I didn’t set out in life to model specific behaviors for my four daughters. In the beginning I felt like I knew nothing about being a mom, and I had so many raging insecurities I couldn’t fathom that I might be a model for anyone. I was just following my instincts, doing what I thought I should be doing, what the world (and my parents watching from heaven) expected of me.
When my first daughter was born I was working full-time and loving my career. I had no inkling that the draw of motherhood would be so powerful. By the time she was a year old, I was miserable at work. I quit my job. I naively thought I could be a mom for a few years and then go back to my career. After all, everyone kept telling me I could “have it all.”
A second daughter came along and with her came all the attributes of a second-born child. She was strong willed and determined to race through life, causing her older sister to run to catch up. It was four years later before my body was ready and another daughter came into my life. It was then that I learned the probability of my not ever having a son. I was so in love with my daughters, I didn’t care. My fourth daughter came along and brought all those bittersweet joys of “the lasts.” The last time I will help a daughter learn to walk, talk, ride a bike.
From an early age I learned to survive, independently. When I married I had dreams of my husband being a perfect husband and dad, helping with everything. His refusal to change diapers was the first clue that those had merely been dreams, not reality. But I was a survivor, so independently I did it all. People marveled at my organization, my patience, my determination. And they saw love. That unconditional love of a mother and her child, times four.
We didn’t have a perfect life by any means. But there wasn’t a day my daughters didn’t feel my love for them. Even in the darkness of their father’s anger and the stress and friction that became the focus of our lives for so many years. My daughters watched me do it all, often without support.
And so it is that through the act of surviving and following my instincts, I modeled being a mom. Looking back now I wish someone had told me to show my weakness, to show my uncertainty, to show my insecurities. I hid those things too well and I made it all look too easy and too perfect.
My oldest daughter is now twenty-nine and she is struggling for control in all aspects of her life. Kate’s husband suffered a serious injury to one of his legs right before Christmas and he has not been able to walk since. He will have surgery this coming week to repair his leg and then four to six months of recuperation and physical therapy. The good news is he will walk again and I remind myself of that regularly. The bad news is that Kate has had to shoulder everything. They heat their home with a wood stove, so she’s hauled all the wood every day. She works full-time out of the house and has a forty-five minute commute each way. She has a four-year-old daughter and an eighteen-month-old son. Kate is cooking, cleaning, shopping, parenting, working—doing it all—alone. And the loss of her husband’s income has been devastating. Sure her husband is there to advise her, but he is struggling through the frustration and depression that come with a critical illness.
I’ve reached out to Kate several times, offering help. At first my offers were generic. “Let me know how I can help.” She never answered. Then I came up with specific ways that I knew I could help and offered those things. “I’ll take the kids while you grocery shop. I’ll take the kids overnight so you can get some rest. I’ll come to your house and help you clean and haul wood and do chores.” It’s hard not to take her refusals personally, especially given the struggles she and I have had since August.
I know I am much wiser now at fifty-three than I was at twenty-three when I gave birth to Kate. But to Kate, I am “The Mom” and my knowledge is questionable even on the best days. In my mind’s eyes I can see Kate rolling her eyes when I say to her on the phone, “Taking care of your kids for the weekend will be so much fun!” And because Kate is a perfectionist, I know she is striving to follow the Mom Model she was shown all her life. She is an intelligent woman, very capable and determined. And even though I have said, “You don’t have to do it alone,” she is determined not to show her insecurities, her weaknesses.
I am coming to terms with the fact that I am on the downhill slide of my life, with less years ahead of me than behind me. But I am not a quitter and I know I have a ton of work to do yet. It’s becoming very apparent to me that I must model for my daughters The Mature Woman, someone fully capable of doing it all but one who chooses to accept the help of friends and family, one who is confident despite her insecurities, one who loves unconditionally despite rejection.