I am a proud mom of an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 15-year-old. I am consistent and confident, yet flawed in my parenting. I am proud of all of these things. The flawed parenting gives me an opportunity to learn and grow and meet the needs of each child as appropriately as I can. It’s my lot in life, like the majority of moms, and it is my life’s purpose to be the mom each of my children need me to be. Another thing I am is human. I am caring. I am loving and I wear my heart on my sleeve.
My oldest, my 15-year-old, the one who made me a mom and showed me that I was capable of loving someone so deeply, had broken my heart. I believe it was always unintentional, although in the moments I was never so rational as to believe so. Around age 13, she became dismissive of me. She became passive when it came to me and therefore it seemed nothing I did or said really affected her. I no longer mattered and although she never was so disrespectful as to say it, her actions certainly spoke loud enough.
Friends who have gone through this would reassure me often that this was all very normal and that she would come back to me in a few years. I had read enough to know that the teenage girl years could be rough. I never expected her to continue to dote on me as she did when she was younger or to even like me a lot but this was different. This was daily behavior that confirmed that I didn’t matter, what I said or did made no difference, and that she could nearly cut me out of her daily life and have zero feelings about it.
My husband would tell me almost daily to try not to take it personally. My response was always that I was trying but that I wasn’t a robot. I knew I had to be the steady and unaffected one but as hard as I tried, I wasn’t successful.
I walked around with a broken heart for 18 months while doing my best to pretend it wasn’t. Still cheerfully driving her to her club volleyball practices and tournaments, to her high school practices and games, and to all social functions. I walked a fine line of interaction and parenting without wanting to upset her or push her further away. I even found myself being my own hype man before some interactions with her. Like, “C’mon Ashley, you got this. Just go in there and tell her the next time you find a wet towel on the floor she’s responsible for washing all towels for the next two weeks. You’re the parent. Don’t be afraid of pushing her further away. Just go in there.” It was absurd, and terrifying, and lonely. Especially for this consistent and confident mom. I felt oh, so flawed, but not in the way I had before. I felt deficient and useless and flawed as a person, not just in my parenting.
One night the three kids and I had walked in the door after I had picked them each up from their respective practices. This was early March, right before everything shut down. My daughter said something as we walked through the door that was just a deal breaker for me. I don’t even remember what it was and it may have been my mood that day where I was feeling extra sensitive with her but it broke me.
She immediately started to walk upstairs and I yelled at her to stop. The other two kids stopped in the foyer. I stood at the foot of the stairs and dropped everything that was in my hands and I sobbed from the bottom of my gut.
She sat down right where she had stopped on the stairs and was just watching me, no expression. I sobbed for a bit before I could even talk and then I just told her that she can continue to hate me this way forever if she wants but it will never change anything within me as to how I love her and will stand behind her ALWAYS. I told her that I will always continue to say yes when she wants to have all of her friends over. I told her that I will always continue to stop at Starbucks before I drop her friends off at home. I told her that I will always continue to be the first parent in the entire gym for every single game, home or away. I told her that I will always volunteer for everything I can at school that helps to support her.
I got in her face, while sobbing, and said I WILL CONTINUE TO SHOW UP FOR YOU FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER because that’s what you do when you love someone more than you love yourself. I said that my heart has been broken for a long time and I’ll deal with that forever if I have to, but I will never change those things and I will SHOW UP until I die.
My other two kids were crying. Then my middle, my only son, screamed at her, “I TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE KILLING HER!” and I actually cried harder than I ever have in my life. His words to her meant that he had tried to talk to her about it and that touched me so deeply.
She calmly got up and walked to her bedroom. I was spent and had said all that there was to say.
The next morning she came in and laid on my bed while scrolling on her phone. She said nothing, and neither did I. That was the beginning of this new chapter.
It’s funny because I really had my guard up when she started being “normal” with me again and I had to make a solid, intentional effort to not have my guard up. I needed her to see and feel that I was open and ready to receive whatever she felt like giving me. My heart had been broken, and as anyone who has had their heart broken knows, it’s an innate response to protect yourself after the fact. As her parent, I had no choice but to fight that and be open and willing. In the end it’s what I had dreamed of. It didn’t take long for the guard to disappear. I believe I can speak for her when I say that that was mutual.
2020 is a year so few people will care to remember. Except for me. 2020 is the year that I got my baby girl back. Not long after my breakdown and her change of heart, the world shut down and our chaotic, crazy life of two schools and four sports teams came to a standstill. We learned to be together again and we had an abundance of time to do so.
My heart is healed and I am grateful.
If you are struggling with something similar, hang in there, mama. Remain consistent and confident. And trust me when I say that you are not flawed in the ways your broken heart may tell you that you are. I promise.