Is your daughter bold and brash? Mercurial and volatile? Does she have an innate stubbornness and a tendency to extremes? Does it seek (and create) higher experiences? Is it delicious and surprising but also exhausting and, sometimes, difficult to live with?
It describes some of the young girls I work with in my practice and also – apparently as a child as well as an adult – Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, bunny on the run, and other classic children’s books. I was inspired by the recent Anna Holmes film New Yorker test on Brown. Holmes, Brown’s biographers and people who knew her personally describe this creator of picture books for young children as having all of these attributes when she was growing up – bold, brash, mercurial, volatile, stubborn, extreme – and more. again.
Holmes tells us that Brown had a “terrible temper” and a “compulsion to ignore the rules.” As a child and as an adult, she “refused to be bound by law and order” and “constantly pushed the boundaries”. Does this sound like someone you know?
According to Holmes’ report, Brown “sometimes held her breath until she turned blue, prompting a nanny to plunge her head into a tub of freezing water.” According to one of Brown’s biographers, such “soaks” apparently had “no lasting effect on Margaret’s innate stubbornness”. Have you ever responded to your defiant daughter in a dramatic and extreme way – to no avail? I don’t recommend immersing your daughter’s head in ice water. I can, however, understand what might make you want to.
Holmes relates that Brown had “among his closest companions a cat, a collie, two squirrels and dozens of rabbits. After one of the rabbits died, Brown skinned it. According to her sister, Brown joked about becoming a “butcher.” Have you ever worried about your daughter’s future?
Holmes’ research reveals that Brown herself told a former teacher that she felt like “a bunch of peas that weren’t cooked yet” but “turned around a lot in the kettle”. Someone who knew Brown as a young adult and called her ‘Little Miss Genius’ said Brown once told her that the temper that helped her write beautiful children’s books could also make her deeply unhappy. . Someone who knew her as a friend and romantic partner later in life suggested, “She was so many different people it was hard to pin her down.” Again, does this sound familiar?
So what are some useful ways to raise a child that (feisty)? Some of what Brown said about herself and her creative process, which led her to write books for young children and change the world of children’s books, gives us some clues. According to Holmes, Brown once wrote in a notebook: “At five years of age we reach a point not to be reached again. Holmes adds: “In an article on the subject (Brown) argued that a child of this age enjoys a ‘vividness and awareness’ which will probably be mastered) later in life. A psychologist might say that Brown may be describing herself here – her own experience as a fiery young child and her struggle to retain the “vivid” and “conscious” parts of herself in the adult world.
Lessons from Margaret Wise Brown and her life for parents of such girls might include: don’t be too anxious, don’t subjugate, but rather nurture and guide, and certainly don’t try to kill and skin these parts of your daughter. Instead, appreciate those parts of who she is.
Help her find people, a place and a path in life that matches who she is. She’ll likely need a mentor (Brown had educator and scholar Lucy Sprague Mitchell), a place (Brown got to know kids and teach at Bank Street School), and a career that will embrace and appreciate her many strengths, forgive her weaknesses, and help her find, as Holmes writes, “a new kind of magic in the world of everyday work.”
A defiant and temperamental child version of Brown turned adult who ‘revolutionized’ children’s picture books, was ‘one of the most prolific writers of stories for the very young’ and has been called ‘the winner of the nursery”. I’m not suggesting that your daughter accomplishes, or that you should expect her to accomplish, anything close to that as an adult. In fact, I strongly advise against having or conveying those kinds of expectations. I invite you, however, to worry less about her and her future.
Maybe look more like the mother bunny in Rabbit on the run. Prioritize your daughter’s needs for autonomy, efficiency and control. Calmly and without judgment, set some limits, but not too many. Help her find her people and her place in the world. Perhaps most importantly, be there when she turns to you for her security and connection needs. And when does she do it? Maybe give him a carrot.