Before I was a mom, when I wanted to succeed at something, I always knew what to do. You do the research, or you put in the miles, or you buy all the latest equipment and put on your game face and Go For It.
I wrote lists, posted goals, stayed up all night, read, memorized, struggled, and persevered –and it always led to the finish line, to the degree, the long term goal, or the job that I had in my sights. Goal setting was something I did that would reliably get me where I wanted to go.
It turns out that being a parent doesn’t work this way.
It turns out that you can take all the birth classes, eat the rainbow of foods and take the prenatal vitamins. You can breast feed, attachment parent, and use BPA free products. You can research and love and provide like a champion.
You can make sure you child is never hot, or cold, hungry, or exposed to too much sun or screen time. You can teach them to read, to write, to think and create. You can have a mental check list of all the things a good parent does, and try your very hardest to cross off the list like it’s magically going to lead to parenting sainthood.
But, as all veteran parents are sure to know, parenting doesn’t work like that.
As we weather the first of many future parenting storms, I look around and hope that it’s all “normal” and “ok” and that all my struggles with my children are not foreshadowing of scarier problems to come.
Because it turns out that you can’t prepare for or prevent hardships that touch your childrens’ lives. No amount of teachable moments or baby-wearing, green smoothies or fluoride or even the most Pinteresty of birthday parties can prevent your child from experiencing life just like we all did. Life is hard.
And isn’t that a crappy lesson to learn?
In fact, I almost take it personally when my daughter has a “nervous” tic when she reads. As I set up the eye appointment, I irrationally start to wonder, “Was it something I did? Did I do something wrong? And if not, was it something I passed along to her through my own predisposition to worry / read too much / tense my muscles in my neck….” etc, etc, etc.
The same goes for her decalcified molars from a genetic condition, her geographic tongue, and her tendency to have trouble falling asleep. Is it all my fault? Was there any way to prevent it? Probably not. But I’m a mom, so of course I have to ask myself.
I was horrified last night when my daughter very matter of factly informed me that she was ugly. When I asked her about this, she tells me that it’s a fact, that she’s uglier than her friends. And then she starts to list a series of traits that make her ugly compared to these other girls, which makes my heart cry and the tiny voice in my head say mournfully that “it has begun.”
Because as I look at my gorgeous daughter and see perfection and beauty and strength, I also see that she is now self-aware and doubting. As much as we have protected her, it has begun. She wasn’t looking for pity, or even asking for help. She just told me she was ugly and when I begged to differ, while trying to work magic and also make her realize that looks don’t matter, she had a very grown-up, almost cynical tone of voice. In an odd compliment of sorts, she said, “If you want to see gorgeous, look in the mirror,” her voice sounding hard and old.
So, what do you do about this?
And other than putting her in a bubble and spiriting her off to live in the woods like fairies….
How do I protect her from this? Should I?
The constant body love messages obviously didn’t to the trick. The effort to hide my own insecurities failed to sink in. Attempts to send messages of skin deep beauty may have been heard, but not loud enough to drown out what she hears from society every day.
It feels like a big failure – being the mom of a girl who can say such things about herself. But I guess that’s what being a mom is going to be like. It’s going to be heartbreaking. It’s going to be difficult, and when they are teenagers, I’m sure there are times it will be terrifying. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
They are everything I had hoped and more than I had dreamed.
I just hope the children I’ve been blessed with can forgive me for not being the perfect mother I had set out to be.