Last night at dinner, I heard my voice coming out of my youngest daughter’s mouth. I didn’t like it very much. Her sister was telling us about a project she was doing at school that involved describing the members of her family. She excitedly told her dad and I the words she’d used to describe each of us. When she got to her little sister’s description, my youngest said, ‘I’ll bet you said that I’m more interested in looking in the mirror than I am in my family.’
Woah. Uncomfortable laughter was followed by silence. And the silence was followed by the darkness of my own shame. These were words I’d said to her in a moment of frustration just this summer. Hearing her use my criticism to so glibly describe herself was not my proudest moment as a mother. Not even close. Hence the shame.
At the risk of sounding defensive, let me give you some context. Through no fault of her own, my little girl is growing up. In fact, she is hurtling into pre-teendom at breakneck speed. She is understandably fascinated at the prospect of leaving childhood behind. It’s fair to say that I’ve been finding it considerably less fascinating.
So … back to my shame. There was no poison in my daughter’s words. She wasn’t flinging them at me or trying to sting me. Maybe if she had, I would have dismissed what I’d heard or told her she was being silly. I’m so glad that I didn’t. Because instead of letting my ego dictate my behaviour in that moment, I led with my heart, learned a valuable lesson and allowed a wound to heal.
I won’t bore you with the minutiae of the conversation, but the gist of it went something like:
Me: Is that how you would describe yourself?
Me: Is that how you think I see you?
Her: A little.
Me: That must feel pretty terrible to think I see you that way.
Her: Yes. It does.
Me: (tearms forming)
Her: Don’t be sad, mama. I’m sorry if I hurt you.
Still no poison. Just a heart-wide-open truth that I needed to hear. For in spite of the hundreds of compliments I have happily and easily offered my sweet girl this past few months, what stuck was a singular criticism. Holy moly, Molly. The pain.
She crawled into my lap and I held her for a long while after this exchange. I whispered a fervent apology as my husband and older daughter silently looked on. The healing that took place in that moment was for both of us. Time stood still while grace descended.
It wasn’t until later, when I was saying goodnight to her, that the wisdom came for me. As we chatted quietly, we agreed that that past few months had been a rough ride for both of us at times. Her part is her story and I’ll not share it here or anywhere for that matter.
Here is my part: it’s hard for me to see my baby growing up. I think I may even be grieving a little. But it’s had me moving from the wrong place as a parent too often recently. It’s had me moving from a place of my hurt rather than a place of my heart. I am never (ever) at my best when I do this. Not in my work, not with my friends and family, not in my marriage and certainly not with my children.
This awareness got me in touch with a huge ‘what I’m for’ – and that is raising a daughter whose sense of worth bubbles up from a spring of unwavering affirmation from her mother. I am for reflecting her goodness back at her rather than harping at her about her shortcomings. I am for keeping the heart lines open so that she knows she can turn to me in all things – whether life is coming up roses or bringing her to her knees.
I’m the mother of three. One of the three is a grown and married man, so it’s not like this is my first rodeo. I get that my children’s various stages of independence are not a personal affront to me. I’ve always known that I wasn’t raising kids. My goal as a parent has been/is to raise my kids to become great adults.
I think I’ve been bumping up against feelings of uncertainty about my changing role as a mother as my children become less reliant on me. While I’m quite happy that the diaper changing days and sleepless nights are over, I would still gladly cut their meat into bite size pieces, tie their shoes, hold their hands when they cross the street or kiss them on their sweet downy heads while I buckle them into the back seat of the car. Those are things I understand – everyday things I’ve done for almost 24 years to show my love and care.
But my truth is that time marches on and it requires that my journey as a mother be ever changing. My children’s evolution as human beings challenges me to be honest about my own. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it even hurts. But in the moment that I shift from hurt to heart with my kids, I am the kind of mother I most want to be. And that, more than anything, is what I’m for.