I was noticing recently, in the ‘Labels’ column in my sidebar, that I’ve got posts labeled for each of my kids. . . except one. I’ve briefly mentioned, from time to time, my second daughter, 2F; but I’ve never devoted a post to her and her life. Which is a shame, because, at least so far, her life has been the most substantial of any of our ‘older’ kids (if perhaps not quite so ‘interesting’ as the others. . .)
From the very beginning, 2F seemed to have come into the world with the mission of teaching Molly and me that:
(a) each of our kids was an individual in her own right,
(b) not all of our kids would be compliant ‘pleasers’ like 1F, and
(c) there were limits to how, uh, ‘forcefully’ we could coerce our kids into obedience.
For that, we have come to be grateful, but gratitude was not always our first instinct.
I suppose that it is inevitable that second children will be parented at least partly in comparison to their first-born siblings. And that tendency is perhaps intensified when the two children are of the same sex. As I’ve said, 1F was a very compliant child, the type who, when we said “Jump” would ask, “How high?” 2F was much more inclined to say, “Why should I?” And “Because I said so” was not always as convincing an answer as Molly and I might have thought it should be.
2F’s stubbornness, combined with Molly’s and mine, and our immaturity as young parents, made for some fairly monumental contests of will. With 1F, whenever she opposed her will to ours, we could fairly easily ‘turn up the heat’ to get her to comply. With 2F, it didn’t work that way, ever. I vividly recall one such contest, when 2F was two or three, that we ‘turned up the heat’ to a level I was already uncomfortable with, and the realization came to me that this toddler girl had us stymied – the next level of ‘heat’ would cross a line into the realms of ‘abuse’ that I was unwilling to cross, and might put us into a danger zone with the law, as well. It was a very disorienting experience, for sure.
And so it went for virtually all of 2F’s young childhood, until roughly 7th grade. Molly and I took to telling her that, if she continued on the path she was going, sooner or later, she wouldn’t be dealing with her parents, she’d be dealing with the police; and the police didn’t love her like we did. And the day came (inevitably?) that she found herself dealing with the police. It was a small enough matter, but it did confirm for her that, indeed, the police simply didn’t care what became of her. So I suppose Molly and I got some credibility out of that.
I don’t know if that experience had a major impact on her life or not, but it roughly coincided with a turning point in her life. Somewhere around 7th/8th grade, it was like she rolled over in bed, and said to herself, “the approach I’ve been taking isn’t working so well; maybe I’ll try it their way, and see if that goes any better.” And really, from that time on, she’s been our most solid, responsible kid.
2F was 16 when 3M started running away from home (and generally demonstrating to us that such willfulness as 2F had shown us in her childhood years had been, well, child’s play). And she was 17 when 1F took up with F-bomb. And for a few years after that, our family was just traumatized. And 2F, being between the two ‘troubled kids’, kinda got lost in the trauma.
She finished high school and went to college, and got a degree in Child Development (following in Molly’s footsteps). She has made us proud in so many ways – she recently returned from a year-and-a-half of mission work in Detroit, during which she lived in the middle of one of the poorest, nastiest ‘inner cities’ in America, and brought God’s love to the people there in a multitude of ways.
2F is an incredibly kind, sensitive young woman, and admirable in a multitude of ways. Just as people used to congratulate us for having raised 1F, nowadays they say similar things to us about 2F. And she finds that ‘role reversal’ the least bit ironic.
The thing is, her childhood has left its scars on her psyche. She was deeply wounded by the severity of our learning-on-the-job young parenting, and by the way she was constantly overshadowed by her ‘perfect’ older sister (and she knew all along, when Molly and I couldn’t bring ourselves to see, what a façade the ‘perfection’ was). Even as she has made us busting-our-buttons proud, she has struggled with her relationship with us. In the last few months, we’ve been able to start bringing some healing to our relationship. By God’s mercy.
I’ve said, from time to time, that life turns out to be more heart-breaking than we planned on. And there is something heart-breaking about our inability to appreciate 2F for who she was all along, to give her the love she needed on her own behalf, and where that’s brought us in the meantime, in terms of psychic wounds and painful relationships.
But God is merciful. He “restores to us the years the locust has eaten,” (ref. Joel 2:25) and “gives us a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). So, we can look forward to that. . .