On Misreading Daughters

There are four little girls in our house, and as time marches on, we are finding ourselves dealing with issues that are new to us. Turns out that we don’t have a bevy of toddlers anymore, and all our little people are growing up. Among the many delightful and fun things about our kids getting older, we have also found some opportunities to become confused. Little problems look different when you are old enough to talk about them at great length. Self expression makes things easier in so many ways, and then occasionally it offers parents an opportunity to look at each other blankly and wonder. Who is this person?! Where did THAT come from? Sometimes the more they talk, the less you understand. What seemed like a simple discipline issue becomes something  rather monumental.

What we have noticed with our girls is actually a very common female trait. However, it is incredibly easy to misread, misunderstand, and completely mishandle when it pops out of your little lady. The first time we really noticed this with our girls began in the car. There was some offense taken by someone talking about their birthday date with Daddy. The whole thing was riotously petty. One young lady was being offended (quite unnecessarily) by the other young lady using what was judged as a “boastful voice about going to Zip’s.”

As you can imagine, we passed out some great spiritual advice. Something like “Let it go, sweetie, that is not a big thing.” But the thing wouldn’t go anywhere.

“But she is really provoking me!” We explained over our shoulders to the back of the car that being provoked is also a sin. But this was just not going to stop. It was getting shriller. It was getting funnier – I will quite readily admit to having a hard time staying serious in light of accusations of boastful nose postures while talking about a local greasy burger establishment. It was funny, but it was gathering strength. Petty, but actually powerful. We began saying things like “O.K. that is enough. Be done.” And done we were not. The offended lady with a lot of feelings was absolutely not going to stop talking, although we were telling her to stop. She did speed up though.

By the time we got home, what had started out as a tiny offense was looking a bit more like extreme, flagrant rebellion. It was easy to read on the pages of that angry face a deeply hardened heart and a criminal future. Everything seemed to be falling apart. Until ten minutes ago, this was a child we had thought of as tender and sweet.

She was still in the midst of the tirade about other people’s provocative boasting when we got to my bedroom. It seemed like a pretty big old problem. Petty sin, clutched tightly in a sweaty palm starts to stink bad. Anyways, my impression at this point was that my little girl was absolutely not going to let this go without a big old show down. Daddy, with the same vibe about the situation, was on his way up. So there we were, eye to eye, and I said, “Ok, tell me what happened.”

She told me a little slower about exact nose postures, how it hurt her feelings, why she absolutely could tell her sister was being boastful, and a few other juicy details that I cannot remember. When she finished telling me about it, she progressed into an explanation of how she knew it was a sin to be provoked, she knew that her sister was her best friend, she knew that she was letting small foxes spoil the vineyard, and she did in fact want to be done with it all right away.

So we cleared that up. And I was very surprised. Because the tenderness was all still there and had been the whole time. In fact, I think it was the tenderness that caused the entire outburst. Back in the way back of the car, a little sin had happened. Sisterly fellowship was broken, and the fussy voice came out to demand that we fix it. When we did not actually get in there and fix it, she would not let go. But it was never a refusal to let go of the sin, it was a refusal to let go of us. She knew she still needed help, and she was jolly well going to get it, no matter what it cost her.

Of course I don’t mean any of this as an excuse of any part of the sin, but there are times when we see something in one of our girls that prompts  a standard response. The big problem here is if you fail to actually interact with them.  Sometimes the sin that pops out is caused by something completely unexpected. Like tenderness creating an explosive conflict. It doesn’t mean that the sin that happens should go undisciplined, but it does mean that you need to be paying attention. If you correct a daughter for something, and nothing changes, you can bet that you are following the wrong trail. Flip over some rocks, look around for clues. Watch her, and listen too. Try to think of what seems counter-intuitive to you. Check there. Is she being mean to siblings? Try to figure out how she was hurt. Is she acting like she couldn’t care less about anything? Try to figure out what she is caring so much about. Sometimes when little girls start acting out, it is because they are feeling like no one loves them. Then you start firing off rebukes, and frustrated correction because they are being so bad. In this instance, correction and discipline for the wrong thing is like trying to put out an oil fire with water. Same problem, about to get radically worse. Instead of the discipline bringing security, it adds to the insecurity.

