As we travel along the proverbial parent corridor, it’s very easy for us to crucify ourselves when we make mistakes. When I fall short of my (arguably) unreasonable high expectations of myself, I feel like I’ve ruined my kids’ lives forever. And I’m exceptionally adept at berating myself.
Some people look at their babies and see a flawless human being. Not me. (Well, perhaps if she’d slept through the entire night and hadn’t scream and cried incessantly I might have.) When Margaret was a baby, I remember thinking of her as this piece of clay that had the potential to be a masterpiece of art. On one hand, this analogy begot endless possibilities for how I could help mold her. On the other hand, it was a frightening thought; I’m really bad at the visual arts so on some unconscious level, being a sculptor meant I was doomed to fail her. That was when I started to assign these speculative, tall-tale esq future scenarios to her. For example, I remember nursing her in the middle of the night during a particularly stressful time in my marriage (lack of sleep did NOT help) and getting into a huge fight with my husband and then wondering if Margaret would become a drug addict because I was yelling so loud while she fed. I know, it was a completely irrational speculation and a more realistic one was that she’d become deaf – but now that she’s a little over 5 years away from being a legal adult, I sometimes wonder what will be the net result of all the things I’ve done wrong in raising her.
Thankfully, this post isn’t about that negative stuff. Au contraire, this post is about the things I am pretty dang sure that I’ve gotten right. So, in anticipation of Mother’s Day next weekend, here are five things I would adulate myself about if I were Stuart Smalley:
- Being polite
Not unlike potty training, there comes a point when you just can’t hover over your kid reminding her to say “please” before she requests something, “thank you” when she receives something from someone, or even “God bless you” after someone sneezes. Somewhere down the line, a kid either recognizes the cues or doesn’t. Margaret was a fast learner and embraced being polite to the outside world (still working on the inside world). Sometimes I think she’s taken to it because she knows people will look at me like I’m insane when I roll my eyes when they gush about how perfectly behaved she is. Either way, I know she’s benefited from it. And it’s certainly made me realize how much I appreciate it when her friends who also have manners acknowledge that I’ve done something they appreciate, whether it’s hosting a sleepover, dinner, or just picking them up and giving them a ride somewhere. A “thank you” is just such a nice touch.
- Acknowledging fault and making amends
When parents make as many mistakes as I do, a kid becomes pretty good at the ‘mea culpa’. My husband and I are big on apologies, as long as they are genuine. We demonstrate in front of the girls as much as possible by apologizing openly to each other and to them when we’ve been imperfect. I can always count on Margaret to apologize when she’s done something she shouldn’t have done to me, her dad, her sister – or even her friends. As any recovering addict knows, acknowledgement is half the battle.
- Forgiving others
You don’t have to be a devout Christian or Buddhist Monk to get the concept that forgiveness is cathartic. That’s not to say it’s easy to do. Margaret’s refractory period in sincerely forgiving others may not as short as mine is but it’s close. Since this concept is central to our Catholic Christian faith, it does please me that she’s a forgiving person and doesn’t hold grudges. Don’t get me wrong though. If someone trespasses against her, I don’t expect her to forget – I’m a big believer in the “Fool me once and shame on you, fool me twice and shame on me” concept.
- Being confident in who she is
I recently read an interview with Amy Schumer (clap or boo as you wish, but she makes me laugh) and she said, “My parents made me think I was a genius supermodel, and it was kind of too late when I found out that they had been lying.” I suspect Ms. Schumer’s parents didn’t see it as lying to her but I know with certainty that I don’t lie to my girls – I DO think of them as genius supermodels! However, though Margaret is not as confident as Amy Schumer probably was when she was 12, I have faith that Margaret is confident and it is growing. I LOVE that Amy Schumer doesn’t care about being a supermodel, that she isn’t the skinniest person on the planet, and yet she is a successful comedian who is who she is. And if you don’t like her, she doesn’t give a damn (well, maybe she does but she probably likes having all the money more than being universally liked – I know I would.) That is exactly the attitude that I want my daughters to have their entire lives. I’m not suggesting they act like jerks to everyone or anyone per se, but there are just people who won’t like you and vice versa. You can be the kindest person in the world and someone will still be talking smack about you. So the best thing Margaret can do is just be herself no matter what. So far, so good!
- Standing up for others
I think Edmund Burke said it better than anyone: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Can I get an “Amen?” If anything, Margaret has learned simply from being my daughter and witnessing some not so great moments that I do not put up with the mistreatment of others. I’m not always diplomatic about it in the heat of the moment, but Margaret’s smart enough to have learned the crux of it: we can’t just rely on others to do the work – we’ve got to be the ones to take action. So far she’s made me very proud. For example, when a few bad eggs at her afterschool program were bullying others several years ago, Margaret started an anti-bullying club and recruited members so that the bullies knew they were outnumbered. And just last year, at her old school, she encouraged one of her friends to quit bullying another friend of Margaret’s who had been targeted by some of the more popular girls. Word got around to the mother of the girl who was being bullied and she sent a thank-you gift basket to Margaret. Margaret was over the moon. It doesn’t hurt that Margaret knows Krav Maga and it’s given her extra confidence that if someone tried to hurt her or anyone else, they’re in for a big surprise (and probably a lot of pain). I’m not advocating violence, but I am advocating that we all learn self-defense – and that means defending others, not just ourselves.
The saying goes that being a parent is a thankless job. I can relate to that more than I’d like to. But when I see Margaret demonstrating the qualities and behavior I mentioned in this post, it’s the highest compliment I could ever get as a momma.