Emotional Support Kid

When Lilly was four, we decided to try our hand at raising meat chickens. We already had laying hens, bees, and a massive garden. We figured raising our own meat was the next step in our dream to become real hobby farmers.

In the spring, my husband at the time brought home 6 little meat chicks, and we cooped them up. I am not exaggerating when I say that the process of raising meat chickens is appalling. They are bred to grow large, and to do it quickly. The result is that their legs do not grow strong enough to support their body weight. So they spend most of their time lying in their own filth. We kept their coop as clean as possible. Even so, words cannot describe the smell. The smell aside, it was hard to find the meat chickens lovable. Where laying hens are adorable and endearing, meat chickens are hideous. Even as chicks. Which is probably for the best, since they are destined to be slaughtered and eaten. I mean, I would have had a hard time roasting Frenchie the laying hen for Sunday dinner.

When our meat chickens were finally the right size, my husband set up his (very humane) slaughter station in the back yard. Rachel was fascinated. Lilly was horrified.

I was making dinner that evening (probably fresh chicken), and half listening while Lilly told me all about how great our cat Jackie was. How Jackie was cute. How Jackie was nice. How Jackie was NOT a meat cat. This is where my ears perked up. I finally stopped what I was doing and paid attention. Lilly looked at me with all seriousness and said “Jackie is not a meat cat ok? We can’t kill Jackie”. No lie, Lilly did not eat meat for 2 years after the chicken slaughter. She is a vegetarian to this day.

When she was around six, Lilly’s dad took her and Rachel fishing for the first time. Lilly was beyond thrilled about the adventure. I was just thrilled about a bit of time to myself while my littlest ones took a nap. A few hours after they left, Lilly came in devastated, along with a triumphant Rachel and a bewildered dad. Somehow Lilly had gotten the impression that the whole fishing expedition was meant for catching pet fish. Fish that she would be able to take home and put in a fish tank. Fish that she would be able to raise and name and love. She was horrified to learn that the fish were meant to be killed and eaten. She did catch a fish, and convinced her dad to let it go. Rachel also caught a couple. And she had no intention of setting them back into the wild, despite Lilly’s begging. Lilly was inconsolable.

For her eighth birthday, Lilly had only one request. No killing squash bugs. In our giant wanna be hobby farm garden, we had a number of zucchini and squash plants. If you garden, you know, with squash plants come squash bugs (or vine beetles as some call them). They are the worst. They are invasive and nearly impossible to kill with insecticides. And they can take a beautiful, healthy zucchini plant to totally dead within a few hours. I don’t take pleasure in killing anything. But I did find it gratifying to smash those little squash bugs with my latex gloves before throwing them into a bucket of water. Lilly hated it. She felt it was cruel, especially when I killed the ones who were in the midst of mating (but mom, they are in LOVE!). I honored her birthday wish… until she was in bed for the night.

I am telling you these stories so you know what kind of person my second born is. She is thoughtful, she is empathetic. She is loving and kind, and aware of her surroundings. All three of my other kids will tell you she is their favorite sibling. I asked Emmy once if she would trade Rachel and Carson for a horse of her own. She said yes without hesitation. I asked if she would trade Lilly for a horse. The answer was absolutely not. There is nothing Emmy wants more than a horse of her own, so that is really saying something. I regularly come home from work to a perfectly clean house, courtesy of this child. She makes an effort with her siblings. She asks me how my day was. She cares. She makes it her mission to achieve harmony. I am lucky. My relationship with her has always been easy. We talk. We are close.

Tonight, for the first time since her dad and I split up, she asked if she could spend the night at his house. She said she needed a break. A break! From me, her loving mother and best friend. This was after I threw an embarassing fit about my efforts around the house, and not being appreciated. Not my finest moment. I asked why she wanted to go. And with a tear-stained face she explained. Even though I don’t require her to clean the house, and even though I don’t directly ask her to be responsible for her siblings’ well-being, and even though I don’t ask her to be my emotional support, she feels like she has to. Because she wants everyone to be happy. She doesn’t want tension. She doesn’t want me to be stressed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have failed. I have always known Lilly is who she is. And without being aware, I am afraid I have exploited it. Lilly is not my emotional support kid. She is just a kid kid. She makes it easy for me to let her take on the role of emotional support. But I am her mother. And I should do better. I can tell her all day long that my emotions are not her problem, but she is still going to feel it, and want to fix it. And she is going to carry this tendency through all of her relationships.

I am not totally sure how to divert this situation. I’d bet good money I am not the only one who has an emotional support child. So tell me, what do I do? Lilly is wonderful as is. The best I can do is create a space for her to be herself, but still be a child. To not be responsible for me and my stresses. To not feel obligated to make sure everyone is happy. To keep the lines of communication open?

I don’t have the first idea on how to fix this situation. But I know this. I feel sad for anyone who doesn’t have a Lilly in their life. And I am going to do my best to not take it for granted.

When Lilly was a toddler, she would follow me around the house just hoping and waiting for affection. I remember a specific moment with her in her little toddler sundress and pigtails, and her fleshy pink cheeks. I gave up my house cleaning for just a moment and said to myself “I am going to just hug this child for as long as she wants to be hugged”. So I did. That hug went on forever. I am sorry to say that I am the one who finally ended it. I want that moment back. I would not let go this time.

One response to “Emotional Support Kid”

  1. Reading your post made me think of the various books and other things I’ve seen that talk about the difficulties about being an empath, and how to manage it. Maybe they would be of help? It sounds like they maybe apply to Lilly? There is also an intersection between empaths and highly sensitive persons, as far as I can tell. So maybe that’s another topic of investigation for you?

    Liked by 1 person

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