As parents, we never know.
We don’t know if we are doing our job correctly as a parent–raising responsible and kind young people to gift to the world when we launch them into adulthood. We don’t know if our kids feel connected to us, that we have done enough to be bonded to them or that they appreciate our efforts to create memories with them. We don’t know if we’ve raised compassionate kids, thoughtful humans, good people. We don’t always know if our kids enjoy spending time with us, if they think our traditions are important or if they will want to hangout with us when they get older. We don’t know if they will live out our family principles and morals and find value in the same things we do.
Raising teenagers raises self doubt, every day. Have I done enough and am I doing things right? Are my kids going to be okay or have I failed them as a parent? Have I raised them the way I prayed I would? Often asking myself “Why did I say that?” and “What was I thinking?” Telling myself to bite my tongue, hug them even when I’m angry or disappointed and accept the fact that they are not me and need to make their own choices. There are many days I go to bed completely doubting myself as a mother and thinking I just might be the worst parent in America. Not an award anyone is proud to get.
Of course, I want them to like me, but I know this is asking a lot, especially when they are teenagers and my job is to set boundaries, provide structure, teach values, and hold them accountable. Wanting them to approve of me as a parent when they are teens is a tall task…I get it. I understand it’s a reach and I remind myself (often!) that if they don’t like me today, it doesn’t mean this will always be the case.
But days like yesterday give me hope.
Three years ago, when my daughter was in middle school, I was dying to get matching jammies at Christmas time, like all the other cute moms and daughters. I mean, who doesn’t want to match with their mom??? I was so excited to start this tradition for us to be matchy matchy on Christmas morning, I felt giddy. I mentioned it to her with great enthusiasm, and she crinkled her nose, immediately letting me know she wasn’t interested. I showed her pictures of so many people who did it and how adorable it looked in all the pictures, thinking this would sway her. She wasn’t buying it. Her message of “No thanks” was loud and clear.
Instead of taking the clue, I forged ahead with my plan and bought them for us anyways. I ordered cute ones from Victoria Secret thinking that would win mom-points. It went from bad to worse because she didn’t like the pajamas I bought (disclaimer: they looked a lot cuter on the models in the pictures than what they sent) and my mom-feelings were hurt. No jammies were worn, no pictures were taken and no traditions were started. Looking back, it’s one of those “What was I thinking?” moments. I felt rejected (not her fault) and vowed to never make that mistake again. I accepted the fact that matching jammies weren’t in our future. Cue the sad music.
Fast forward to last week when we were shopping and my daughter found a cute pair of pajamas. She asked me to buy them for her and wrap them up to go under the tree. In the days leading up to Christmas she kept asking me if she could open one present on Christmas Eve, her new pajamas, so she could have them to wear on Christmas day. Last night we obliged and with great excitement she opened her present, then she vanished into her room. She came out moments later with a present for me… matching jammies.
On her own, she had my husband take her back to the store so they could buy me the same pajamas that I had already bought for her. On her own, she wrapped them up and kept the secret to surprise me. On her own, she decided that she wanted to get us matching jammies. On her own, she started our new tradition. On her own, she connected to me.
I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a gift that meant more. Those matching jammies told me what I needed to hear: For all that I’m doing wrong, I must be doing something right. For all the moments I know she doesn’t like me, my boundaries, my rules or my expectations, she still loves me. For all the times I think she doesn’t care about my feelings, she really does. For all the sass, there is still kindness. For all the moments I think I have failed her, she has forgiven me. For all the times I think there is no hope for us, there is a light. For all the dreams I had of us becoming close, we are already there.
Today as we were opening gifts, she gave me a Mother Daughter necklace. Again, on her own she picked it out and bought it for me. And again, I cried when I opened it, still wearing my new pajamas.
In this year where she has done so much growing and branching out, and we have struggled so much to figure out our relationship, I feel as if there is hope. Hope for us as a mother and daughter, even through all the changes. Hope for us as people who both want to be seen, valued and appreciated for who we are. Hope that beneath all the scowls, frowns and eye rolls, my sweet child is still there. Hope for our journey ahead as she moves from teenager into young adult. Hope that through all the arguments, all the push back, and all the times I want to throw the towel in as a parent, she continues to choose me to be her mom. Hope that we are going to make it and one day (not yet and that’s okay!) we will come out of this as true friends.
No one ever said parenting would be easy, but no one prepared me for how hard it would be as well. Some days it feels like an impossible task, a daunting darkness—being a good parent. But in moments like yesterday, I have hope. And what is hope? The ability to see that there is light despite the moments of darkness. Hope is the pillar that holds us up as parents, through the growing pains, as our kids spread their wings and fly. Hope is what helps us love them fiercely. Hope gives us courage to hold them and to let them go. Hope is knowing that I’m doing my best, she’s doing her best and that’s good enough.
Hope is matching jammies.