Having a snail crawl across my arm does not feature strongly on my bucket list. But my four year old son delights in it. Picking up insects and carrying them around is not what floats my boat. But gosh, my son LIVES for it.
Putting makeup on and taking it off again leaves me cold. I never brush my hair because it’s so short it’s hardly there. I don’t wear pink, sparkly clothes and skip around the house singing “Frozen” songs. But my 8 year old daughter relishes every chance to use a potion or cream, a brush or a comb, and has so much music in her heart that she sings in her sleep.
I’m not raising my children to be me. I’m not raising my children to please me.
Might parenting be easier if those were my goals? Raising my children to be themselves, giving them the freedom to explore their own interests and express their own personalities is an everyday challenge. It forces me to the limits of my comfort zone and demands that I pick apart long-held beliefs. It is making me question myself and grow. It’s like I’m sloughing off an old skin. It’s another step in my mothermorphosis.
Watching my eight year old apply Geisha-red lipstick with incredible deftness to her little pursed lips makes me furrow my brow—I have baggage about makeup. I worry about her growing up too fast, the sexualisation of youth, the impact of the media. Her interest has meant that I’ve had to drag out this baggage, unpack each item onto the floor and sift through it all. For every worry that I pick up and examine, I notice how it is based on fear. For every negative feeling I have about it, I confront myself with the reality of my child who simply loves performance, texture and colour. I have worked hard at supporting her while she explores her interest without letting my worries or distaste distract or impede her. I want her to be herself.
I repeat (as much for my own benefit as for anything else): I’m not raising my children to be me. I’m not raising my children to please me.
When my son presents me with his latest invertebrate find, I am usually as fascinated as he is. But there’s something about slugs and snails that makes me press my lips together in a grimace of disgust. While my boy stares intently at the snail working its slimy way across his arm, I try not to make that “ew” face. I try really hard. And when he says, “do you want to hold it?” I wrestle with myself. Should I come up with a cheerful excuse not to (“That snail looks happy right there with you, honey.”), should I hold it, or maybe it would be more authentic to say I find it a little gross? I’m working on it.
You see, I’m not just working on accepting my children as they are for their own benefit. It’s for my benefit too.
If I can accept my children for who they are, I can accept myself. If I can embrace those things about my children that perplex and confound me, I can embrace those dark perplexing parts of myself. If my children have the freedom to be themselves, then I can be me too. We all have permission to be our own authentic selves.
In all my brokenness, my imperfection, my not-very-good-at-this-parenting-thing-ness, I can take an honest look at myself and say, “Not everyone is going to find this pleasing, but this is who I am. And I’m okay about it.” Even if I’m not wearing lipstick.
©Lisa Hassan Scott 2014.