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Becoming the Mother I Never Had

Close up, beautiful young mother kissing her newborn baby son in sling at home
Image Source: Thinkstock

I’ll never forget the fear I felt when I first learned I was pregnant. My husband and I had been trying, but it wasn’t so much an active plan as it was a passive one. We weren’t exactly doing anything to prevent it, but we assumed things would take longer. We thought we had more time.

But after two cycles and eight weeks, I was pregnant. I was growing “my little bean”: a soon-to-be baby girl.

Make no mistake, I was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a mom. I couldn’t wait to see my daughter and hold her in my arms. I was excited to teach her all about the world; about boys, and girls, and Barbies, and basketball, and … well, life. But I was also terrified I couldn’t give her enough. I was terrified I wouldn’t be enough.

And while I’m sure many moms-to-be often this way, my insecurities ran somewhat deeper, because they were rooted in my own unstable childhood — the years I spent trapped in a cycle of emotional and psychological abuse.

You see, my mother was sick and, as such, I had no concept of what it truly meant to be a “good mom.”

And yet ironically, my earliest memories with her are happy ones. In the early days, my mother would sing and dance with me; she would read me bedtime stories and, on occasion, we would bake together — slathering vanilla cupcakes with my favorite colored frosting: pink.

But after my father’s death, things changed. She changed; and the entire dichotomy of our relationship was thrown off-center. Because while my mother was physically present, she grew cold and callous. She became hateful and distant, and emotionally, she was unavailable.

My father’s death plunged her into a dark depression, which she still has yet to emerge from.

Of course, I knew she was hurting. Even then, at age 12, I knew her short temper and cutting insults were the result of pain — lots of pain, and an undiagnosed mental illness.

My mother may have been in pain; but it didn’t justify her anger. Or her behavior. Or her absence.
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But still, no child should ever have to hear the words you’re awful; you’re ugly; you’re stupid; you’re terrible.

No child should ever be told I hate you or I wish I never had you.

My mother may have been in pain; but it didn’t justify her anger. Or her behavior. Or her absence.

When I was 12, and she was 32, our roles reversed: I began cooking dinner and doing the laundry. I was responsible for packing lunches and cleaning the house and my baby brother became my problem, my priority; because all my mother would do, all she could to do, was go to work and come home.

Every day, from that point on, she went to bed before the 6 o’clock news.

Of course, I resented her for this. Because I didn’t just lose my father that cold November day, I lost mother, my past, my present, my childhood, my hopes for the future, my confidence, and — to a certain degree — my mind. I lost all semblance of normalcy and of family.

But on the day I first saw those two little pink lines — even in the midst of all my fear — I could already see what mattered most, sharpening into view. All that mattered was that sweet little baby, who I’d later learn was going to be a girl. I needed to be present for her. I needed to be open and loving for her. And I needed to be more for her.

I needed to love by example. To be the strong, level-headed, patient, persistent, and powerful — the kind woman my mother was not.

I needed to not just be a good mom, but a great one.

And so, I made a promise to my daughter on that very day — before I even knew what or who she was; before I even saw her face or knew the name I would one day call her.

I promised to always be her safe space; to offer her a shoulder to cry on and an ear that would always listen. I promised to guide her in every way I knew how; to be her parent first and her best friend second. I promised to get her help whenever she need it, and support even when she didn’t ask for it.

I promised to carry her through bad times, and let her walk on her own in the better times. To laugh with her and cry with her, and to sing in the car with her at the top of our lungs. I’ll tell her when she is wrong and teach her how to be better. I vowed to never hurt her, and love her even when she’s angry with me.

I will love her even through those painful teenage years. Through the slammed doors and muffled curses. Through the “I don’t like you’s” and the “I hate you’s.”

And while I know that I am not perfect, and that a day will come when I’ll speak out of frustration or anger or even fear, I promised I will always accept my mistakes. I will try to do better. And every single day, I will try to be more than I was the day before.

Because that is the mother she deserves.

That is the mother every child deserves.

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