At dinner, I glance across the table at you as you take a bite of salad. Everything about this image strikes me—the size and shape of your fingers, the graceful way you spin the fork, the fact that you’ve willingly eaten salad without complaint for years.
I immediately flash back seventeen years. Your tiny baby fingers wrap around a chubby plastic spoon, struggling to get pureed food into your mouth without smearing it all over your face. In some ways, it feels like yesterday. In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago.
For you, it has been a lifetime. The entirety of your childhood, the sum of your life lived up to this moment, gazes back at me from that dining chair. Seventeen years is a big chapter of my life, but for you, that chapter is your whole life. I’m staring at a life here—a life I helped create, a life that grew from my own, a life that I helped mold and guide.
I am so very proud of the woman you are becoming. And I’m also terrified to be at this stage of your—our—story.
I set out on my mothering journey with so many ideals for what I wanted to teach you, for the mom I wanted to be, for the family I wanted to create. I had goals and dreams for parenting, none of which involved losing my patience, having a perpetually messy house, and regularly escaping to Target alone.
I was going to be the mom who baked cookies. I was going to grow an organic garden and read you classic books out loud. I was going to be relaxed and fun, but also disciplined and organized. I was going to nurture your creativity and make sure you got plenty of time in nature and teach you to work hard and to walk through the world unafraid.
But motherhood was so much greater and so much harder than I thought it would be. When I think back on those ideals, I laugh at my naïveté, but I also feel a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to be the mom I set out to be.
I am haunted by a million doubts and unanswered questions. Did I do right by you? Have I taught you the core things you need to know to go out into the world without being swallowed up by it? Have I been a good example? Are you going to need therapy because of choices I made or things I did with you?
I know I’ve done a lot of things right, but I also know I could have done a lot of things better. I always wanted to do my best at motherhood, but the thing about motherhood is that your best changes all the time. Some days you’re on top of everything—educational goals, emotional needs, physical and spiritual health, valuable life lessons, social navigation, home maintenance, and everything else. And other days, managing to take a shower and making sure no one dies is literally the best you can do.
This may be difficult to understand now, but you’ll find out the full truth about parenting if and when you have your own kids. There’s a common saying that children don’t come with instruction manuals, and it’s 100% true. As a parent, you’re pretty much winging it the whole time. You can try to prepare in dozens of ways, you can read every book in the parenting section of the bookstore, but believe me when I tell you that everything you think you understand about being a parent flies out the window when you actually become one.
That’s not a bad thing, mind you. After all, we’re talking about a human being nurturing another human being, two unique souls with their own talents, purposes, and destinies engaging in an intimate relationship unlike any other. Figuring out the basics of that relationship is challenging enough, much less all of the ever-changing intricacies, nuances, and unexpected dynamics that come along with it.
We’re so close, you and me. We have been since I pulled you onto my belly and you looked up at me with round, alert eyes. The mother-daughter bond is beyond anything I could have imagined. When you hurt, I hurt. When you’re happy, I’m happy. I feel everything through you, as if your emotions flow to me through an invisible thread.
And yet here you are, your own person, totally separate and apart from me. How much of that amazing young woman looking at me across our dining room table is a result of my mothering, and how much of it is just who you are and were always going to be? Personality vs. parenting? Nature vs. nurture? Those age-old questions that have plagued humanity for millennia now sit squarely before me, and I’m surprised to find that I still don’t have the answers.
I can only hope that the deliberate good I’ve done greatly outweighs any unintended damage I may have caused. And I pray that my immense love for you overshadows any other feelings you may have sensed from me over the years. My frustrations were never really about you anyway—they were about me not living up to my own unrealistic standards for myself.
So please forgive my shortcomings, sweetheart. Being a mother isn’t easy, but being your mother has been the greatest blessing of my life. If I had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again, yes, I might change a few things. But I would do it again, just for the joy of watching you grow into the remarkable soul you’ve turned out to be.
My love for you will never change, my dear, and my door will always be open. As you head out into an unsure world, you can always count on that.