My 8-year-old daughter recently underwent an Anterior Cruciate Ligament reconstruction… Yes, she is young, far too young for this type of injury, or so we were told for the first 7 months until my gut feeling would not be quieted and the Mumma Bear in me won over, I demanded an MRI from another doctor and told them I was willing to pay full fee because I was not willing to be the mother who screwed her child’s knee because I did not act on my gut. She was only 6 at the time and I knew there was something more severe going on from the day she hurt it -the monkey-bars strike again! My exercise physiology qualifications and time spent working in the sports training arena served me well and her symptoms were telltale ACL rupture – pain at the back of the knee, ongoing swelling and bruising, her knee giving way under load- it was not uncommon for her to walk around a corner and suddenly end up on the floor. So within 24 hours after the MRI the doctor called and was in disbelief, she had called 2 other surgeons who said it was not possible for a child this young to have ruptured an ACL. I was not surprised…
The fact is that norms only ever account for the middle ground, the average, the standard, the expected, they don’t account for everyone or everything. It can be difficult to look outside of the norm, and its harder to sit outside the norm on so many levels, but it is possible and it does happen. And so my daughter sat outside the norm. This has made the past 2 years quite the challenge, and as you could well imagine, it is not over.
My daughter had to stop doing everything she loved… dancing, netball, touch, nippers, learning to surf… and this impacted on her socially, emotionally, physically, and mentally. Her confidence fell, she had to change her playground habits which created changes in friendships, she had to learn to love her new nickname “Robo” as she had to wear the brace every day without fail. It changed our family dynamic as we are an active family, so while we encouraged and supported our 12-year-old son in sports and activities it only made my daughter feel even more left out. We always encouraged her to keep doing what she could do and not focus on what she couldn’t, but that was easier said than done. It meant that she could not participate in the rollerskating, waterslides, and other birthday parties of the like she was invited to and so, in the end, she decided not to go as it just made her feel worse to sit on the side and watch. She got very used to grinning and bearing it, but on the inside, it was eating her up. It is a tough lesson to learn that you can’t do everything you want. We did not know what it was like, or so she would tell us… and some days she would just cry for no obvious reason, she was just downloading her emotions. So, when the surgeon told us he thought we should go ahead with the surgery much earlier than originally planned she was excited!
It came around quickly and no matter how much we talked about what it would be like to have surgery and that she would have a lot of work to do post-surgery to get herself back to full strength, she just didn’t comprehend it. I mean how can you tell an 8-year old that it will take a whole year of hard work to recover fully. While she was excited to be having the surgery, she was just so scared about the operation that she could not focus on anything else. We did talk to the surgeon about her emotional and mental readiness, and because she is a mature little thing he felt she would be fine, and the long term benefits of getting back into normal life would override the challenges we would face. And ultimately we had the choice, we could have waited, but fear is not a reason not to move forward, and this has been our mantra.
For the 2 years prior to the surgery, we had regularly discussed that it was OK to cry but it was not ok to let her fears or negative thoughts win, and post-surgery WE have truly tested this theory. I say WE because as her mother I have walked this journey with her, I have felt her pain, and have comforted her, supported her, been there for her, missed out with her and worried about her more than she will ever know. I have danced the line of being caring and overbearing, grinning and gritting our way through challenges, showing her tender and tough loving care, and helping her enough to see she can do it herself but she is not by herself. Ultimately that is what parenting is all about, ACL reconstruction or not.
So, we are now 8 weeks post-surgery. The first 2 weeks were a massive struggle, physically, mentally & emotionally. My daughter has a strong will and when she decides to move mountains she will, and it is taking all of our energy and hers to get back on the track and get to the top of the mountain. But, from all of this, there is something that I am grateful for more than anything. I am grateful that she is developing the determination, skills, strategies, and the mindset that she will need to get through challenges in her life. In this day and age where they talk constantly about teaching kids resilience and to bounce back from challenge or change, it is even written into our school syllabi, there is one thing that only experience can really teach, GRIT. Courage, perseverance, resilience, consciousness and passion make up GRIT, and its something that every kid needs to work on. The only way they can work on it is to be allowed the opportunity of experience where they will be challenged, where there is risk, where they might not win or succeed, where they are responsible.
I believe in this world we live in we parent with contradictions …We are at times overly cautious & we wrap our kids in cotton wool, yet we tell them they can be and do anything they want. We support our kids in so many areas yet we fail to let them fail. We tell our kids to toe the line yet we skew the line or give them an excuse to not step forward and meet it. We want our kids to be problem solvers but we are too busy or impatient to let them struggle enough to solve the problem before we step in. We want them to engage in the real world with the world yet we allow them to plug them into a world that is not real because it’s difficult to say no. We believe in our kids but we don’t role-model that same belief in ourselves. How are we supposed to teach our kids the GRIT they need to move forward into their best lives?
So, for this reason, I will let my daughter on the Monkey bars again. I will trust my gut and let my Mumma Bear speak rather than swallowing it down because it’s not the norm. I will continue to love tenderly and be conscious and present. I will challenge myself and my children, struggle, support and persevere. I will be courageous and break the barriers of contradictive parenting. I will role-model the GRIT I wish for my kids, and let them experience life in full so they can develop their own. What about you?