Wednesday, September 29, 2010


My just turned fourteen year old daughter Jillian in grade eight, has challenges on this earth that are very different from mine. These challenges of hers cause me to struggle with how to guide her.

The moment that the doctor placed that baby on my body my arms enveloping her, I felt a frightening surge of utmost responsibility. It was now my job to see to it that she lived in a world where she could do anything that she wanted to do without external society-created barriers. A world where each individual was honoured for her or his gifts. This has been one of my challenges, especially living in what is sometimes considered “Red Necked” rural Alberta.

Jillian was a quiet and demure wee baby who never cried. She had this quiet little whimper that would emit when she needed something – which was rare. At one year of age, she sat on the entryway step beside the key hook and spent one hour taking each key off, investigating it, lining each one up neatly beside her until they were all off of the hook and then she proceeded to put them back on the hook one at a time. She did this silently over and over again for one hour until her dad walked in the door to disrupt the activity. I’ve always wondered how long that one year old would have sat there otherwise. At two years of age she could sing full and complete songs and just belt them out from way down deep inside of her. At three years of age, Jillian received an office in a box for a gift from my mom. We had a little desk in the dining room and she would sit at it for hours and hours, making notes, paper clipping notes together, cutting and filing and organizing. It was also at three that she began to have severe stomach aches and we started a long journey to see what the cause of these were. At age five, she sat with small Tupperware® containers and a collection of marbles and she played with these items on the living room floor, one day for five hours, in a solitary state, sorting and pouring and transferring from one container to another.

And still at this age even, she rarely cried. She was so composed all of the time. No highs, no lows.

We continued working through the tummy ache issue. We tried everything with conventional doctors, that one can imagine, and then we sought alternative methods. I took Jillian to an amazing Intuitive who is also a therapeutic massage therapist. What she told me was life altering. She felt that Jillian harboured emotions and that they sat in that wee tummy of hers, festering. This made more sense than anything we had heard. This composed wee girly of mine wasn’t releasing her emotions and she was choosing to be sedentary more than physical, using her mind much and not expressing outwardly. Following the Intuitive’s wise guidance and over her short life here, we have provided her with many opportunities to emote and to release, be it helping to connect her with people to teach her how to meditate, providing her with tools and opportunities to write but also mandating and modeling daily physical activity as a way to release.

Starting School
- Jillian could hardly wait to get to school and when the bus arrived for her first day, she raced to it! This was a memorable outburst of emotion. She could already read but anticipated learning about the entire world and could barely contain herself. It didn’t happen in the way that she had hoped. She was boxed in. In September of her grade one year she wrote this,

“There once was a beautiful rare butterfly that wanted to fly. But someone captured it and caged it and didn’t let it out. And the butterfly was sad.”

My heart broke and I shared it with her teacher with the hope that we could find a way to work together to help my wee six year old. We both cried and the teacher was just plain shocked, having no idea that my girly was dying inside. I didn’t feel as if I was doing a very good job of paving a path for her to do anything that she wanted. We joined as a team and began to look for new learning opportunities for Jillian. I put her on a waiting list for private vocal lessons and she began playing the piano. Music is powerful and has played a huge role in her life. Through music, she has met three important mentors in her life for which I am grateful. Thanks to a wonderful grade three and four teacher, a few years soared by smoothly. In grade five Jillian had a classroom teacher who placed her up on a pedestal. He was in awe of her dedication to a task and allowed her to explore and take control of her own learning. Although I am grateful for so much of what he offered her, by putting her up on a pedestal, he also facilitated something that I didn’t like. Jillian began to behave as if she had something inside of her that was better than others. For as much as I tried to instill in her that she had just discovered some of her gifts early, that everyone has gifts and that those gifts are not subject to some sort of evaluation scale but work in harmony to bring about a healthy good balance to our world, she doubted me. After all she could think quickly on her toes and respond accordingly causing many adults around her to just back down and for kids to support her. Grade six was upon her where she met a teacher who had personality clashes with many students, fellow teachers and parents and made the decision to enter into power struggles with Jillian. This year Jillian gains control of the class and we deal with bullying issues with Jillian being the bully. With guidance and support from a wise friend and with my ability to reach out and research, Jillian and I begin working through this and by November, the bullying is no longer evident.

Junior High starts and she is in a room with her easy going, kind-hearted older brother and a teacher who has his own challenges in this world that collide with his ability to teach. Once again she begins to behave as if she knows “it” all and is better than others. Does she believe this? Not when we have heart to heart, one on one discussions. And so… we have many, and spend oodles of time together just the two of us. However her condescending behaviour towards the teacher continues.

Today, she is fourteen in grade eight, has a brilliant mind, beautiful voice and yet she continues to feel like a caged butterfly – I know this and know not what to do… and so this morning before school and inspired by one of my mentors, I challenged her – “Today”, I said. “I want you to look for the best in three people that you usually do not see the best in… feel how your life changes for the better.”

I am at a loss and feel that I should know what to do after all I am the mom - My invitation to you is to help guide me so that I can continue to guide her…

Thank you.

My Toothless Butterfly Girly


  1. Ellyn,

    First, thank you for sharing your life with me in this heartfelt post. Second, it is wildly apparent (through this post, others, and being your twittersister) that you are deeply intertwined in the lives of your children.

    I'm certain given the intention and passion through which you live your life in general, and as a parent specifically, provides for many shallow and deep interactions that most likely inspire critical, and transformation reflection on a daily basis. This alone can be exhausting-- always questioning, always questing, always searching and growing, guiding and loving.

