It began with a conversation about my best friend visiting for Thanksgiving, which has become an annual event. My 11-year-old daughter and I sat side by side, comfy on our couch.
She said “I love how Amy is so 'big' when she sees me. She still greets me the same way she did when I was little and a lot of adults stop doing that when you get older.”
I was careful in my response. “Tell me more about that.”
“Like when Dad used to put me on his shoulders, he doesn’t do that anymore...”
And her voice caught in her throat.
This made me almost gasp.
I thought I had been paying attention.
I thought I was mindful of what she needed.
I thought I was careful to still “see” her.
As parents, my husband and I do our best to give our tween and teen the autonomy they need to individuate from us in a healthy way. We are mindful of every step involved in the dance of parenting our emerging adults.
It seems, as our 15-year-old son has gotten older, we may have lumped our daughter into the category of “needing independence” a little too early.
She went on...
“And when I sleep with you when Dad is gone, we used to fall asleep holding hands and I’ve noticed we don’t do that as much anymore.”
Then she let loose of the lump in her throat and broke down crying.
I was stunned.
I had no idea.
In all of my attempts to help my kids individuate, I had loosened my grip too soon for one of them.
My goal was to offer her a safe place to push me away. You see, this is something I am still waiting on — something many of us are waiting on with our own mothers.
As I work with many women clients, I realize what is plaguing so many of us is not “Daddy issues” at all, but “Mommy issues.” The precarious relationship between a mom and a daughter rides on so many things that it can be paralyzing to participate in for fear that you may not “do it right” or it often leaves you in a place of lack.
As a grown woman, the need for a daughter to be “seen” by her Mother is very real.
We need to be seen as the adult we are.
We need to know they think we are good mom.
Sometimes we need them with everything we are.
Sometimes we need them to back off and respect our space.
Always, we need them to understand that neither need is about them.
Learning the language of a daughter is tough.
Being the daughter of a Mom who makes it about them is even tougher.
Mindfulness brought me to a place of understanding in this foreign language my daughter was speaking. I was projecting from a place of not getting what I needed from my own Mother.
I remember telling my Mom she was “too needy” when I was individuating and honestly, I still feel that way as an adult.
I have judged my own Mom for personalizing my feelings and for not knowing when I needed the space to figure out how I was different from her, so I could figure who I was.
This has been a theme in our relationship. My need to individuate has somehow left her feeling rejected and has positioned me as a bit cold in order to hold the much needed boundaries.
In an effort to bridge that gap with my own daughter, I began to look for opportunities to give her plenty of space to individuate, when actually she still needed to identify with me and to see us as one.
I assumed that how I felt might be how she felt.
I was wrong.
Thank goodness I was wrong.
I get to hold on a little longer.
I get to curl my fingers around hers for another year at least.
I get to play with her hair, and rub her nose with mine.
I get to see me inside of her and her inside of me while respecting our differences.
I won’t waste this opportunity, as I know it may not last long.
I will be mindful of my projections from my own Mother/Daughter relationship.
I will be aware that our bond is different, and beautiful on its own.
I will be careful to hang on... but not so tightly she can’t slip out when needed.
I will respect her need to grab my hand a little longer... and I will cherish its warmth.
We can keep our eyes open for signals while still hanging on.
It is possible.
Our experience does not have to be their experience... so don’t make it that way.
Choose to write your own individual story with your child, using no one’s pen but your own.
Be mindful when your thoughts go to the past and bring them into the present.
Ground yourself in this human before you... for she is not you and you are not your Mother.