This past week has been a rough one in our house. Not only is this an incredibly busy time for me professionally, but there’s Mother’s Day and my son’s First Communion this weekend, as well as the general end-of-the-school-year frenzy that is upon us all. As if that weren’t enough, life has thrown us a few extra curveballs, for good measure (because God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, right?).
Eight days ago, my 12-year-old daughter took a nasty spill at a soccer game, which scored her an ambulance ride to the ER and several days laid up on the couch. She couldn’t stand or sit for three days without a tremendous amount of pain, so my typically strong and independent girl found herself in an uncharacteristically weak role.
At first, I was extremely sympathetic/patient/attentive, a good mom. Then my workload caught up with me, and frankly, I’ve had my own personal challenges of late. I recently had to end an(other) unhealthy adult relationship, and I’ve been experiencing my own kind of pain as a result. To say my heart and mind were nearing overload is an understatement.
One night, when my mom texted to check in on us, I quipped, “I’m ready for my routine back,” but, of course, I meant so much more. What she said in reply was something I desperately needed to hear, though the full extent of the message wouldn’t reach me right away. “Remember that you’re modeling how taking care of someone is,” she said. “She’ll have that role one day, and she will have learned from the best.”
Remember that you’re teaching her how to care…that’s what it comes down to. Yes, moms are people too, but we have a greater responsibility than just being your run-of-the-mill “people.” Our children are constantly watching us, and we are consistently modeling behavior and coping mechanisms and, mostly, love. Because I want my daughter to be a loving and caring person, I have to model that. I don’t want her to enable other people’s weakness or laziness, so I have to also model limits. I choose to show her how to care, not how to cater.
Although my own mother’s parenting wisdom altered my perspective immediately with regard to how to help my daughter heal from her injury, it didn’t cross over into other parts of our lives until a few days later. For the most part, my daughter had gotten to the point where she was able to do her normal things around the house again. However, we hadn’t gotten back into our groove yet. You know how it is when you’re caring for a sick or injured person (or are yourself), things begin to fall apart. Dishes and laundry don’t get done, stuff begins to pile up on the stairs and counter tops. Bedroom floors become the final resting place for, well, everything else. I was beginning to feel like my house – and life – were in total disarray.
I found myself snapping at the kids, “barking orders,” as my mom says. Do this. Pick that up. Why is everything such a MESS? I can’t do EVERYTHING by myself, you know! Before it was even 7 a.m. one morning, I was operating like a tornado, moving swiftly from room to room, picking up everything in my path, yet destroying my relationship with my kids along the way. What I was saying to them in my own frustration was hurting them, making them feel like they were the cause of everything wrong in my life. In reality, my kids are everything that’s right in my life, and the adult things I’ve been going through have very little at all to do with them. I just couldn’t see it.
As an English teacher, I’ve always believed poetry begets clarity, so it should come as no surprise that a thirty-year-old song on the radio is what helped me find mine. While unloading the dishwasher (and giving my daughter the silent treatment), the lyrics of a Peter Gabriel song played in the space between us: “Love, I don’t like to see so much pain / So much wasted, and this moment keeps slipping away. / I get so tired of working so hard for our survival. / I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive.” There it was. Rather than enjoying moments together as a way to help me heal from my own trials, I was taking my stress out on my daughter. Considering the fact that unhealthy ways of coping with relationship stress was a primary reason for ending my marriage and my most recent relationship (to drastically oversimplify to one common denominator), I knew I had to do better with my daughter.
I try to teach her that it’s not ok to hurt others just because we’re hurting, yet that’s exactly what I was doing. I was feeling angry and disappointed and sad and frustrated that I had returned to a painfully familiar point in my personal life, and mostly, that it felt so out of my control…so I turned to what I knew I could keep safely in my control: my household.
My daughter is almost a teenager, though. She soon will be in more mature relationships where she feels love and loss, too. While she doesn’t have the model of a healthy, loving relationship between adults at home, she does have a model. It occurs to me that I need to be able to model healthy heartbreak and healing for her. After I apologized, I explained to her that I was just feeling stress about work and sadness about the loss of a friendship, and then I let her see me cry about both. I reassured her that I would be ok, but more importantly, I will show her.
You see, I want her to know that love and life feel really spectacular sometimes. They can make us feel completely confident and euphoric (like she was feeling in that soccer game just before she took the goal kick that would end her season).
But she should also know that sometimes we fall, and we fail, and it really hurts. We can’t ignore that pain or the healing that must follow, because if we do, it will only come back to haunt us later, but we also can’t stay down too long. We can’t make others suffer because of our own vulnerability. We must get back up and test our strength again as quickly as possible. Before we know it, we will be able to stand again. There will be laughter and joy, and the pain will be only a distant memory.
I believe in this kind of resilience, and I know there are many great experiences and relationships to come in our lives…and when they are hers, I hope I will have modeled for her a compassionate and strong heart. I’m certainly grateful for the model of love and strength and healing my own mother has given me.
Though I’m the mom, some days I feel like I’m learning more from my daughter than I am teaching her. She relies on me to push through the pain, so I do, even when I have those rare days that I just want to stay in bed and sulk. I’ve learned a lot this week in particular from my determined, but still fragile daughter. She has shown me that time does indeed heal all wounds, that I just need to be a little more patient.
At the risk of sounding like one who thinks in lyrics, a John Mayer song comes to mind as one that offers profound advice to parents of daughters, especially on this Mother’s Day weekend: “Fathers, be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do / Girls become lovers, then turn into mothers / So mothers, be good to your daughters, too.”