The funny thing to me is that this is hard to recognize when I (and I suspect many of you) do exactly the same thing. Not in the car, and not about Zip’s, but sometimes when something is wrong, what you start talking about is often not even in the ballpark. Because often women need to talk to figure out what is actually going on. You start talking about the first thing that comes to mind that seems reasonable. Your husband, listening like the good man he is, answers. And then you realize that the problem wasn’t your weight after all. It was how messy the house is. And so he encourages you about that, but you aren’t encouraged because once again, not it. Then finally, somehow you realize that you were just missing your Grandma. You weren’t actually teetering on the brink of anorexia, or even needing to be featured the Hoarders TVshow, but just needing a hug and a laugh.

This is something that really needs to be on the mind of parents of little girls. You cannot fire off an answer to whatever seems to be happening and walk away. With little girls, and big ones too, they bring their problems to the people who give them security. You cannot give it to them without seeing where they feel threatened, and you cannot teach them how to deal with it themselves unless you can teach them what it is. And to do that, you need to find out first.

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49 thoughts on “On Misreading Daughters

  1. This is right where we are and until reading this post, I could not put my finger on what was going on with my oldest daughter (6). Thank you for these insightful words. You have given something to chew on and apply!

  2. So true – with my daughters and myself! …..however, zips fry sauce is certainly known to get even me worked up every now & then….. 😉

  3. Please continue to share insight on this as you gain it. I am at my wits end with this kind of thing. I just want everyone to get along and trying to unravel the intricacies of hurt feelings in the middle of making dinner or putting the baby down for a nap is exhausting. The seeming pettyness or triviality of it is what pushes me over the edge most days!

  4. I recognized so much of myself in this- I am just a daughter at this stage in my life- much older than your daughters, but I struggle with this so much!


    We, gals, are so incredibly complicated!

    I especially loved how you described that horrible thing that happens where we start with our weight and end up finding out we were upset about something totally different. Oh, how many times have I done that ? To which my husband asks why I didn’t just tell him the real thing that was bothering me. Then I have to confess, “I had no idea where I was going with that.” Not my finer moments!

    That situation with your daughters was probably difficult and wordy to explain, but it was so well written, I could track the entire time. I even caught the tone in voices. ; ) With a 13 year old daughter and an 11 year old daughter, we are finding that we are having to dig deeper and look harder for what is actually going on in their hearts. Thank you for taking the time to write that. It was extremely helpful and I hope the time you took to write it is returned 10 fold.

    You are all gifted writers. I trust my children will be reading insights from your children someday!

  6. My boys are in your girls’ age range and I definitely see similar type problems with my more emotional oldest boy. It happens more often when he is tired or after he has been away from us at school. But we’ve been amused at how early we’ve seen “girl-ness” in our only girl who is only a year and a half. It’s so fascinating and complicated.

  7. This was my favorite bit: “Sometimes when little girls start acting out, it is because they are feeling like no one loves them. Then you start firing off rebukes, and frustrated correction because they are being so bad. In this instance, correction and discipline for the wrong thing is like trying to put out an oil fire with water. Same problem, about to get radically worse. Instead of the discipline bringing security, it adds to the insecurity.”

    As you note later, this still applies to grown-up girls as well as the little ones.

  8. Thank you so much for this article. As the mom of an almost 10 year old, there have been days recently where I was convinced that I had, in fact, failed as a parent and she and all of us were probably not going to heaven after all. But this article is so true. There have been times also where I have succeeded in listening, finding the root of the issue, and speaking to it. And then I get my sweet little girl back.

  9. As always, I very much enjoy reading what you guys are thinking and working out as your children change and grow. I love reading your words as your write about your children as fellow people and Christians, not as Individuals who must be Brought Up into Their Potential.

