My oldest daughter and I have an incredible relationship. She is my heart, my love, my lotus flower, rising through the mud to reach her full, beautiful potential. Our relationship is sound and unshakable — but it wasn’t always this way. There were lots of times that our bond wasn’t unshakable; there were years that it laid on a fault line, waiting for the metaphorical earthquake that would open a hole in the ground and swallow it entirely. There were many times that I wasn’t wholly sure what would become of us.
While the teenage years are some of my very favorites, they can also be some of the very hardest. We fought about her bedroom filth — I even threatened to take the door. We fought about grades and homework. At one point I told her if she didn’t like the way I was doing things, she could go live with her dad; she did. My heart broke; what had I done?
She is 22 now. I don’t care about her bedroom anymore (that’s her business). Her college homework is on her. We have cried, commiserated over dumb things men do, been mad at her dad for the same reason. She is a grown woman making her own choices. And she is a really wonderful gift.
But five years ago, when I found moldy flowers under her bathroom sink and proceeded to throw away everything on her bedroom floor, I wasn’t sure what would become of her. I figured I must have failed. How did I end up with a kid who hates school and isn’t obsessed with organization? What did I do?
The answer, of course, is complicated.
I did a lot of things. Some of the things were great; some of the things were not so great. I succeeded sometimes and I failed sometimes — maybe even a lot of the time.
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The thing I wish I had known in those failing years, was that I could not possibly do everything right. The thing I wish I had been told was that I absolutely would fail. I would succeed, too, but not without lots of failures.
I would yell. I would not know what I was doing. I would ground her when she didn’t deserve it and not ground her when I should have. I would spank her when I was angry; I would know that I shouldn’t have. I would not always feed her the best food. I would not always understand her.
And yet, it would be okay.
It would even be better than okay.
So, if you are where I was five or ten years ago, I have some things to tell you.
You will fail.
You will fail so hard sometimes that it will feel like you can’t recover from it.
You will fail so completely that you will wonder why you had kids at all. You will believe that you were not meant to be a parent.
You will think you are ruining your kids.
You will do all the things your mom did that you swore you’d never do.
You will probably, definitely, yell; you might spank (even if you swore you’d never).
You will weep in your bed at night for fear of this failure.
You will lie awake, certain that your children are going to grow up and blame you for everything you did wrong — and they actually might do this.
You might end up paying for the therapy they go to where they talk about the horrible mother you are.
And it’s going to be okay.
I don’t mean “it’s going to be okay” in the “it will all be amazing” way. I just mean literally it will be okay.
You are doing your best. I know you are saying “No, I’m not. Surely this can’t be my best if I’m consistently screwing up so epically.” But you are. Because that’s the thing; your best is your best. And that’s all you can do.
Mama Maya Angelou said, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." And this is all you can do. You may feel like your best isn’t enough, and you know what, maybe it isn’t. That’s hard to hear, but it’s true. It’s important to be aware of, but it’s not all that there is to parenting.
My mother did her best; her best was kind of awful. I have gone to lots of therapy to undo what was her best. And it’s okay. It’s okay because I know it was her best. It’s okay because who I am now is a result of her best. And who I am now is good — flawed, failing, fabulous, and good.
Hold your children close. Do not let the world make you believe that you are not enough for them, you are enough for them. You are the mother they need; they are the children that the universe has given to you. You are meant to be together — to laugh, to cry, to struggle, to succeed.
And it will be okay.