    Knowing this path from personal experience, my first piece of advice is for you to "let it lie." Your daughter will continue to learn and grow without immediate interventions. As a matter of fact, she might fail, get hurt, hurt others and have to live with her actions (feel shame, regret, and scorn). How would that be for her? How would she survive those emotions and grow from having felt them? Have the adults in her life set her up to handle the dark side of emotion? If so, then let her handle it. If not, then allow her to stumble through and get her share of hard knocks. [Empowering a person we love to explore and possibly fail is difficult, eh? How do we dis-empower them if we don't?]

    The second idea I want to submit is that perhaps your daughter is playing a role (not with intended malice or even consciously), that of the "caged butterfly." Perhaps, this role (named and brought to being by her but fertilized through dialog, interventions, etc. by the adults in her life) is something that she may or may not want to possess. She is a Singer. She is a X. She is also a Caged Butterfly (creative spirit, high-achiever, mature youth, etc.).

    How you reinforce this role? What are the positive and negative outcomes of naming, pursuing dialog, searching for ways for her to feel complete and free on her behalf (and as a guide)?

    For me real freedom is agency. Agency can be only Mine. I do not believe others can "make me" more agentic by facilitating opportunities for me to exercise my freedom. I seek and engage in opportunities; or I don't. I succeed. I get by. I fail. Regardless the outcome, I feel agentic. I feel free.

    As you know, I am not a parent so my advice/ideas can only come from personal experience and feelings of care for you--these I mightily possess.

    Take good care. In love and Light.


  2. Wow - I am chewing, swallowing and digesting... Thank you for this immediate, detailed, educated and heartfelt response.


  3. It is evening and as I sit here typing, my girly is passionately playing piano and singing from the depths of her being - music continues to save her soul... and mine. I savored your words all afternoon while the song that coursed through me was "Let it Be" thanks to Paul McCartney. I am ever so thankful for your immediate response - so much so that I changed the title. Out of fear of her becoming one, I have realized that I may have facilitated her in creating this role of "caged butterfly". It IS time for Jillian to take responsibility for every area of her life and for me to let things lie right there. Difficult? Absolutely! However, I chose and happily continue to choose, to parent actively and passionately and so the beat goes on...

  4. Hi Ellyn!
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I can relate!!

    I too have a daughter, similar to yours though opposite - Sophie's intense emotions spill out and everything is everyone else's fault sometimes. But I think the core is the same...

    First of all, we are their mirrors - kids look to us to see who they are and whether they're ok? I regularly remind myself that the most powerful thing I can do for my children is show them my trust - that I believe to the core of my being that they are fine just as they are, that I love them no matter what, that the path they walk shapes their lives just the way it's supposed to (even when we can't see that yet!).

    I sit quietly and say out loud - Sophie's just fine. Her heart is huge and I know she's going to thrive in this world. I KNOW... I close my eyes and feel it to the core of my being. I imagine the waves of certainty and love washing over and through me. It helps me be calm and loving when she is needy or out of control.

    I also work to recognize the ways that Sophie's patterns are simply reflections of my own issues. After all, we often see in others the things that are difficult for ourselves - so in that way, she is MY mirror... I also feel things deeply - though I am more like Jillian, I take everything inside and hide it. Because I'm afraid I'll be "too much trouble" and it won't be "worth it" for people to stay and love me... I'm pretty sure there's a reason why I've struggled with stomach trouble and have had Ulcerative Colitis for 20yrs now!

    So I work on accepting my feelings. Just last night, I gave myself "permission" to wallow and feel terrible. I didn't try to talk myself out of it. I didn't feel guilty about it. And it felt so good! What a surprise! That it's the story that I "shouldn't" be miserable that actually makes me the most miserable of all!

    And with Sophie, I work to give her tools and strategies to deal with her outbursts of emotions. But on a day to day basis, I focus my energies on loving her and creating the safe and trusted place for her to learn to accept herself as everything that she is (as I learn to accept myself the same way!).

    I remind her to accept multiplicity - that she can be many different (and even conflicting) ways, and that's okay! I remind her not to catastrophize - that having one bad day doesn't make life horrible, that yelling hurtful things at someone in the heat of a moment doesn't make her a horrible person. It was just a moment. And an opportunity to see something that she'd like to do better.

    I've learned that the best parenting I can do for her, sometimes, is simply to "outlast" her. More and more, as I stay grounded in my own certainty and knowing, I can be the rock in the midst of her storm. I ground her and she uses healthier strategies, quicker.

    So, on the surface, Sophie sounds so different from Jillian. But underneath it all, they want and need the same things, I believe. They need to be (and feel!) loved. They need our help to recognize themselves and to learn healthy, high quality strategies for meeting their needs.

  5. (Continued - sorry, too long to fit in one...)

    I think the best things we can do for for our children are:
    - believe in them to the core of our beings. And create the safe space for them to self reflect and grow
    - be the change, work on our own self worth and love
    - reflect for them and help them know themselves deeply (and their needs/wants)
    - help them find healthy strategies for meeting those needs.

    Jillian is, in her own ways, meeting her needs. Maybe the search is to recognize how she's doing that in unhealthy ways - and to help her find the healthy ways instead. You're already doing that - music, physical activity, etc...

    Explore with her what the other patterns are about? Why does it feel good to think "I know it all"? The story of the "caged butterfly" serves her somehow - protects her. From what? From feeling, perhaps? What might she be afraid of?

    This will likely be a lifelong quest for her - and you are a wonderful mother! All you have to do is make sure she has the safe space to explore these questions. She'll find her own answers...

    She and you are lucky to have each other!

    Sending you both much love!!

  6. Heidi - I have much work to do that requires me to step back, let things be, breathe easily, enjoy Jillian and her gifts and continue to offer her the love that I have for that wee girly. Thank you for your insight - I am in awe and I feel your love!

    Much warmth, gratefulness and love back.