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Getting to Know my Daughter

Getting to Know my Daughter


Have you ever had the chance to watch your child through someone else’s eyes? It is truly amazing. No, transformative.

Recently I took a trip to California with my second-to-oldest daughter. Just the two of us. We had a wonderful few days filled with visiting friends and family, and an unforgettable trip to Disneyland.

Now, all my children are amazing, in different ways, and each one has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. And I had always thought that I treated each child as an individual and worked to bring out his or her best. What hadn’t occurred to me was that I was treating each child the way I saw that child, and in my limited vision I was missing out on abilities and capabilities that I simply didn’t know were there.

In my limited vision I was missing out on abilities and capabilities that I simply didn’t know were thereMy oldest is the kind of kid who was born an adult in a small body. She doesn’t seem to get older, just taller. Even looking at her baby pictures, she never looked like a baby or a cute little girl; she always had a mature look. From literally the moment she was born, she was called an “old soul.”

My next daughter is a free spirit. Not only physically much smaller than her older sister, she is much more relaxed, free-flowing, and mainly a happy, upbeat, worry-free child. She loves to dance around, sing at the top of her lungs, make funny faces and joke around. She is rarely without a smile on her face, and her high-pitched, squeaky voice means she can be heard from quite far away.

It is my oldest who babysits. Who cooks. Who cleans. Who takes care of organizing things and responsibilities. I guess I never needed to ask her younger sister to share in these tasks, because my oldest is so competent. I don’t think it ever even occurred to me.

So you can imagine my shock when, in California, I enter the kitchen, and there is my little blonde beauty putting in the oven a cake that she made, herself, start to finish! Sure enough, my friend needed help, handed her the cookbook, and she took charge and did it. This is the same child who woke up in the morning when the rest of us slept, took care of the baby, fed the older children, read to them and helped them finish their homework.

It doesn’t actually surprise me that she was able to do all of this. After all, she is a bright, helpful, loving girl. What surprises me is that I wasn’t aware she could do this, because I never gave her the chance. I was so busy thinking I knew my child that I was missing out on getting to know her.

I wasn’t aware she could do this, because I never gave her the chanceJewish philosophy teaches us, Chanoch le’naar al pi darko,” that we should educate a child according to his way. Meaning that each child is unique and different, and should be taught accordingly. I couldn’t agree more. I am a big believer in differentiated learning in the classroom and working with each individual the way that individual needs. I love the poster that hangs in the teachers’ room of my kids’ school. It reads: “A student need not learn the way a teacher chooses to teach. A teacher must teach the way a student needs to learn.”

I thought this is how I was parenting. What I failed to recognize is that my children are growing, changing and developing. It is not enough for me to recognize when they are ready to be toilet trained, or to move onto solids, or can cross the street by themselves. Emotionally, they are changing as well. And somehow, I missed that my second child could also be the responsible one, the cooking aide, the babysitter and the big helper. I was so busy seeing her as the younger sister, and treating her as such, that I failed to let her develop what she is truly capable of.

Coming back home, I started to take a good look at all my children and the unspoken roles that they fill. Even though my baby is my baby, if given the chance, maybe she could be a great “big sister” to a friend’s younger child. Maybe my oldest, my responsible one who can handle anything, wants or needs to be babied a bit more. And maybe my middle children really need to be treated as the oldest or the youngest at different times.

Sometimes, knowing someone too well blinds us from seeing who they really can beIt’s funny how, sometimes, knowing someone too well blinds us from seeing who they really can be. So when your kid, who always has tantrums at home, comes back from a playdate with a glowing report . . . don’t think to yourself, If only she knew how he really is . . . Think to yourself, How can I get to know this side of him; what can I do to bring this out in our home . . . ?

We are not the only ones who know our children. Their teachers do, their friends do, and what they know is just as real as what we know. And, as hard as this can be to swallow, sometimes what they see and know is even more real than what we know!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Tatiana Frey Burke January 14, 2013

Thank you As I this article I realized how I was doing the exact same thing...thank you just knowing I'm not alone. Reply

Jack Midland Park December 7, 2011

Getting to know my daughter Children are a mystery. It is impossible to know everthing about them especially as they grow older. Reply

Susan Fayetteville, NC December 7, 2011

Thoughtful and applicable Good sound advice, from which you don't need to be frum or even Jewish to benefit. Reply

anonymous Pittsburgh, PA December 6, 2011

thank you It is not just our children we need to be open to seeing, and learning who they are. It is also ourselves and our spouses.

Just before I read this article I was feeling a lot of lack of knowledge of who I was, and who my wife was, even though we have been together 25 years. After reading the article, somehow I was comforted. I can see I don't have to know everything all at once. And perhaps I am not so clueless as I thought. Thank you. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 6, 2011

what do we really know? This is wonderful, a true loving Mom revelation, and from my perspective, I think this story was there to teach you this wonderful fact, the gift of your daughter, whose proclivities you didn't see. But you are so loving, so flexible, so able to take the lesson and move with fluidity and love and to make this lesson a further lesson in the love of raising a daughter, and all your children. I love this piece as I love so many of your stories. Reply

Enya St. Louis, MO December 5, 2011

Knowing a child After my daughter spent Shabbat away, I wondered, who this family had as a guest upon hearing of the help given with setting the table, assist in serving, and cleaning up. I'm glad she was enjoyed. Her comjment to me was, she knew how to behave properly. Reply

Nechama Laber Troy December 4, 2011

Very true Sara Esther! Thanks so much for sharing and for your insight. My 2 oldest children went away for Shabbos and I was worried how I would manage without them this week. It was a great opportunity to treat my younger girls as the oldest...
Have a great week parenting our children according to their strengths! Reply