The Voice I Hear When I Talk to My Daughter
Someone once asked me what the scariest moment of my life was. I told them it was when I gave birth to my daughter. They asked my second scariest. I told them, “Every other moment after that.”
I have my daughter every other week, the byproduct of a divorce that happened when she was only two. It’s been she and I against the world for 13 years. This has created a major staple in our relationship: We talk. A lot.
It takes significant thought. I am painfully aware of every single word that comes out of my mouth when I talk to my daughter.
I have hit a point in my life where I can look back and rehear things that have been said to me in my life and process them on a whole different level.
I realize the effect that people’s words have on us. It’s deeper than we could ever know. The good. The bad. The indifferent. It all becomes ours.
I feel a tremendous amount of pressure in that I know how formative these years of my daughter’s life are. She is trying to figure the whole world out. She is growing in her own ideas, philosophies and standards. It is a god damn exquisite thing to watch. It’s daunting to be a part of it. I’m up for it.
I am a long time proponent of the idea that you and your children are not friends. Boundaries are important. I also understand that, as her mother, there is no other woman that will play a more important role in her life.
I don’t mean that in a self aggrandizing way. But, I understand how critical my role is in her development.
Every mother has the same role. It’s beyond raising a child. It’s creating space for someone to shape and mold their own existence.
Tonight, we were talking about an opportunity she has next summer to go to Scotland, where her dad’s side of the family is from, with her aunt and cousins. Someone in the family had made reference to her saving up for the trip as “wasting all her money on going to Scotland.”
She was clearly unnerved and I could see hesitation in her eyes. I know my daughter and I know that somewhere she took that comment to heart. She also knew it wasn’t a waste of money. Neither did I. She will never again have this opportunity. But, those words hung there.
I mustered up a quick lesson in understanding beauty and opportunity when it comes into your life. I could tell she was relieved I said it. She felt understood.
She and I don’t agree all the time. There are nights when we recognize going to our respective rooms is for the best and we’ll figure it out later.
Still, every single time we talk there is this big floating cloud above my head. If my daughter were to look back on her life in 30 years, how would what I’m about to say make her feel?
It’s hard as hell. Lessons have been learned the hard way. My daughter is nearly 6 feet tall at 15. She is an athletic wonder. She was a burgeoning track star. She came to me in the spring and told me she wanted to play softball instead. Mind you, her school has the #1 track team in the state. The softball team won two games.
I told her how I felt, that not doing track was a huge mistake and could cost her scholarship money. And then something came out of my mouth that was not easy to say.
I told her that, at the end of the day, I had said my peace and the decision was hers to make and I was going to let her make it. I would support her either way.
To this day, the hardest thing I have ever had to do as a parent was to let her make that decision on her own, knowing she would make the wrong decision and letting her do it anyway.
It was the wrong decision. Last week, in clearing out her email she never checks, she found two emails from recruiters interested in seeing her run track this year.
When I got home she did me a solid. She said something to me that I am sure sounded odd and foreign to her. “Mom, never let me make a bad decision like that again.” She’ll run track next year.
One well intended word that comes out wrong can devastate her. I can challenge her to grow and think for herself or I can crush her with a small string of words.
She listens. I know this. She will tell me about conversations verbatim. She remembers, in great detail, something a family member said to her when she was seven. It’s burned into her. It is the strongest memory she has of them.
I realize that every conversation I have with her, every bit of advice, could result in the “this was the one thing I remember my mom saying” moment.
I am horribly overthinking my parenting and I don’t care one bit. We need to do this. At times, we are far too careless with our words and other people’s reactions to them.
What I say to my daughter matters now and it will matter for years to come. I want it to matter in the right way. I want to be proud of the story she tells of my words. Every day I try and the next day a little harder. I owe that to her.