I love — I mean really love — the movie Anastasia and couldn’t wait to watch it with my daughter. I envisioned us bonding over our shared obsession, listening to the soundtrack in the car, planning elaborate costumes for Halloween, and flying to Russia to explore my Russian roots. My great great great grand father was a guard at the palace during this time. I would say. Oooohhh, wow, that’s amazing. She would reply, her eyes glimmering. But somewhere around the point I was belting out “Once Upon a December” and twirling around the living room, I paused to study her expression.
She. did. not. care.
And she continued to be disinterested, asking for snacks, playing with her toys instead, and suggesting alternative movies we could be watching instead. HOW DARE SHE! I thought. Why doesn’t she love this movie like I do?
My children are not me. I’m saying this to myself because I keep forgetting. My children are not me. It’s so obvious. Everyone knows that to be true. Clearly, my 5 year-old daughter is not actually me. Her ability to BITE ice cream alone is evidence that this is true. But I constantly catch myself treating her like she is me like being disappointed when she is not “into” the same things I am or even being disappointed when she displays some of my “bad behavior”. Do as I say, not as I do. Be like me. But be like the best me — the perfect me that doesn’t exist. And, please, don’t show me the dark sides of myself that I don’t like. Besides this being a really selfish mentality, it is damaging to my children and our relationship.
I hold myself to impossibly high standards, it’s something I am working on: trying to be more gracious with myself. I tell my daughter to “always do your best” but I often act like my best is not enough for me. At my lowest, I am also guilty of acting like her best isn’t enough for me, either. And that sucks.
I am a 27 year old adult. She is 5 years old. As my friend recently reminded me, I have shoes that are older than her. Why am I pushing my unrealistic expectations onto a child? It’s not logical but I do it, subconsciously, when I mentally critique her coloring pages for her color choice or feel my frustration rise when she can’t remember how many fingers she has on one hand. Why don’t you know this? It’s so easy. Yes, so easy to me — a TWENTY-SEVEN YEAR OLD ADULT. Instead of using my position of knowledge and experience to educate and help, I use it to judge and get frustrated.
When people say, “She gets it from her mother” it makes me cringe. If it’s good, I get credit for something I had little to do with and, if it’s bad, I blame it on her dad? It hardly seems fair. Either way, she doesn’t get credit. She makes her own choices and has her own, distinct personality that is often overlooked because we are busy attributing it to the adults in her life. This is amplified with my one year-old. We cannot have one family visit without someone debating who he favors the most. Usually, someone ends up sharing old childhood photos of my husband or I and the discussion goes on. Can he not just look like… himself? Whose nose does he have? … his own.
Sure, it’s undeniable, our children look like us and it’s fun and sweet to discuss it. On a deeper level, it probably feels good to see yourself reflected. And, on an even deeper basic human level, we love to see the fruits of reproduction. There is a lot of power in our genes, the fabric of who we are — but at some point, you have to move on and just let the children be.
My children don’t have to like what I like. This was hard for me to accept — honestly, I am still getting there. It makes no difference to me if my children like mashed potatoes or extra butter on their movie popcorn. I don’t care if they would rather go to the beach than go hiking. BUT there are a few things that I am passionate about — things so important and dear to me — that even the idea of my children not loving them would make me sad.
The big thing: reading. I love to read. It’s a central passion of mine and one that I desire to pass to my children. I read to them every night and have a beautiful collection of children’s books that I treasure. They see me read daily. What could go wrong? Well… my anxiety started to rise the longer it took my daughter to learn to read (see: unrealistic expectations) and I started to see my fears manifest themselves. She won’t learn to read. She won’t be smart. She’s slow. There is no way, realistically, that she could grow up and not learn to read. The problem was not her — it was me. My fear of her not being smart? Had nothing to do with her. Had everything to do with my irrational fear of not being smart enough, successful enough.
I share that to say this: If my children don’t love to read it will be okay. If they don’t love film, it will be okay. If they don’t love art, it will be okay. I want them to be independent, self-aware individuals who make their own choices. They can have their own central tenants, their own passions, their own beliefs and I have to learn to let it go. And let them be. I can only do my best. I can only do my best to instill in them good values, critical thinking, self-reflection, and resilience. I can guide, I can educate but the rest is up to them.
It’s Not About Me
It’s not about me. But it is. But it isn’t. There is the undeniable sting of selfishness in all of this and it’s not about me. But it is. Here’s what I mean: the relationship problems, the communication break downs, the misunderstandings, the frustration during homework time— they have almost nothing to do with my children and everything to do with me. My fear of my daughter not being smart? About me. My insecurity. My aversion to when she starts to act or talk “girly”? About me. My irrational judgement, my bitterness. It is about me and I am the only one I can control and change. I am the one responsible for doing better and meeting them at their level, not expecting them to rise to mine. Becauuuseeee it’s not about me or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
My husband and I are both guilty of trying to force (share?) our childhood nostalgia on the children. Sometimes, we meet great success: a shared obsession with bread and cheese, Sims, Life Size (yes, with Tyra Banks) andNightmare Before Christmas. Other times, we meet failure: pasta (what kind of kid doesn’t like pasta?!?!?!), not liking Star Wars yet… and really a general aversion to most live action movies. But this has helped me learn to let her live in her moment, in her time. She didn’t grow up in the same decade, with the same influences. She is going to want to watch YouTube toy videos and play Minecraft, not play Polly Pockets all day, listening to Hit Me Baby One More Time. Children teach you a lot about the world and about yourself. They teach you to open your eyes and heart to new things. Sometimes they are annoying new things, like the “Finger Family Song” but sometimes they are really fun — I really like playing Minecraft, guys and yes, I think those reversible sequins are cool as hell. That’s one of the reasons that it should be about them living: freely, boldly, with my support and not my judgment.