My Sensitive Daughter Doesn't Need Thicker Skin

by Jennifer Watson
Originally Published: 
sensitive child
Artfoliophoto / iStock

Loving her is like looking into the mirror sometimes—that face, her mannerisms, those looks and moments when she turns inward and her thoughts take her somewhere else. Most of the time I look at her and think, You are the version of me that won’t need therapy later.

Then I remember she’s in middle school, and who doesn’t need a little therapy over something tragic that happened in middle school?

Take, for example, that time I went to a haunted house with a bunch of my friends and peed a little because it literally scared the living crap out of me. I’m still not over that. I had to ride home on my little plastic bag that was supposed to have candy in it. No candy and wet pants made for a very bad night. I have no idea how no one else knew what happened, but my wet pants and I totally knew where the not-so-fresh smell was coming from.

Middle school is brutal.

Several months ago, my daughter cried telling me about words that hurt and humiliated her in front of a room full of seventh-graders. She spoke of words and looks, each one of them hurting her deep inside and impacting her in different places—the places we remember later on. I listened to her big words that described her big feelings.

I held her as she choked on her words. And when she finished, she said, “I just needed to tell you that. I just needed to let it out.” And she did. In the safety of her home, she let it all roll out while I held her, hoping to somehow ease the ache as I listened to the words her heart formed.

She’s soft and sensitive, and she’s smart. This world is going to tell her to develop thicker skin, but if she is brave, she will refuse to accept that her softness and sensitivity is weakness. She’ll have to figure out how to harness the hurt in such a way that makes her stronger in Christ, not harder. I can’t do this for her, although I wish that I could.

I’ve spent so much of her little life wanting to break her fall so she doesn’t get hurt. Just a few weeks ago, she came home so pleased with her brand new kneepads for volleyball. Expecting her to fall hard, we bought these for her. We got them not just in case she falls, but so she can fall knowing she has a little cushion and margin to soften the blow and, perhaps, be less afraid right before her knees hit the hardwood.

While I cradled my big girl, I thought about how the kneepads meant that she could fall. I didn’t think about all the places on her body that wouldn’t have a cushion or extra support. I can’t shield her ears from hurtful words. I can’t break her fall and make it hurt less.

But I can show my daughter that being soft is a different kind of strength that she doesn’t have to apologize for. I can share my moments, all my falls without cushions, and how I’m still standing and learning from my falls.

I didn’t say to her, “Don’t cry.” I said, “Cry as long as you need to.”

I don’t remember when I learned that softness wasn’t weakness. But I do know that after realizing that being numb scared me, I became unapologetically soft. Feeling things deeply just meant that I was alive and present in my joy and in my pain. If that isn’t strong, I don’t know what is.

If it weren’t for all the times when I fell flat on my face, I wouldn’t know how good standing up feels.

I feel certain that I need to stop telling my daughter to “be careful” all the time and replace it with “be courageous.” Be brave enough to fall. Be brave enough to cry when you need to and feel things deeply. Stop being so dang careful and avoiding anything that might cause pain.

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