When I became a mom, I stressed and worried about all the logistics of being a parent. I was very concerned about how to physically care for this child, and how to do things “right”. How does one put a baby to sleep? Am I doing this breastfeeding thing right? Oh shit, organics? Really? OK, that sounds good. I never for one single second thought about how to have a good relationship with my baby. Unless you’re a complete asshole, it’s hard not to have a good relationship with a baby. All you have to do to please them is take care of their physical needs, and then smile at them once in awhile. Easy.
So you love your baby, and take care of it, and that’s about it. Until they get to be about three years old and decide they suddenly have a personality and care about things beyond when their next meal is coming, and whether or not they want to continue sitting in their own filth. They can go to the bathroom by themselves, dress themselves, even feed themselves. If they could drive themselves to the corner store and pick up some snacks, they’d be totally self-sufficient. But now, having mastered those milestones, they have suddenly become tiny teenagers stuffed into a preschooler’s body. Much like a recent college graduate, their main goal in life is to figure out who they are.
My oldest daughter is a pure delight. I love her with every single fiber of my being. She is smart, funny, and everyone who knows her loves having her around. My husband and I can spend our entire evening talking about the hilarious stuff she says and does.
There are days, many days, where we just don’t get along. It’s not that she is badly behaved (sometimes, but not always), it’s that we clash on a personality level (because our personalities are basically the same). There are days when, upon finding her asleep in her bed after hours of battling, yelling, and crying, I find myself feeling so much remorse and yes, I’ll say it, shame about they way I treated my daughter. There are days when I feel like all I do is yell, or punish, or generally just feel frustrated and annoyed with her. Sometimes I watch her sleeping and I think holy shit, was I really that mean to my kid today? I lie in bed at night telling my husband about how I fear she’ll grow up and dislike me as an adult, not quite being able to put a finger on why we’re not close, but retaining the sense that I am constantly critical and displeased with her. I know I adore her, and I know she feels the same way, but some days I do a piss-poor job of showing her.
After another night of walking away from my crying daughter out of sheer frustration and exhaustion when yet another 10:30 pm bedtime turned into an 11:30 pm still-wide-awake time, I went downstairs and just didn’t feel right about how I’d left things between us. I raced back upstairs to check on her, to see if she was still awake. She had just fallen asleep. I got in bed next to her, and after waiting over an hour for her to go to sleep on her own, I purposely woke her up just a little bit to snuggle her, tell her I was sorry for yelling at her, feel her little breath on my neck as she mumbled, “It’s okay,” and let her drift back to sleep in my arms.
Watching her sleep, it truly hit me: for all her sass, and fibs, and willful insomnia, and shouting, all she wants is me. She spends entire days where she doesn’t see me for a single second except for those forty-five minutes before bedtime. All she wants to do is put on her pajamas and watch a movie snuggled up next to me, and there are nights when I can’t even be bothered to do that for her. Yes, granted, there are two other kids I’m trying to deal with as well, and yes, I’m tired from working all day and not getting nearly enough sleep the night before. I know all that as an adult, and there’s probably not many adults out there that would fault me for being short-tempered under those conditions. However, it doesn’t matter to me what other adults think; it matters what she thinks. Kids don’t consider outside factors; in fact, even worse — they are so self-centered, to them, everything is their fault, good or bad. So when I’m snappish with her because Bella is screaming, and the baby keeps waking up, and I just want to TAKE A GODDAMN SHOWER IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK, somehow, in her head, it’s her fault I’m snapping at her.
Sometimes I try to come up with reasons why I’m doing an okay job as a mom. However, I realized that the things that keep me thinking I’m doing an okay job (preschool attendance is pretty regular, paid the ballet tuition this month, got her an awesome birthday present, made a healthy dinner that she actually ate) don’t even crack the top ten on her list of things. That’s all behind-the-scenes shit to her. She just wants me to snuggle with her at night, listen to her stories that she draws, watch her do her dance moves. The behind-the-scenes stuff is important, but not the most important. I need to remember that, just like this incredible post says, she just wants me.
During one of our late-night talks, my husband, a.k.a. Cranky Buddha, said, “Just enjoy her. Stop stressing about all that outside bullshit and enjoy her.”
What I never realized before is that while your kids are growing up and developing as human beings, you are growing up as a parent. She’s figuring out who she is as a child, while I’m desperately trying to figure out who I am as a mother to this incredibly complex child that is constantly branching out into new territory, forcing me to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do now. We’re simultaneously growing up.