Walk With Me (#45): How Will We Survive Each Other?

an advice column for folks who don’t like to be told what to do

Dear Asha,

Six years ago, my daughter was born in early November, a red-headed, left-handed Scorpio. She was supposed to be born in early January, so she was premature — in the NICU and subsequently had several surgeries. But now she’s in great health; she’s a fighter.

Like today, I walked to pick her up from kindergarten with her little brother in tow in a wagon. I thought they could walk home and I could use the wagon to store her MASSIVE (for a child) roller suitcase that she takes to school every day instead of a backpack because her bag is always heavy with books.

Anywho… she starts yelling at me because she thinks it’s so dumb I brought the wagon if she can’t ride in it. The whole walk home was hell, even after I let them both ride in the wagon with the suitcase. She chastised me the whole time for being cramped in the wagon with her suitcase and her brother. It was all my fault.

Ever since she was born she has been this fighting, passionate, loving, angry, fierce soul. I just feel like the red hair (no offense) is part of that territory. It’s something so admired and rare — like how I feel about her — but damn. Why do redheads have such a reputation for fire? And how are we going to survive each other?

DC

Dear DC,

My son Otto is trans, which means he was identified as female for the first 15 years of his life. He was also the most stubborn child I had ever encountered, from the time that he was a baby. If he didn’t want to do something no amount of ordering, pleading, or cajoling would work. If I had to physically force him to do something — stay in his crib to go to sleep, put on his snow pants or shoes, get in the damn car — he would scream and cry like he was dying.

I remember bemoaning his stubbornness and emotional drama when he was still a baby to a mama friend of mine with a girl a year older. I’ll never forget what she told me:

The world is not kind to weak women. When she goes out into the world you will be thankful that she knows what she wants, what she will and won’t do. But you will pay for it every day until she moves out of your house.

I wouldn’t say I have actually paid for it every day of the last 18 years, but I will say it’s been a choose your battles kind of adventure. I wouldn’t call myself stubborn (though various people might disagree), but I do have unwavering boundaries about certain things, like bedtime, being polite at the table, and not being shitty to other people. So, with my very headstrong child I have had to save my emotional chips up, so to speak, for managing any conflict between us necessary to enforce those boundaries, and then learn to not sweat a lot of other stuff.

I have also had to get very comfortable with not being liked all the time, and not being dragged into his emotional storms. He was probably about 4 or 5 the first time he screamed, “I hate you!” I think my (relatively) calm response was something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t like you very much either right now, but I always love you.”

Making that distinction was crucial for us because we both have such strong personalities and intense emotional lives. Strong feelings are what we do, but some are enduring and some are just like the weather — they come and go. No feeling, however fleeting, uncomfortable, or unpleasant is bad, but how we act on those feelings is a choice we have to learn to make with intention. Modeling for him how to delineate between the enduring emotional realities of our relationship and the fleeting, intense feelings of the moment, and how to act out of love even when other feelings are raging, has been important learning for both of us.

He is, interestingly enough, not a Scorpio. He’s a Taurus. They’re opposite signs on the Wheel of the Zodiac, and are like mirror images of each other in many respects. Both signs are known for being incredibly stubborn, but for different reasons. Taurus is what is called a “fixed” sign, in the element of Earth, and is ruled by the planet Venus. Venus is all about what we choose based on what we value. Fixed could be said to be a synonym for “stubborn”, but stubborn is really a judgment from the outside of someone, as in the case of my kid, who is simply implacable about what he values and what he chooses.

Scorpio is also a fixed sign, but in the element of Water. Traditionally, it is ruled by Mars, the god of war, associated with our personal will, and how we thrust ourselves out into the world. Modern astrologers also say Scorpio is ruled by Pluto, god of the Underworld. Pluto is all about sex, death, and transformation, but it is also the planet associated with the Divine Will. Both the war-like tendencies of Mars and the willful tendencies of both Mars and Pluto are coming into play in your amazing, intense, warrior girl.

Just like with my boy, helping her learn how to recognize and delineate her many, many emotions is going to be key. Am I feeling angry because I’m frustrated not to be getting what I want? Am I feeling angry because I’m envious that someone is getting something I’m not? Am I actually feeling sad because I’m disappointed things aren’t going the way I thought they were going to, and the anger is easier to express because it makes me feel less vulnerable?

Learning how to reflect on her feelings will give her a little breathing space to learn to choose how she acts, or not, out of those feelings. Eventually, she may even learn to just observe her feelings, like clouds passing by, knowing that she is the whole sky.

You will have to decide what your boundaries are around her behavior, especially when she’s frustrated, angry, or willful. Then you will have to learn how to hold those boundaries, and what the consequences are if she can’t respect them. All kids need boundaries, which make them feel safe. Strong-willed kids don’t always recognize or appreciate that safety on the surface; they just see something, or someone, to push against. Think of it as resistance training. You’re not trying to break her will. You’re teaching her to strengthen, direct, and focus it on what matters, rather than wasting it by wielding it like a hammer all day long.

As for the redheaded thing, there’s a whole bunch of cultural expectations wrapped up in a tiny bit of science when it comes to the supposed “hot tempers” of those of us with fiery locks. Many humans associate the color red with anger, fire, and danger, so traditionally attached those associations to folks with red hair. Then, when folks with red hair displayed normal human emotions, like anger, people made particular note of it because it underlined their own associations and biases. Thus, a self-fulfilling prophecy was born. Redheads aren’t more hot-tempered than lots of other people, on average. They just are expected to be.

Still, it is true that redheads are scientifically documented to have a higher pain tolerance than non-redheads. Also, we produce more adrenaline and access it more efficiently than non-redheads. So, we may get amped up more quickly than some folks, and keep going past the point where other people are feeling hurt.

Developing emotional reflection and regulation skills, as I described above, will help mitigate whatever adrenaline-laced emotional storms your fiery girl is prone to. Her tempers aren’t inevitable.

All these years later, I would expand on my mama friend’s ideas about the world. The world isn’t kind to women, weak or not. It isn’t kind to any of us much of the time, which brings on so many complicated feelings. We can, however, learn how to be kind, respectful, and loving to each other and ourselves, even in the midst of all of our feelings. We just have to work at it and help each other.

You and your girl are going to be fine. Better than fine, likely. Guiding and loving her will be an intense adventure, but you wouldn’t have chosen each other if you weren’t up for the challenge. You will both be stronger, deeper, and more radiant by the end. I promise.

Thank you for walking this journey with me. Love to you and yours.

XO, Asha

Do you have a question about relationships, sex, parenting, politics, spirituality, community? Send them to me at ashasanaker@gmail.com with the subject line “Walk With Me”. Let’s walk each other home.

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