My daughter quietly slipped into conversation the other day that she doesn’t like when people tell her we look alike. I half chuckled and said get used to it.
As a carbon copy of my mother, I couldn’t go to the grocery store as a kid without a stranger coming up and saying do you know how much you two look alike.
After my glib remark, I noticed her trademark long pause as she sat waiting for me to get there. Patiently waiting for me to follow up and dig deeper.
So, I asked why? She said because she wants people to think she just looks like herself, she wants people to just see her.
And as I stared at this remarkable individual whose face resembles mine except for the smattering of perfectly placed freckles which kiss the brow of her nose, I commended her bravery and her ability to speak the truth. After six-plus weeks in quarantine with two kids and with mother’s day fast approaching I’ve been thinking about what makes a good mother.
Is it our ability to wear many hats? We are now donning the titles of homeschool teacher, playmate, protector in chief, chef, screentime enforcer, zoom coordinator and many of us are doing this all while working from home.
If it’s the roles we play then my mothering marks are on a downward trajectory.
Because we tend to like to test the limits of the amount of stress the human spirit can take we threw in a move on top of the coronavirus.
At one point amid the packing while on a conference call with the bank trying to figure out how on earth to navigate the PPP loan. I noticed my daughter on a zoom call with her classmates munching on Tostitos chips at 9 am, still in puppy pajamas she had been wearing for three days and the starts of dreads in her hair.
Within minutes of ending the zoom, the teacher texted me a meme of Kim Jeong throwing out a bag of chips and calling it breakfast. Under any other circumstances, I would have been mortified.
However, corona + moving had given me a new shame barometer.
At this point, I was thinking I should get extra points for just showing up to the zoom. So what makes a good mother?
Is it perfectly combed hair and home-cooked meals? Is it shuttling kids from one activity to another while making sure they maintain straight A’s? Is it volunteering and working and staying fit and in fashion and “happy.” The world took a pause and it’s asking us what matters.
Now that the shuttling is suspended, the fashion doesn’t matter, the exercise is for sanity, kids aren’t being given grades, all the outward-facing measurements of success are no longer.
How do we measure ourselves? How do we know if we are good mothers? My daughter wants to be seen as she is.
Not as an extension of me, not as a reflection of me, not as a bauble I can hold up for the world to see and say, "look she met all the expectations I and society put on her."
"Doesn’t that make her an exceptional human? Doesn’t that make me a good mother?" She wants what we all want.
To know you matter because you have intrinsic value.
Looks and accomplishments don’t determine your value.
And more importantly, for us mothers our children's looks and accomplishments don’t make us better people, they don’t make us better mothers, and they certainly don’t determine our value. I think good mothering is giving your children the strength to find their voice, allowing them to speak their truth, giving them the freedom to find their way and when they tell you they don’t want to look like you, be like you or follow the path you dreamed for them you accept it with grace, humility, and humor.
Our children are not our extensions and if we want to give them the courage and strength to soar on their own we have to remove the burden of our expectations.
We don’t want to raise carrier pigeons forever carrying the weight of our desires strapped to their ankles. Let’s raise phoenixes. Beautiful mythical creatures who are not afraid to fail, who constantly reinvent themselves and rebuild from the ashes whenever life turns up the heat. My daughter's pause challenged me to recalibrate my expectations and beliefs about motherhood.
The world’s pause is shining a light on what matters.
A deep dive inward to have a look at what lies beneath is the first step to tapping into the strength of your voice. To leaning into the pause, embracing the silence, and finding meaning in the stillness.
Finding that voice and following it helps put us back on our path so we can make the space for our children to find their way. Because old habits die hard, and I will forever struggle with the fear of the judged mother. We no longer eat Tostitos for breakfast, we found the hairbrush in the move, but we do wear pajamas all day long even on bike rides and often the same ones three days in a row.