the past year, and I told her she was too hard on herself and putting too much pressure on herself and that she didn’t have to get straight A’s and in between sobs she said,
But I’m the smart one. I’m supposed to get good grades.
And that was when the light bulb went off.
Too much is being expected of Number 4. I’m expecting too much of her at home, and she’s expecting too much of herself.
I shared with her about how I struggle with wanting to do everything. With having a hard time saying no. With having to accept that there are things that I just cannot do. At least not now.
I told her she didn’t have to get straight A’s. That this was never my expectation.
I told her she had to make some decisions and that something had to go.
She said to me, “Mom, I HATE band.”
I was shocked. I had no idea.
“I thought you liked it!” I said.
“No,” she said. “I don’t. But I thought I should do it because colleges like kids who are well-rounded.”
“You are eleven,” I told her. “You don’t need to worry about college right now. You don’t need to worry about anything right now. You need to be having fun and figuring out what you like and doing things that make you happy.”
She started crying again.
“So I can quit band?” she asked.
“YES!” I told her.
We talked a little bit more.
She was visibly more relaxed.
And that, along with my conversation last week with the therapist, is when I realized I sometimes (or often) forget she is still a kid.
While I don’t put pressure on her to get good grades or do any of the activities she’s doing or excel at swimming, I do rely on her too much at home.
She wasn’t saying anything out loud, but it was clearly affecting her and stressing her out and making her resentful.
I know from personal experience that that is another reason why kids turn to drugs and alcohol.
I do not want to look back in ten years and feel — or worse, know — that I contributed to a problem.
Eleven-year-olds should not be feeling stressed out.
Especially not from their parents.
What I learned in the last couple weeks is that our kids often internalize this stuff and don’t tell us, and we are often completely oblivious.
Until the stress manifests itself — months or years later — in some other much more self-destructive way.
So I have had my wake up call.
I can’t predict the future.
Nobody knows exactly the path their children will take. That is one of the scariest and most challenging parts of parenting.
But I saw us veering off on a path that may have been treacherous.
And hopefully now we are headed back in a safer, healthier, and much less stressed out direction.