“When’s Mommy going to be baaaaaack?” she cries softly to her daddy. “I miss Mommy!!!”
I’ve only been gone for 45 minutes. It’s Tuesday night and I’m at my ballet class. Still, she whines quietly from the safety of daddy’s arms. Daddy is awesome. But Mommy is still her #1.
My firstborn, my 9-year-old, is in the midst of rocketing off into the male world — switching identification to his father. But my daughter, my 5-year-old, she cleaves to me.
No one tells you on the eve of motherhood, as you lay on your backside howling like a she-wolf, how this tiny human about to be born will, voluntarily or otherwise, come under your spell. “I find myself in a relationship which, by its very nature, can never really be equal nor free from a skewed balance of power,” Anna Quindlen writes in Living Out Loud, a compilation of her “Life in the 30s” columns for The New York Times.
Oh many are the ways a mother can wield her power.
Motherhood has a weight stronger than gravity itself. I can almost see my daughter’s heart swell with confidence when I plant kisses on those luscious cheeks, when I get lost in the scent of her hair as we embrace, when I tell her “You can do it!” “I believe in you!” “You are my treasure!” She occupies the most tender part of my soul.
I have also discovered how a mother’s power is closely linked to the way she views herself. My confidence (or lack thereof) spills over to my daughter. Am I happy with the decisions I’ve made? Am I at peace with my mistakes? Am I going after the things I want in life? Am I comfortable in my own skin? How I answer these questions will boost (or bust) my daughter’s self-esteem.
It’s why I never talk about my body issues in front of her (“I wish my legs were longer!” “If only my boobs were bigger!” “My soft paunch, my fleshy thighs—Ughhhh!!”), instead I openly praise the things I admire about my body: my shapely muscles, my expressive hands, my size-6-will-look-good-in-any-pair-of-shoes feet. It’s why I teach her that her mother is also an “other”– a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a woman with dreams and goals and ambition (this way, if she chooses to be a mother someday, she too will remember that she is a multi-dimensional individual).
But power is a double-edged sword. When brandished carelessly, parents can leave their children with lasting wounds.
I think about that afternoon we got in a fight. She, only four but with an attitude of an angsty 14-year-old, using her iron will against me. I don’t remember what we argued about (cleaning up her toys? Putting on her winter boots?). I’m sure it was something petty. But important enough to us that we both wanted to win. Put two stubborn, fiercely independent and unyielding females together and you’re bound for an explosion.
I know I’m the adult, but that afternoon I withdrew my affection. I did the very thing I knew would hurt her most. I did it and I’m not proud. Will she remember this fight? Probably not. But in her storage of memories to come, there will be the inevitable squabbles (read: the teenage years) where careless remarks are hurled with abandon.
Parents become, effortlessly, just by showing up, the most influential totems in the lives of their children, Quindlen writes. This is both exciting and terrifying. We want our good intentions to hold weight, but our mistakes not to leave an indelible mark.
What gives me comfort in this skewed balance of power is the fact that my daughter has cast her own powerful spell on me. What she doesn’t realize now is how much she makes my heart swell, how her “I love yous” turn me to mush, how she absolutely obliterates me with that gorgeous face.
One day, she will realize this power. And every now and then she may use it against me. That’s OK. Because she will always be my #1 girl.
*This post originally appeared in love, -j. on 2/24/15