Dear Fiona: I Hear You

Dear Fiona,

As I write this letter right now, you’re just 14 months old, and already I can see in you a strong desire to make choices for yourself. You have strong and specific preferences, and are adept at communicating them in ways your mom and I can understand.

Despite your lack of verbal language, you’re quite skilled at letting us know what you want in vivid detail.

In my last post I wrote that I hope you baffle expectations . . . mine and everyone else’s. I wrote, there and elsewhere, that I want you to learn how to choose for yourself, even – and perhaps especially – when it means your choices are not the same ones I would make. I wrote about how hard it is, in those moments when your preferences and mine collide, to get past my desire for something to happen right now and instead focus on building your decision-making skills in a way that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

But even in those difficult moments, I want you always to know this: I hear you.

Even when I can’t give you what you want, when you want it, I hear you.

Even when you don’t understand me – or when I don’t understand you – I hear you.

Even when you’re upset or angry with me – or I’m upset or angry with you – I hear you.

That doesn’t always mean I’ll always give you what you want in those moments, or even that I’ll always try. And it doesn’t mean I’ll always make the right decisions, or that I’ll pick the right times to insist on them – or for that matter, the right times to let you make them for yourself.

What it means is that your decisions – and your ability to make them will always mean something to me. It means that even at 14 months old, those things have weight . . . that they are something worth taking into consideration and factoring into my own decisions and preferences. It means that even at this stage of your life, I will ask for your input in decisions that affect you, and that I will not make decisions for you without first regarding your input – to the best of your ability to give it.

That doesn’t mean I’ll always get it right, but it does mean that the times I screw up won’t be for lack of trying.

A very wise friend of mine – one who is in the process of raising two kids of her own, and from whom I have learned a great deal about what I consider to be parenting well – once gave me some advice that has stuck with me ever since: She said that it is not my job to make sure all my children’s needs are met. It is my job to make sure my children know that their needs matter!

I want you to know that. I want you to know that your needs matter to me – always – and not just basic needs like food and safety and health, but more complex needs like independence and self-expression and understanding.

I want you to know that just because I may be unable to meet your needs or desires right now, or just because I may fail in the moment to empathize and care for your needs as I should, does not make those needs unimportant or subordinate to my own needs or anyone else’s. It just means that navigating the stuff of relationships is hard. I want you to know that it’s ok to need these things, and ok to express those needs in ways I may not always understand or be able to fulfill for you.

I want you to know that I hear you.

Because I love you.

Love,
~Dad

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