Last weekend I traveled to Orlando for a cheer competition with my 12 year old daughter. During our time together, we both experienced highs and lows as any mother daughter pair does. While I know this is partly due to the hormones of adolescence, I was present to something else in our space. What I noticed was that the lines between my daughter and I had started to get blurry. The place where I end and my daughter begins was not quite clear.
I noticed myself getting triggered by certain things my daughter would be, say or do during our time together. Little things like not picking up after herself, “forgetting” to brush her teeth, her food choices being less than healthy… Bigger things like what she would or wouldn’t say during interactions with a friend, how she would take pics of herself to post on social media everywhere we went, her coping mechanism when something bothered her. In my moments of being triggered, I was struck with the urge to raise my voice or to launch into a speech on the “right” way to behave. But, at this point in my personal development, knowing so well that what I can’t be with in others (tolerate/accept) is a direct reflection of what I can’t be with in myself, I chose to look inward and explore what was really going on for me. What I discovered surprised me yet it makes complete sense.
As a child, although I always had many friends, I was insecure and felt judged much of the time. I didn’t like that feeling (who would?) so my creative mind came up with rules; things I should or shouldn’t do to be liked, to fit in, to keep me comfortable. I learned to manage and control aspects of my environment to get the acceptance and reassurance I craved. What surprised me last weekend was how much that vintage version of myself showed up in relationship with my daughter. I was completely projecting my own “rules” onto her to keep her “accepted and safe”. The thing is, my daughter doesn’t have the same feelings of insecurity or need to be accepted and safe. What hit me next really opened my eyes. If I had reacted the way my impulse told me to, I could be sure that in time she WOULD become insecure. She would begin to crave acceptance or worse, pull away from her family and friends. And while this may be normal for a teenage girl to some extent, I certainly don’t want to be a contributing factor.
I thought long and hard about what I could do. As a fix, I noticed that I could keep quiet, not say anything. This felt borderline negligent and certainly inauthentic. I’m her mom, if I’m not guiding her on these things, who will? Then the breakthrough opportunity became clear. It involved being completely transparent with my daughter, speaking to her from a place of complete honesty and vulnerability. I told her all about how I was as a child at her age, insecure and always working hard to fit in. I told her that I now had the benefit of years of living behind me, many relationships and experiences later to teach me that I didn’t have to be insecure as I once was. I explained to her that sometimes that child still shows up inside me and when she does, she has me think overly critical things about myself and sometimes about the people I love the most. The thoughts don’t make sense and are just remnants of my relationship with my former self. I explained that I am not that voice. I told her that because of how much I love her, I sometimes get confused between where she begins and I end. I let her know that loving her and watching her grow has been the most incredible experience of my life. I cried when I shared all of this. She cried when she saw my tears. And, the old soul that she is, she really got it. And it brought us closer to one another. We talked about how we are both simply human. I told her that I am committed to seeing and relating to BOTH of us as our highest and best selves.
On the plane ride home, I had nodded off. I woke to a soft kiss on my cheek. When I opened my eyes, my daughter was smiling at me. She’s such a kind, loving person and so incredibly different than me in ways I greatly appreciate. She is perfectly imperfect just like her mom.
Today, on Mother’s Day, take time to celebrate who you are as a mother. Let your family spoil you and shower you with love. And, in service of your continued growth, I invite you to look inward at which aspects of your relationship with yourself are no longer serving you (judgement, criticism, fear, control…). Now take a look at how this shows up in relationship with your child. It won’t always be easy to see so give yourself the space to really consider. How do you want it to go differently for both you and your child moving forward? What will make the biggest difference? What do you need to give up to create this shift?
In addition to Career and Leadership Coaching, I provide Parent Coaching to parents of children with and without special needs. If you know someone struggling in a parent/child relationship, contact me for a sample session.