  10. Thank you, this is very helpful! I dare say there are many boys that struggle with the same thing (mine being one of them). Only a lot of times boys have an even harder time communicating the problem. Thank you again for your wise words!

  11. I’ve got boys. Sometimes I definitely need to take more time to get to the bottom of the rivalry. There are hardly ever hurt feelings though, just one wanting mastery over the other. We do a lot of firing off rebukes here. I feel like I need a new game plan, but have no idea what it ought to be.

  12. Yes, this is such wise advice. Why is it I always want to punch in the discipline formula whenever sin rears its head without considering that their hearts are more complex than a problem to be solved? Thanks for the encouragement here to truly know our children.

  13. You know what I love about many of your posts Rachel? Their effect on my own heart. And how after reading many of them, when I turn to care for my children, I want to love them better, and I actually do. Thank you for that.

  14. As Valerie said, so spot on. I remember feeling like this sometimes, but I never would have pinpointed it quite like that.

    A curious procedural question from somebody who doesn’t have to deal with this yet: did you say anything to the “boastful” daughter? How did you bring about restored fellowship between the two sisters?

  15. Talk about Providential! My 4 year old has been defiant and mouthy all day. As I was reading the last paragraph, she walked into my room and told me her friend at preschool has been trying to scare her. Thanks for passing along your wisdom!

  16. What do you mean by “It’s a sin to be provoked”? Is it because it’s not loving since love is not easily provoked? I am glad you mentioned this…to my shame I have not thought of this, though I surely am provoked quite often. I need to take care of this and then instruct my children. Thank you for any help you can give.

  17. Just for fun – As I sat reading this and marveling at what’s to come, I cradled my sweet 2-month-old baby girl (our first girl). She noisily filled her pants, and I sighed happily and thought to myself, “Well, at least I know what that’s about!”

    Seriously – I would really love to have the Wilson family manual. Our family seeks to imitate yours (your whole family), and we appreciate how you each openly share about growing up and raising others in Christian faith. Thanks a bunch!

  18. As the mother of 6, almost all grown, daughters I find this both insightful and delightful!

  19. Wow, I like how you have managed to put that into words for me. I have three daughter and as they get older, I too can see how dealing with a problem without really dealing with the girl can lead to all manner of anger and upset. And if I do not really take the time to work it out with them, then it can become something that they hold in their hearts.

    I know I am a talker and yep, I never start at the actual root of the problem so I suppose my girls will be like me.

    Very true.

  20. Yes, reminds me of the verse from Phil 4:2 “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche,” in other words it is as much a sin to be odious as it is to be touchy. (You Odious and Sin Touchy)

  21. SPOT ON! My friend calls it the emotional casserole that we create in our minds. It is good to be reminded that our girls go through that as well.
    Thank you

  22. Thanks, keep it coming! My husband and I have been commenting to each other lately how the issues we are dealing with in our newly turned 7 year old are starting to look very different then what we are used to in a house full of toddlers…..thanks for your insight to look at little deeper, a helpful reminder.

    And I read aloud to my husband your second to last paragraph about how women need to talk their way to the real issue, so spot on! And we both had a good laugh because I don’t know how many of our conversations over the years have started with my being fat and the house messy and ended with a good hug and laugh :o)

  23. Boy, this post hits home. My newly 6 year old daughter is driving me insane. But I am finding out that her outbursts, tantrums, everything else that’s going on with her always has a deeper cause than just what’s setting her off right now. It’s exhausting to sift through everything all the time but… we do. We love her.

  24. I’m sorry, were you talking to me?????? 🙂 I have three boys but man oh man can I see this in myself. Maybe there is a very good reason I have boys not girls!!!!

  25. Oh my goodness! That’s it! I’m wondering how much of my frustrations with not only my daughter, but also one of my sons could really be because I’m firing off immediate responses and not looking for the things lurking underneath. I’ve struggled so much with how to get to the heart issues of sins we’re dealing with, but now I realize that I’m likely looking to the wrong heart issues, and that’s why nothing seems to be getting through! Thank you.

