When Children Grow Up too Soon

I have a girl who’s almost 10. That’s her in the picture at the darling age of 3. She is an excellent reader and extremely mature for her age. Now, seeing that her books were getting far too easy for her reading level, I went in search of something that would challenge her. First I tried the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. She found them boring (as I had at her age, but to be fair to the series, I only read the first couple chapters of the first book.), then I tried a series called “Heros of the Faith”, which she absolutely loved. The first books are so interesting, yet as the series goes on the books are hit and miss. So Bella lost interest after reading two in a row that weren’t as exciting. Then finally I gave in and let her read my “Mark of the Lion” series by Francine Rivers, after all, I had read them around 11 or 12 years old. She loved these books so much that she sat in her room for days reading them! She finished them in three days (I was surprised because they are REALLY thick!)

All was good until one day, I scanned through the books again since it had been years since I’ve read them…and my heart dropped. These books may have been right at her reading level, but they were far, FAR to mature for her.

I may have forgotten the content, but I realized right there and then that I had I completely failed my girl by giving her the books. It was my responsibility to scan through before giving them to her and now she had already read them. I felt terrible! If you’ve never read the series, these extremely well-written books have quite a bit of history in them and take place in the years following Christ’s death. The setting is in Rome and the Romans are more bloodthirsty than ever. Terrible persecution is happening to the Christians and the Jews. The Colosseum is at its height in entertainment. People are starving while the rich feast away watching their deaths. The tale includes ongoing wars and slavery which also comes with gladiators, rape and temple prostitution…now your probably wondering why anyone should ever read it! Great book for a nine-year old girl hey?

So I went and apologized to her, letting her know that I was wrong in taking away some of her innocence by allowing her to read those books. Her response? “Oh Mom! That’s okay, I could handle it.”

Tears welled up in my eyes, for the words were far too familiar to me. Of course she could handle it! But just because she could, doesn’t mean she should.

Throughout ancient history and in some places even now, girls have been taken to be brides at ages not much older than my little girl. They become mothers as young teens and grow up with their children. Could they handle it? Sure, most of the time, I guess they could…they were forced to! But that doesn’t mean that a 13-year-old girl should have to take on such a heavy load of managing a household!

The same goes for children who are orphaned in third world countries. Overnight the oldest child becomes a caregiver to his or her siblings. They care far too deeply about their little brothers and sisters to do otherwise. And often, given the conditions they are living in, they do a better job than I would be able to do – fetching water, gathering food, earning a few dollars a day all while carrying a baby on their back.

And we cry when we hear these stories because they shouldn’t have to bear such a heavy load! They shouldn’t have to grow up so soon! They have a whole adult life ahead of them to “handle it”, they should be able to be just kids for a little while.

My daughter Bella, she’s a beautiful young girl…but of all my children she grew up the fastest. And with a house full of babies I did not complain. She talked in full sentences before any of my other babies could even say ten words. She walked the earliest. She could read before she was in kindergarten. She’s been the first to ask the hard questions. She gives in before anyone else will. I get it! She’s always been ready to be older than she is. And being my only girl, it’s difficult for me to let go of the innocence in her, to watch her grow. But it’s one thing to let go and let her mature, it’s quite another to realize when I’ve sped up the process.

I was the same as she was, always reading things, learning things, watching things way before I should have. I enjoyed knowing. I always could handle it well (or so I thought).

But man, I wish I hadn’t.

I rushed my childhood away, my innocence away before it’s time and I missed out on friendships. My favorite teddy lay in my closet, hidden away lest my friends would see that I still liked it. I missed out on playing with my last doll who sat in the corner watching me try to be older than I was. I missed out on the Polly Pockets which I sold at a garage sale just a couple of years before I was really ready to let them go. I missed the youth events with innocent, good fun and laughter. I missed out on much of my youth and I regret it because I can’t get those years back. I had my whole life ahead of me to be strong, why did I choose to grow up so young?

Sweet little daughter, take your time. Don’t rush the process and don’t slow it down either…let your maturity run its course. Adulthood will come and you can and should take on your responsibilities when it does. I know you’ll do great, I know you’ll handle life well.

But for a little while longer, just be my little girl.

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