Story of the Month – January
As we are accepting stories from parents like you for the upcoming “Stories from the Heart of Parenting” compilation, we will be featuring a “Story of the Month” which we hope will encourage you on your own parenting journey. We can be strengthened by each others’ stories, and knowledge that none of us are alone. We hope you enjoy it and that you will be inspired to share a story of your own!
This month’s story comes from Dawn Rhodes of New York. Dawn lives in New York City with her husband and their two daughters. She thoroughly enjoys motherhood and the challenges and rewards of navigating each new stage of development. A former prosecutor, she now spends her free time writing, playing tennis and occasionally indulging in home design projects.
She grabs the water pitcher and tips it toward the waiting glass. I open my mouth to utter a warning, but it’s too late. A torrent of water shoots the lid into a bowl of broccoli and then floods her dinner plate on its way across the table. “Oops, I didn’t know it would do that,” she cries, grabbing at every napkin in sight. I look at the salmon filet and roasted potatoes floating on her plate. Even as the words are being formed, I know they are too harsh, too critical.
“Really? You didn’t know?” My voice is rising, but I am unable to stop. “What did you think would happen when you filled the pitcher, didn’t wait for the water to filter and then poured without holding the lid?”
“I didn’t know it would all come out..” she says in a sheepish voice, the one reserved for concession, used only when she has no conceivable basis to argue, explain, or somehow blame her mother. Her head is down, but I know that her eyes are stinging and her cheeks are growing warm from the tornado of emotion that is kicking up inside her.
My heart aches with regret and guilt. It was just a small mistake, just a tiny momentary lapse of judgment—just some water on a plate. I apologize to my eleven-year old daughter for my overreaction but it is not well received. There is a brisk exit, followed by a predictable–yet nonetheless jarring–door slam and I am left with soggy fish and a nagging shame.
It’s not just that I overreacted. It’s that I know I would have responded differently if her younger sister had spilled the water. I would have been more understanding. I may have even made a joke about the salmon getting one last swim. My response would have been lighter, less visceral. Of course, it is perfectly acceptable—appropriate even—to have different expectations for our children because they are different ages. But I know there is more to my reaction than simply the two and a half years that separate my girls.
I know because I understand my older daughter’s urgency to have the last word in every argument. I understand her subtle defiance when I interrupt her reading to ask her to take a shower and she does, but without using soap. I appreciate how hard it is for her to admit–and actually believe—that she is wrong. I know that the words ‘I’m sorry’ can feel almost impossible to utter. I know because my daughter is just like me.
When I look at her, I see a smaller version of myself. When I listen to her, I hear my own voice. With that comes a deep understanding of her behavior and the underlying motivations that drive her. But it also burdens her with grown-up expectations that are unrealistic and unfair when applied to a pre-teen. Ironically, her maturity, competence and (mostly) excellent judgment only serve to highlight her missteps and leave us both feeling surprised and disappointed when she falls short.
Intellectually, I know it is wrong to apply my own adult standards to my eleven-year-old daughter. But as the top of her head inches closer to mine and our eyes meet at a nearly level plane, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the “me” from the “she.” So I constantly remind myself that my daughter is not a small-scale model of her mother. I work to set high standards, but ones that are attainable and appropriate for her age and development. I allow myself to take pride in her accomplishments and quietly share the pain when she does not reach her goals. But I try to remain fully aware that these ups and downs do not belong to me—they are hers.
And, most of all, I remind myself that she is still a child. A child who needs to make mistakes, who needs to exert her will, who needs to have the occasional lapse of judgment. She is her mother’s daughter, but she is most assuredly her own person.