  26. THANK. YOU. I sit alone with a house full of 3 daughters and we had one of those days. I am thankful for your ability to see the sin and find the grace.

    After several broken dishes (accidents) and snarly sibling feuds, one daughter, completely exhausted and fed up with her slippery hands, stormed outside. (we had gotten up at 4 am to take brother and father to airport. I was over zealous to take girls to Denny’s for breakfast and Walmart for cupcake supplies, so that we would not think of Dad and brother all too often today with heavy hearts. We were finished by 7:30 am). As she stomped her feet and groaned, she actually took me up on my “just go rest and take a nap” request(mind you it was 4:30 pm and we had dinner with friends at 6). All the girls are now snug in their beds. life is less hectic again. We now prepare to start a new day. God’s mercies are new every morning. May mine be, too.

  27. We’ve adopted your spider metaphor for our oldest daughter and she’s brainstormed the idea that each child has their own “monster” that tempts them. Girl #1 (age 5) has a spider, our son (age 2) has a dragon and girl #2 (age 1) has a tiger. As we add to the family, I’ll be interested to see what else develops. We’ve had a stomach virus around here for well over a week, and tempers (especially mine) are getting a wee bit short. After having to discipline my eldsest for some rather foolish behavior, she asked if she could read her story Bible. Being the good Christian mother I am, I said yes. She chose the story of revelation and after she was finished reading, she excitedly proclaimed, “Mom! In heaven, there will be no more sin! There will be no more spiders!” Amen, sister! Thanks for the helpful way of communicating the craftiness of temptation to our youngsters.

  28. Thank you! I’ve read and re-read this post. My 4-year old daughter has been acting out in a defiant way, which is new for her. This has encouraged me to look deeper to the heart of the matter. Thankful for your insight!

  29. This is a wonderful post… and coming right after I read your “little girl emotions” chapter in LTLY. Thank you for taking the time to share what the Lord is doing in your heart to help you love your little girls. I needed that encouragement. I will pick up that apple and eat it today!

  30. Thank you so much!!! We have a wonderful 2 1/2 boy and a 5 month old girl. I get overwhelmed at times reading wonderful things like this, as I can’t see myself reacting calmly and wisely like you did to your daughter, but I pray the Holy Spirit will move in my heart in the moments!! Also, what you said about women just needing to talk it through to find the real problem….this is so helpful for me and will help my husband understand me even more!! Thank you!!!
    BTW…..do you know what the pattern is for that afghan in the picture? I LOVE it and would love to make one. 🙂

  31. Thanks for this! Not only was it well written and enjoyable to read, but it Helped Me. My little girls are only 3 and 22 months, but I can see this already. They are so different from my oldest (a boy)… and somewhere along the way I sort of forgot that they are Just Like Me. (And sometimes I like to “forget” just how I am!) Anyway, very helpful. Very insightful. Very godly and Very Much Appreciated. Thank you! Keep writing!

  32. Wow. Incredibly profound. I do not have daughters *yet* but I can relate to seeking the real reasons behind the behaviors – for my own boys, and even when I’m having a moment. Thank you for sharing your insight!

  33. Wow! Thank you so much. Almost 25 years od parenting four lovely daughters, and today you clear a myriad of issues up for me. You know how it always goes…wish I’dhave known back then what I know now =)

  34. Thank you for this! This speaks volumes to me and perfect timing actually. I have four daughters also and have ran into moments like you explained many of times. My girls are 9,8,3 and 5 months. Keep the advice and wisdom coming!!

  35. Thanks for the wisdom! I’ve just had an ‘a-ha’ moment!! I have 3 girls and with the eldest turning 8 and already showing great emotional prowess!! So thanks for the heads up as we head into deeper waters. I love, love, love Femina Girls! It is a lifeline for me. I come and read a little bit each day and after a couple of years of visiting here regularly my husband has noticed how positive this site has been for all of us! So thank you so much for kindly sharing the good oil with us ladies.

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