|Posted on May 4, 2011 at 10:23 PM|
(this article originally appeared in the May 3, 2011 edition of the Daily Review Atlas as a part of my weekly parenting series)
An Open Letter to my Daughter
I have been a certified parent educator for 17 years. I have been a parent for fifteen. The first two years of my career, needless to say were all theory and no experience. Probably not my best work. However, since then I’ve had five children. Whether or not this made me more credible as a parent educator is debatable but in hindsight, I thank God tirelessly for my job.
I had access to excellent resources that have gotten me through some dark days on my parenting journey. Truth be told, that has been what compels me at work. Knowing how much support and information I needed to get through the days and nights of sick babies, ear tubes, temper tantrums and the first day of kindergarten, provides me all the motivation I need to offer support and encouragement to other parents.
So I spend my school days in my comfort zone with mommies and daddies, babies and preschoolers but at home my children have grown into adolescents, tweens and teenagers. Some days I feel like I’ve lost my footing all over again. I feel quite confident with rattles, blocks and diaper bags but none of those things are required in my current phase of parenting. Some days I admit it seems more like I am learning as I go … and I pray I’m not screwing it up too much.
My oldest will be sixteen soon. Sixteen: also synonymous with high school, dating and drivers licenses! I’m on totally new ground here and it’s tough you know? Despite the fact that we live in a culture where communication is prevalent, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, blogs and text messages, I still struggled to find a way to have a meaningful exchange with my daughter. While nothing takes the place of a good old fashioned heart to heart conversation I recently looked for a way to clearly communicate an important message to my daughter.
That’s why, with her permission, I am sharing with you my letter to her. I can only hope that in the few years she has left in our home that she has the confidence of heart to know, that no matter how good or bad my job performance as a mother of a teenager may be, I love her and will always support her.
Dear Teenage Daughter,
You are my first born. The first. That means I've never, ever given permission for my child to go riding in someone's "sweet ride". Words can't possibly explain how my heart feels when you trot off and get in the passenger seat of your friend's car. You are the first bird to ever launch out of my nest. I'm not quite experienced at all of this yet.
You are going to be the first for many things. This is important for you to understand. I know that you think that it's not fair. I mean you didn't ask for 4 siblings. And truth be told that wasn't my plan for you either. But here we both are. Can't we try and make the best of it?
I know you are a good girl. Deep in my heart I feel satisfied that you've grown up quite well. Your daddy & I have given you all our very best and I believe you now have what it takes. Your grades are amazing and you're aiming for valedictorian. My heart soars as you are already accomplishing more than I did. Thank you for all the times teachers have stopped me in the hall to tell me what a great kid you were when they had you in their class. You make me proud. I smile when I think of the legacy you are leaving for your brothers and sisters.
I also know you long to be loved and accepted. And while your daddy & I love and accept you more than you'll ever know, I understand you long for your peers' affirmation as well. This is so normal. Can you believe me when I say I remember feeling that feeling? I am almost 40 years old but I still remember longing for acceptance and dealing with rejection. I was your age once and was rejected too you know. I clearly remember giving my heart to a boy who never returned the gesture. It hurts. It aches. But it doesn't last forever. In the scheme of your life, it's a fleeting feeling. I know you don't understand this today. I know if feels like the whole world spins on it's axis when he gives you some attention. But my darling, the world was spinning before you even knew his name and it will continue to move throughout the universe long after he's forgotten yours.
And one other thing, as the eldest in our family you have an unspoken role I hope you'll be ever mindful of. Whether you like it or not, whether you can appreciate what I am about to tell you is irrelevant to this fact: your brothers and sisters look up to you. I don't tell you this to add spoonful of guilt to your soul, but because it's important to note. Whether you engage them or ignore them, it leaves a mark. Your siblings long to bond with you. They will watch the trail you blaze and then walk it. How far they go is certainly up to them, but you set the course.
Painting your little sisters toenails seems petty to you but it means the world to them. Getting out of the house is important to you but not to them. They don't understand why you're absent from family dinners or movie night. Their young minds can't filter why you don't want to spend time with them. I get it. But they don't. Now I'm not asking you to alter your social life, I'm not even putting expectations on what it looks like for you to be here for them, I just simply ask that you remember they need you. You may not need them, at least not now, but they need you.
Finally, I want you to be and do whatever you want. I mean that. I think that money can always be made but true happiness comes from within. Chase your dream. Try something new. Visit foreign lands if you want. But please, please know that 'doing' things is not what makes a person happy and satisfied. There is an inner peace that is with you and a happiness that is not pinned on jobs or people or bank accounts.
Find that. Seek it.
Please don't settle for anything less.
But just know if you do....when you find yourself in a valley, broken hearted, broke or ashamed that we, your family are here for you. We will always be here for you. We are proud of you not because of what you'll be, but for who you are. You are my daughter. You are a part of this large, crazy tribe. We want only the best for you but because we've walked through a bit of life ourselves we know it won't always be perfect. On those days, we'll be here for you.
We love you.
I love you.
Please, child, be careful for my heart is with you.
It is always with you.
Categories: Monmouth Daily Review Atlas Parenting Articles