I saw something shared online today that made me laugh out loud. The title was Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults and despite my optimistic heart, I know it has shades of truth. I’ve made a concerted effort to try and identify the areas I think I need to work on the most—calling myself stupid, being vocal about not liking how I look, and not thinking about the implication of something before I say it out loud. The truth is I have been doing a really great job.
Yes, I still struggle.
Yes, I still have an internal voice that could peel paint and melt ice.
The thing is, striving to not perpetuate certain things for my daughters has allowed me to caretake myself in a way that I have never done before. I don’t mean taking time to luxuriate in a bath or unapologetically answer no to a request so that I can do something for myself (baby steps) but I have been tender and considered that I am worthy of a kind word.
I might go so far as to say that I started getting smug about how the girls and I have been doing. We’ve talked about sex. We’ve talked about drugs. We’ve talked about mean girls and aggressive boys. We’ve talked about family dynamics. I’ve explained why work is important to me. We explored why family is sometimes all we have. Today after seeing an “Obama-Mart” bumper sticker we talked about the merits of fiscally conservative viewpoints even though they are counter to just about everything that I believe to be true. I want my daughters to be aware of a larger picture.
They know I smoked. They know I dated guys before Sean. They know that one day I will die. I say none of this to posture about being perfect, but I really thought I had smacked with a mallet all the predictable screw ups. I also know there is no perfect parenting, no matter how hard I try or how much I sacrifice.
When I’m in the car with Briar I see her without filter. She is ravenous for time with me, but she is also eerily able to completely tune me out and in those moments, when I look beyond the sting I feel, I see a young woman. Her current infatuation musically is Lost Boy. It’s a gorgeous wisp of a song, quiet and gentle, but with a crescendo of subtext that puts our divide in relief—she is a soon-to-be-teenager and I am not.
I watch her brow furrow and her lips purse as she hits the lines in the song she loves the most. She looks ahead not at the road, but at what I imagine is the future as she contemplates growing up, staying young, and the torture of the middleness of where she is now.
The other day we were goofing around and she apologized. She said “Sorry” when there was absolutely nothing for which to apologize. I winced.
“I may start introducing you as my daughter, Sorry. Yup, this is my daughter Sorry, she likes to apologize for everything.” She tilted her head my way and bonked it against my side.
“Seriously though, honey, knock it off. Save your sorry for when it matters. I love you.”
She smiled and stared at me. “Ok, mom, I love you too. So much.”
I smiled and ran my hand along the top of her head. I felt good, confident in our path.
Less than 24 hours later I was waiting for her in my car at the bus stop as the sky unlocked a furious rain. She was lamenting the ongoing annoyances of the bus ride. I have been caught in a swirl of eliminating the bus and using it to condition all three girls to stick up for themselves, both options feel flawed and so we go back and forth. Some days they are pick ups, others they ride the bus.
My phone beeped.
I had to read it a couple of times to realize that she had put together that I apologize a lot for things that are not my fault and, are in fact, entirely out of my control.
It hurt at first. A habit of mine I had overlooked entirely. She called me on it in the lightest and yet most direct way imaginable. There was no denying it. I sat with my guilt at the absentminded sorry habit and felt my pride that she identified it.
She needs me, but more and more she needs herself. She is calibrating how she reads situations and opportunities and if I try to force my views on her, she won’t ever develop those skills. I realize that I don’t need to worry about her missing out, I need to worry more about my tendency to superimpose the things I think are most threatening. I can’t see the truth if I construct a false image of the present.
What I can see is that my first born is smart, strong, resilient, and truly wise beyond what I give her credit for on a given day.