The Beatles sang a song that sums up my parenting experience in the first line. “Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody! Help! You know I need someone to help.” Have you ever felt like you are the only person alive who can possibly understand what you’re going through? Same, sister. There are days when I spend more time wondering what weird alternate universe I’ve stumbled into. If it’s that bad for me, the supposed adult with “training” and “life experience” (please feel free to read that with the utmost sarcasm) what is it like for these kids?

My youngest is empathetic to a fault. She feels others’ pain in a way that makes me worried for her as she gets older and the world seems darker every day. Her default “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” reflex is stuck on “fawn.” She is a people pleaser who oh so very much wants everyone to get along and “please, stop yelling). To be clear she is also willing to throw down if she thinks she’s been wronged. She is the most able to destroy me with a well-timed “I hate you” because I’m the most aware of her love for me as a visible thing. But if someone else needs a champion, she is it. I find myself concerned about 80 percent more of the population than I would be on my own because of her heightened social awareness. 

My middle is a fighter. Flight, freeze, fawn? She’s never heard of them. Where some kids would acquiesce to whatever request was made of them after the threat of losing video games she will double down on her outrage. Why should she need to apologize for punching her sister in the face if her sister was doing something infuriating? (Like breathing too loud).

Because of her, I’m more empathetic to those who don’t cry out in anger or fear but snap like pit vipers who won’t let you get close enough to hurt them. I’ve come to realize that often those who need advocates cannot find the words or actions to advocate for themselves. The thought of asking for help feels weak and terrifying.  So instead of looking weak, they strike first. Behind every screeching, screaming fistfight with her sisters is a terrified little girl who imagines she is fighting for her very survival. 

My oldest daughter is a mix of pre-teen angst, heart-rending compassion, and mean-girl sass. Prickly like a porcupine when she needs the most gentle and tender of responses, and downright cruel when a sibling has wronged her in her mind. “No one in the whole world could possibly understand” is her life motto lately. 

Because of her I have felt latent shame for every time I was extra during my pre-teen years. For all the reasons it should not be possible, somehow she is a clone of me (emotionally). You’d think this would make me more compassionate towards her struggles; but alas, my brain defaults to defensiveness and I find myself apologizing more often than I really feel comfortable admitting. She’s taught me that sometimes just waiting things out instead of running my mouth is the best policy and that pre-teens should be in charge of peace talks because at least then the scathing remarks and insults are face to face instead of behind each other’s backs. 

My teens are a whole other creature that, at the moment, requires delicate handling that doesn’t look or feel like handling to them. So, if you have that whole thing figured out, hit me up because I could use some pointers. I have gone literal weeks without my sons saying more than three words to me. If it’s my fault I’m not sure how but my pleading to be told so I can fix whatever problem we have has fallen repeatedly upon unwilling ears. I’m told this too shall pass. We’ll see. 

The point is all of my kids are wildly different and if I had to guess yours are too. For all the parenting books in the market, you’d think at least one would mention that some siblings seem to be complete opposites of each other. Each kid should really come with their own care and keeping guide. 

The truth is that I don’t think any of us have it figured out all the way. We’d might want to pretend but the reality of the situation is no one can do everything right all the time. That’s why having friends who are willing to call you on your screw-ups and let you cry on their shoulder for the 50000th time is so valuable. Without my friends I’d be lost: a kayak in the middle of the ocean with no chance to do anything besides capsize and drown. (Okay, maybe the pre-teen angst is wearing off on me.) 

I can’t do this on my own. Neither can you. Let’s normalize asking for what we need instead of pretending we don’t need anyone. The sooner we can get this part right the sooner we can help our kids with their struggles. Because no matter what we try to tell ourselves, there is no benefit to staying silent.