“Go to your room,” I said in as calm a voice as I could manage. But she didn’t go. No, instead she planted her 7-year-old feet firmly into the carpet, looked straight at me with her fierce, unflinching, brown eyes, and said, “I don’t want to.”
“I don’t care what you want!” I said back, in a tone that relayed a demand rather than my actual opinion on her emotions.
But just as the words rolled off my tongue and out of my mouth, I heard it; the voice of my mother. I shuddered from head to toe even though I knew that it wasn’t actually my mother’s voice. If I’m being honest here though, it still scared me to death.
As parents, we all have those frightening moments where we catch ourselves saying or doing something we always said we wouldn’t. And in those moments, we realize that somehow, someway, we have aged enough to suddenly become the people we swore we would never be — our parents. And although it may catch us off guard, for many of us it’s easy to laugh off and go about our merry way.
But it’s not easy for me. It’s not easy for me because I do not ever, ever, ever want to become my mother. I do not ever want to raise my daughter the way that my mother raised me. Because when I looked into her tiny brown eyes on the day she was born, I promised her that no matter what happened in life, I would never hurt her the way that my mother hurt me.
I promised her that I would never abuse her.
And I haven’t, because thank you Lord, I’ve been able to keep that promise. But standing there in the hallway with a 7-year-old who had gotten in herself into trouble and refused to go to her room; and hearing the words “I don’t care what you want” coming out of my mouth and being directed at her, I felt terrified. I wondered — just as I have in every battle of the wills this small child of mine has put me through — if this was the tipping point where I may lose it and become my mother.
I always fear that today is the day that I might abuse her.
And it’s not because I feel any particular sort of fury towards her — and it’s definitely not because I’ve ever felt the desire to raise my hand towards her (I have not) — it’s just because I fear that I might be capable of it. I’m scared that it’s in my blood; that whatever my mother was, was born into me as it was passed down to her from her mother, and that it might someday rear its ugly head in the way that I parent.
When I was younger I worried, as many teenagers do, that I might turn out to be just like my mother. Except instead of aging, growing, and seeing the wisdom in her ways, I aged, I grew, and I learned just how very wrong she was. I realized that everything I was taught, was nothing that I should have learned, and I’ve spent years undoing the damage, while trying desperately to take a different path with my daughter.
I want something different for her than I had with my mother, but I’m not always sure that I know how to give her what no one ever taught me.
So there I stood, hearing the voice of my mother as I told her “I don’t care what you want,” when I realized just how wrong I was. Wrong, because I did care. I do care, and I will always care, and I know that, because I spend every second of my life caring about her.
Caring more for her than my mother ever cared for me.
And so I took a deep breath and I made sure that the next voice out of my mouth was mine.
“I love you very much, but I do not like the way you are acting right now,” I said. “I don’t care that you don’t want to go to your room, but you need to because you need to think about the choices that you are making, and we both need to calm down.”
She didn’t look happy, but she did go to her room, and that’s all I can ask, because she is still 7 and it’s still my job to parent her, but it’s also my job to keep my promise to her.
I will never abuse her like my mother did to me.
Not today, not ever.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the fear of becoming my mother will ever go away, but the only thing I can do is embrace that fear, because if anything, it’s made me the parent I am today. I know what it’s like to be three feet tall and have the weight of the person who was supposed to protect me, crush my world, and because of that, I will always fight twice as hard to protect my children.
I am not my mother, and my children are not me.
Just like many parents, I don’t have all the answers. Heck, I don’t even have some of them, but what I do have is a promise that I made to a tiny little person seven years ago, and what I also have is a lifetime to go in keeping up with that promise.
So dear daughter of mine, I’m sorry that I said that to you. I’m struggling to find my footing here, and it’s a fine line between dealing with your stubborn little ways, and separating them from my own traumatic past. I love you enough to want to do things differently for you than were done to me, but you are still in trouble. Yet because I’m not my mother — I’m your mother — I love you enough to want to make sure that I’m teaching you in the right way when your behavior is wrong.
Like many parents, I don’t have all the answers today, but I have two; I know that I love you, and that I will never hurt you, and God willing those are the only answers I need to make the rest fall into place.
So please go to your room, because you have a few things you need to think about when it comes to your behavior, and truth be told, I have a few things I need to think about when it comes to mine. And I was thinking that after we both take a few minutes to dwell on this, that maybe we could work on this together.
Like mother, like daughter.
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