I was sitting in a meeting yesterday and was given a reminder that felt like a slap in the face. It jarred me fully awake, shaking the dust out of a corner of my subconscious mind where I had stored this fundamental rule in the greatest job I have, as mom: It’s not what you say. It’s what you do.
To date, my most diligent effort had to do with safety, and mainly driving, going back to my daughter riding in her car seat in the back of the car: Mama isn’t going to answer that phone because she is driving. That was mommy’s phone that beeped but I cannot look at a text right now. We are in a parking lot, so we have to look for lights that show you that someone is getting ready to back up. They cannot see you. We are going to stop on our bikes and pull over when we hear a car to make certain they see us. Some people believe that bikes don’t belong on the road. See how I signal that I am stopping on my bike?
Safety. Not psyche.
In this meeting I was reminded of all of the other messages we as women give their daughters. “I shouldn’t eat this, I need to lose weight.” She is looking at my slender frame thinking I am perfect in every way. And I just demonstrated I wasn’t. Won’t she turn inward and say, well if mom needs to lose weight how am I? Despite the fact that I tell her that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Beauty is about what’s inside. I just showed her my scale is off. And in that single moment, I became someone she couldn’t trust on such issues. Now she will get her validation somewhere else. She will use other metrics to size up her beauty.
If I am working all the time and not having any fun, what does she have to look forward to as an adult? What makes me think that my ever intuitive, absorbent young girl doesn’t pick up on stress? If our adult conversations frequently focus on money should we be surprised if she places too much emphasis on its importance? Here we are scrambling every day, sending messages like: I’ve got so much work to do. I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done. She computes: adult + work = stress. Or work = stress + unhappiness. How does this fly against the mantra we tell her all the time, do work you love?
And finally, what message am I sending my ten year old when I have a phone in my hand while I am listening or talking to her? What message am I sending my daughter while I scan through email or Facebook or Instagram in front of my husband or at the dinner table. How about when I am unloading the dishwasher and she is sharing her day. My sweet girl is standing still and looking at my face expectantly, eager for eye contact while I keep moving around her.
It took this meeting to realize the dozen unspoken messages I give to my daughter every day. Literally programming her young psyche for her future self: her self esteem, her self worth. Her choice in a husband. Her beliefs about marriage and work and what we do for entertainment.
This writer, the one who chooses her words so carefully. The one who speaks freely and openly about emotions and values expression. This writer was reminded of just how powerless words can be in the face of what is demonstrated. So today when she comes home from school and shares with me her day, we will sit down at the table across from one another so I can concentrate wholly on her face. Because I can tell her all day long just how important she is to me — how worthy and beautiful. How much she is enough. But it is what I do that she hears loud and clear.
It started out fine. The relationship, that is. We had just moved in and they were our neighbors across the street. I’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. X.
As soon as our moving van pulled up, Mrs. X came over to introduce herself. She was chatty with a wide smile and the type of conversational cadence that doesn’t leave room for commentary nor waits for replies. Within the first 15 minutes of talking she asked me what church I went to and what school my daughter attended. In the South, these two questions are often asked of perfect strangers and I’ve never gotten used to it. I mumbled something about being a recovering Catholic, to which she replied: That’s just because you need the right church!
It took me some time to realize that I was on the wrong path. That the work I was doing for a living was no longer fulfilling me; actually was no longer working on any level. It seemed that satisfaction was no longer a given, despite a job well done. If I wanted to take pleasure in my work, genuine, heartwarming pleasure - I had to demand it. And then I had to create it.