Peter and I have been worried lately because Penny seems to care too much about how her actions impact our feelings. For instance, she had an accident while sitting on Peter's shoulders. So the collar of his shirt got wet. I took her home to change. She wouldn't look me in the eye. I finally said, "How are you feeling, Pen?"
"I had an accident on Dad."
It wasn't the accident that bothered her. It was the idea that she had disappointed us and possibly angered him (she hadn't, but she didn't know that). And I knew it wasn't going to help if I told her that "accident's happen." All that would help would be for me to say, "Oh, sweetie, don't worry, your dad isn't angry with you. He isn't sad. He's happy for what a good job you're doing on the potty!"
She perked up then. And things got better.
But it worries us nonetheless. We want her to care what we think, sure, but we don't want her to make decisions based solely upon our approval. Rather, we want her choices to include some recognition of her own well-being in combination with the good we want for her. I want her to be happy in and of herself when she makes a good choice, not simply because of my reaction.
As a part of this concern for how we feel towards her, it's become routine that she checks in with me, "Happy, Mom?" She tends to do this after she's gotten in trouble, or after she's done something well.
And I tend to say, "Of course I'm happy, sweetie."
She then asks, "Why?"
And I say, "Because I'm with you." I'm trying to emphasize that my happiness comes from who she is, not from what she does or how she performs.
We've said these words enough that I would have thought she had them memorized. But a few days ago, we had this exchange:
"Why?" she asked.
"I think you know," I said, expecting to hear the familiar: "Because I'm with you" in return.
Instead, she said, "Because you are loving me?"
"Yes, sweetie. That's exactly right. I am happy because I am loving you."
I am with you. I am loving you. And whether that involves bad choices, accidents, gold star behavior, or double back flips, it is in loving you that I am happy.