When Ed and Laura Sykora brought their daughter Maci home from Ethiopia, she was shy and timid. Now, she’s a confident and charming 7-year-old. Laura credits an unexpected friend for helping Maci discover her inner voice and feel empowered to handle life’s most difficult questions.
In my parenting journey, I have learned that I can’t always be there to speak for my children each time they are challenged. I have learned that my job as a parent is to support and encourage my children and help them develop their problem-solving skills so they are empowered to work through situations.
Three years ago, my husband and I brought home a sweet, sensitive and smiling 4-year-old girl named Maci.
In those first few weeks home, she struggled with her confidence. Quiet and soft-spoken, she didn’t inherently believe that her voice mattered or that what she said was important.
As a mom, I talked to her about how she could feel safe to ask for what she needed and wanted. She could tell her classmates and rowdy brother if they were treating her in a way she didn’t like.
But, though my words were many, I never could have guessed how they would pale in comparison to the power of bringing a new, special family member into our home.
Soon after Maci arrived home, we expanded our family by adopting a 6-month-old, energetic puppy named Elsa.
A family pet was a new concept for Maci. In Ethiopia, dogs are not necessarily considered friends and companions, so Elsa sharing space in our family home was intimidating for Maci. She was apprehensive and unsure if a puppy was safe. Maci kept her distance from the puppy unless other family members were present.
But it was through this uncertainty that Maci saw the world from a new perspective and grew empowered to use her voice, express her feelings and defend herself.
About one week after having Elsa home, Maci was playing alone in her room. An especially energetic and playful Elsa pounced into Maci’s room uninvited. Maci, realizing she was alone with Elsa, screamed frantically and I quickly darted into her room to see what was happening.
Maci was standing in the middle of her bed and Elsa, though too small to be successful, was attempting to jump up on the bed after her.
At that moment, I had an opportunity to help Maci understand the value of her voice and empower her to handle moments of fear with control and confidence.
I looked my daughter in the eyes and said, “Maci, what is wrong?”
She replied, “Elsa is trying to jump and get me!”
I responded, “What do you want her to do?”
“I need her to get down!” Maci yelled.
“Okay,” I said calmly. “Then you use your words and tell her what you need.”
Maci gathered a strength she didn’t realize she had inside her and in a loud and commanding voice she yelled, “Elsa, you get DOWN!”
Instantly, Elsa hit the ground and sat politely and obediently.
Maci looked at me with a shock and uncertainty.
I asked her what happened, and she quietly replied, “Elsa sat down.”
“Why?” I asked.
Maci shrugged her shoulders, so I answered for her.
“Because YOU used your voice and your words and told her what you needed. YOU are in charge of your words and they are important for others to hear.”
In that instant, pride and confidence filled my daughter to the brim.
Maci is now a self-assured 7-year-old, and I still credit Elsa and that day as the breakthrough Maci needed. Since starting public school a few years ago, Maci has encountered more questions about her race, family and adoption from her curious peers. Finding her inner voice has given her the confidence and grace to handle these inquiries with tremendous character.
Helping our children find their voice can happen in many ways. In our case, it just took a little love and patience, and some help from a furry friend.
Laura Sykora | Nebraska