Raising My Daughter, Not Myself

I decided what kind of mom I was going to be before I decided whether I liked slides or swings better. I knew how I was going to treat my daughter before I knew how to care for a pet. I even knew how I would teach my kids to ride a bike before I was off training wheels myself. Every time a decision was made, either by my parents or myself, I made mental notes. This good, that bad. If I became a mom, I’d be prepared to do it perfectly.

It was my life’s mission even when I wasn’t sure I’d be having kids. Always happy to make an overly thought out plan I might not use, I still kept making notes. How I would handle tantrums, sleepovers, monsters, and Santa. How we’d talk about video games, dating, and college. What vacations I would take them on and how often they’d see family. Everything that happened to me was being evaluated and logged for future use by my future possible children. Deep down I am sure it was something I did to give value to my struggles and even greater value to my successes. Imagining it all being worth it to give my kids my ideal life.

My ideal life. It’s been a year since my daughter was born and much to my surprise, I didn’t have a clone of myself. Almost, but her father’s eyebrows give that fact away. Another hint is that she has different parents. She was born in a different city 500 miles from where I was born at a different time in history (winter instead of spring too). She has a lot of my DNA in her, that’s apparent, but she is so completely her own amazing and unique person. She is not me. Shockers, I know, but all of this really only occurred to me very recently. Like, last week’s therapy session kind of recent. Now what?

As scary as it could be to say I don’t know what I’m going to do, it’s actually just exciting. I’m a planner, yes, but I love surprises. Instead of the next 18 years perfectly laid out it’s a mostly blank slate. Our relationship is unique. There will never be a mother-daughter duo like us and we can only develop it together.

Obviously, I’m not ditching everything. I’m still holding on to some things like movies and music to introduce her to, hopefully passing on a love of nature (I need more camping buddies), and she’s going to learn how to change a tire and tread water whether she likes it or not. There is so much more I don’t know. Like what she’ll want to learn more about, what music she’ll introduce me to, and what new places she’ll want to go. There are so many fewer things I HAVE to do and that’s incredibly freeing.

Now I don’t have to pressure her to stick with dance for the wrong reasons (because when I was five I wish my parents wouldn’t have let me quit), or be disappointed when she doesn’t want to move a couple hours away after high school (which was what was best for me). If she doesn’t join the Peace Corp I won’t worry she’ll regret it for about ten years. Of course I will offer my insight more often than requested, that feels like one of my jobs, but ultimately I get to let go of my childhood and she gets to make her own. By realizing that this little person is new to me and to the world, I can lay off the expectation that I already know how to parent her.

Another new player in this I didn’t consider as an overthinking fifth-grader was my daughter’s other parent. He likely wants a say in all this raising of her business too and I didn’t want him to be her dad just because of his curly hair (though it definitely sweetened the deal). He has ideas, takeaways from his childhood, and his personality to impart on her. She deserves all of that as well. Then there’s the life we’ve built together which is the whole reason we brought her into this world, to join our team and experience the happiness we’ve found. Beyond us she has our incredible group of friends and family who I know will make wonderful and unique impressions on her. Not to mention all the new people she’ll meet and life experiences she’ll have.

Most importantly, now I get to know her. I can use my plans as one of my resources, but now they’re just ideas instead of blueprints. Memories of what I took away from my childhood, but not pre-carved paths for hers. It is a huge relief, honestly. I feel like I’m coming at parenting more from a place of love and wonder and less from fear and anxiety. It’s about my daughter’s childhood now, not mine. I was trying to be the best mom for me, but now I get to be the best mom for her.

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