How do we navigate the challenges our children are facing when it brings up our own pain of childhood? Amy reflects on the healing journey she is on with her eldest daughter.
She’s a mini me.
All her pain, her struggles, her inner turmoil – it’s like watching a rerun of a movie from my own childhood. The way she fights back, the worries she has with her friends, the struggles… it’s all me.
I always knew this child was my greatest teacher. From the moment her big blue eyes looked up at me after they placed her on my chest, I knew. They pleaded at me, right from the beginning. Help me. Guide me. What am I doing here? I recognised myself in her straight away, which both comforted me and terrified me.
And the lessons have not stopped.
Sometimes I hear mamas talk about the struggles they have with one of their children because they are so similar to themselves; other mamas wish they could bond better with a child who is so very like their father. Each child that comes through is here to teach us something, and with lessons that are often as unique as the little person that carries them.
And each has the ability to heal us.
The most surprising part of the rollercoaster of raising a strong-willed and sensitive girl is how much I have worked through my own life’s challenges as I try to guide her. She asks a lot of question: why was it like that for you mummy? What did your parents say when you did that mummy? What happened to that friend/boyfriend/belly button piercing mummy? I’ve had to go back through all of my own ups and deep deep downs as I’ve shared little insights from my own challenges to help her move through hers.
I’ve told her how it took me thirty years to start believing in myself and not let others’ opinions sway what I did – and in the process, realised just how far I’ve come.
I’ve talked to her about my fights with my mum and the anger that used to rise up in me – and seen my own mama in a new light.
I’ve come up with mantras for her to use when she’s overwhelmed at school, and meditations for before bed.
Healing me every step of the way.
‘Be kind and have courage.’
‘As long as you are proud of how you have acted, there’s nothing else you can do.’
‘I love you just the way you are.’
These are the words I have used the most. And, it turns out, that I need to hear the most.
Courage was something I always idolised growing up – I was addicted to novels about women fighting against an enemy and coming out the heroine, whether it was the enemy of World War II or disease. These women were my hero, and shaped who I wanted to be.
But now, that word means something very different. No longer is it just about fighting your way through a challenge, it’s also about being vulnerable, saying no, deciding to stop fighting. There’s a softness to this courage that I would never have accepted as that feisty younger girl – a softness that goes hand in hand with kindness.
To be kind to myself. To practice forgiveness. To show up when you’re scared and make a decision based on your needs rather than what others want you to do. That’s courage I’ve found myself whispering to my eldest as she settles down to sleep.
Then there is the pain of not being able to change how others feel and act.
Over the years, I’ve spent an insane amount of time running scenarios over and over in my head, wondering how I should have acted. I’ve preempted conversations and played them out in my mind like horror movies, preparing for the worst. And, like all of us, I’ve sobbed with a broken heart too many times.
How can I show her that, in the end, we have no control over how others react and behave? How can I wrap my hands around that little heart and protect it from that hurt?
I can’t. And isn’t that the hardest part of all of this?
Instead, I’ve realised that over the years, if I could have just focused in on how I felt about my own actions, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so broken. Perhaps, if I had felt proud in how I behaved, I could have let the others go a little easier.
And so, I share my stories.
She asks more questions, and leads me to a new understanding again.
‘But what happened then, mummy?’
And I see it all in a new light.
And love? Unconditional love?
Well, that’s what we all wish we’d known. To know – truly know – that we are loved just the way we are. No need to get better grades or hold our tongue or dress a certain way or like a certain thing – we are accepted and adored, as we are.
It’s what I promised myself I would say to her from the moment we brought her home.
I want her to know she doesn’t have to change to be loved.
And although there have been times (too many times) that I have pushed her to be or do something as I work through my own healing, I pray she knows this one. And each time I remind her of it, I am reminding myself.
You are perfect, just the way you are.