An Open Letter To My Teenage Daughter Who Hates Me
Despite my best effort, somehow I seem to have failed you.
To the love of my life,
Where do I begin?
I remember you being three months old. I smothered you with attention. You would grab my big hoop earrings and pull me into your face. I remember kissing your pretty lips and telling you that I would get us out of this mess. I made a commitment to break the cycle. To defy the odds. To be the role model for you, that I never had.
Yet despite my best effort, somehow I seem to have failed you. And your judgment of my life’s efforts has crushed my soul. I could take this from anyone else in the world, I really could. The doubt of society has been a driving force in my life. As long as I had you in my corner looking up to me, failure was impossible. Simply not an option. But the look in your eyes and the distance in your voice tells me that you don’t see me, and I need, so desperately, for you to see me.
We are going to start at the beginning.
No one will admit it, but I was ugly growing up. I had curly hair that no one, especially my dad, knew how to style. So I always combed your hair. Often times I did not have clean clothes that went together and I would justify wearing some crazy flower pattern shirt with a plaid skirt because they both had black in them and that meant that they matched. But they didn’t match, I knew that. And I felt ridiculous. So no matter how broke I was, I have always made sure that you had nice clothes. And that took sacrifices that didn’t make sense.
But there has never been one day in your life that you felt the shame of an ugly girl, in an outfit that didn’t match, with frizzy, ugly hair… because you were too young to know how to do laundry and really you were just trying to survive and all your friends have straight hair and their mom curls it. I made sure that you never felt that pain. And by pain, what I mean is shame.
Between fifth and sixth grade I went back and forth between two schools, four times. One day a fifth grade teacher had the whole class chant, ”Do your homework … do your homework!” I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I was so humiliated. I didn’t know how to explain that the lack of stability, supervision, and accountability had rendered me hopeless. I would go on to not do homework. No one at home cared about the work and no one noticed when I dropped out in 11th grade. And when my friends celebrated walking across that big stage together senior year, I sat in the audience and cried tears of sadness. So I made sure that no matter how much you hated school, you walked across that stage with your class. I know that you hated me for staying on you, but not as much as you would have hated yourself had I let you turn out like me.
I have always known that your beautiful eyes would be looking up to me, whether I deserved it or not. My darling child, I have lived every day with the intention of being a woman that you could look up to. We started this journey together at rock bottom. We were on food stamps, WIC, we lived with friends and family… if your great grandma would have charged me for babysitting, we couldn’t have survived financially. But I wanted for us to do more than just survive. I wanted to thrive. So we hit a fork in the road. I had to choose between quality time or a quality life. Neither you or I will ever know if I chose the right path. I can promise you that I certainly didn’t choose this path because it was easier. I wanted you to have everything that you could ever dream of having. I wanted to make all of your dreams come true, and I would have, and still will do, anything in my power to make that happen.
So I worked and I worked hard. I have worked many hours; I have brought my work home. I poured all that I had into building a beautiful life for us. I want you to know that it’s been exhausting at times. And maybe I made this look easy? But when you were born, I was uneducated. I had nothing to put on a resume. If failure had a recipe, I can assure you I had every ingredient. I dealt with rejection. So. Much. Rejection. Constructive criticism. I had to step — no, run — out of my comfort zone for this life. And I am thankful. But we both know that sacrifices were made.
I am sincerely sorry for never once signing up for the PTA. I didn’t have the time, and I definitely didn’t have the energy to be the class mom. But you know damn well, come hell or high water … I showed up for you. You look at me and see a frazzled, late, chaotic woman. Screeching into the parking lot of your event — on a work call, with fading makeup — trying to sneak into the back of the auditorium unnoticed, and you felt ashamed or annoyed. Never knowing how fucking hard it was to not throw in the towel and just accept that I was falling short in every direction. I wasn’t your dream mom. But I fucking fought a war for you.
I have replayed every time I lost my temper, showed up late, said the wrong thing, or worked too many hours… over and over in my mind. It was eating me alive. My heart hurt in a way that I can only compare to my first broken heart. So I sat down to write you this letter to apologize, but now I realize that while I am sorry… I just need you to see who I am. I need you to understand where I come from.
I did not have a mother for the majority of my life. You did not come with an instruction manual, and I was only 19. I have made many mistakes, but I know that you know that I would kill or die for you. I would spend my last dollar on getting your hair dyed so that you felt beautiful. I would break my own heart by leaving an unhealthy marriage to set an example for you. I would push my pride to the side to apologize even though you really hurt me deeply, too.
So please, my love… forgive me. See me. And know in your heart how hard I have tried.
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