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Was what I said to my 17-year-old daughter.
It just came out.
There was no time to filter.
Yes, me, the wise one, the one who teaches others.
I said it to my angelic one. My beauty. My kind and thoughtful one. My achiever and accomplisher. How sweet she always was, how easy to love.
The strength of our connection only a few years ago was what kept me afloat. That expansive feeling of love, that sense of a blessing I could access via this child was what gave me strength to show up for my daily duties, at a time when all I wanted to do was to crawl into a corner, and cry myself to death.
It still happens sometimes: I forget that I have a choice how to react.
It is still so new—this freedom, the realization that reality is neutral. That those words she said—that felt so ugly and disrespectful—those were just sounds, neutral until I assign meaning to them.
Her anger and disappointment must have touched something still raw in me, a still unprocessed pocket of lack that fueled me throughout my life to try to be all things to all people, including being the perfect mom.
I reacted blindly. It felt familiar: a sharp burst of pain, and before I could take a breath, the reactive explosion of pent-up emotion. Followed by the spreading lava of self-hate that made my heart ache, my face burn, and my stomach turn with nausea.
This is how I used to navigate relationships: suppress the inconvenient and potentially disruptive feelings, stay seemingly even-keeled, and try to do everything to keep the peace. Until the percolating emotion was no longer containable within and it would explode out with the tiniest of triggers.
Our emotions are constantly changing because we are always reacting to the environmental stimuli and what is going on around us. How we react to the outside world is filtered through the prism of our past experiences, a unique subjective emotional spin of who we are and how we self-identify. The beauty of living in mindful awareness is that we learn how to process our feelings, resolve our issues, and let go of the need to defend some identity we used to feel compelled to uphold.
Every relationship is a reflection of our own inner world.
The mirror that my daughter held up to me that day was a test of how attached I still am to my need to be viewed as a good mom. It reminded me of my need for displays of love and affection from the outside before I learned to give love and respect to myself.
The lack of respect from her, with whom I thought I had a privileged connection, stung me. It illuminated the extent to which I still relate to her as that idealized little girl: her beautiful open smile, her eyes sparkly with love, her hands wrapped around my neck, her calling me her soulmate.
I cling to what used to be, greedily wanting it to be beautiful only. The easy-to-love little girl of my mind is now a rebellious and feisty young woman. I must let go of the fantasy her image still evokes in me and allow the real relationship to begin, not with what was, but with what is.
Her physical form and character may transform, but her essence remains. Her teenage outbursts or rebellion cannot shake my love for her. Our connection will not be poisoned by the daily, by the superficial. And, certainly, this angry exchange will not make me doubt myself or question my decision, to which she is now reacting.
It is from a new place of calm and cool adulting that I made this decision. It was not laced with the need to please her in order to get her love, but based on rational and practical considerations, which led me to refuse one of her wishes. A child loved by all and accustomed to having most of her desires satisfied, she reacted violently to this refusal, unable to adjust to reality of the moment, still attached to her past experiences and expecting more of the same. She was reacting to the pain this unexpected “no” produced in her, not to me, who was the deliverer.
I realize that my own reaction was not to her either. This “f*ck you” was not intended for my daughter, but to the feelings her angry words evoked in me. They sent me spinning to that old state of being, when I was still dependent on outside validation, never feeling enough. I reacted to the pressure that I used to feel, the way I used to operate in the endless suppression of who I am, trying to fit into some standard of ever-elusive perfection, brainwashed by the culture that tells me who I am supposed to be as a woman, as a wife, as a mother.
Well, I am done with all that!
I decided to no longer buy into assigned cultural conditioning and free myself from my own past. I now radically accept myself exactly as I am: my thoughts, my appearance, my talents, and my flaws. I train myself to rewire my habitual behavior and live with the knowledge that reality is neutral and anything I feel about it is my own spin.
So, how do I want to spin it?
Do I need my children to respect me, to tiptoe around me, to love me for me to feel worthy? To reassure me that I have done my job, that I am a good mother? To confirm that our relationship is still special, that I am as important to them as they are to me?
Did my daughter “make me feel” like a bad mother? No. She just expressed words, put her own spin on this moment, based on her subjective experience of the past. Her impertinence woke up some archaic beliefs, instilled in me by my own parents, that children should revere their parents and show respect.
I remember I was always perplexed by this artificial hierarchy when I myself was a child. Why are adults more important than children? From a young age, I sensed that adults did not know better. That they were often cruel and disrespectful for no reason, often too busy and unhappy with their own lives to be present for mine. There is no reason why a life of an adult is more valuable, why children should be hurt only because they cannot hurt back.
Why should my daughter respect me more than herself or consider my needs as more important than hers? When we teach our children that someone else is more important, stands above them hierarchically, or that other people’s needs, desires, or wishes take precedence over their own, we set them up for a lifetime of helplessness, unworthiness, and inadequacy. Children who are raised to give their power away to some displaced authority figure learn to override their own intuitive alarm system and become disempowered, unable to spot and free themselves from mental and physical abuse when they become adults.
There is no hierarchy between parents and children. Just like any relationship, it is one between two sovereign beings, each of whom deserves to be seen, heard, respected, and revered.
My reaction demonstrated to my daughter one more time that I am just a regular human being, no better than her. A mother who still struggles with what it all means. The one who gets upset and loses it sometimes. The one who stumbles, and falls, and makes mistakes. The one who is just now, at 50-something, learning how to keep my inner equilibrium and not lash out at a person whom I love so much because of some words.
In the last five years my three daughters had a front row seat to watch me liberate myself from the assigned roles, hierarchies, limiting beliefs, and someone’s made-up rules.
If there is one lesson I want to teach my daughters, it is this.
My equanimity is mine.
I am a woman, a mother, a partner. And it no longer has to hurt.