It’s early in the morning and my daughters wake up motivated to “get to work.” This is not a rare occurence since I have very self-motivated daughters who have high aspirations to transform the world they live in. I admire that. I respect that. I love that. But not this time.
I felt upset. I felt afraid. I felt like crying. And I did. And though I’ve had thousands of talks with my daughters, maybe hundreds of thousands, I dropped everything I was doing, postponed everything we planned to do, and engaged in what I believe to be one of the hardest talks I’ve had with them, and one of the most important talks any mom can have with her daughter. And it’s not “the birds and the bees” because I call things by their name and I’m as direct as I’m short.
And the reason this talk was especially hard is because it’s a healing wound that hurts so much when poked.
Elisha and Elyssa are so much like me. I started a business when I was 7, I created my own drama club at 11, and I organized my first event at 12. I always got all A’s in school and my teachers adored me. My English as a second language teachers were amazed with me and I ended up setting a record as the youngest teacher after I graduated. I graduated highschool at 15 with the highest honors. I volunteered in the community, and my peers admired me and always came to me for help, and advice, often paid, too. I excelled at everything.
Except for one thing. And that’s where I don’t want my daughters to be like me at all. I want them to be the opposite of me.
And that’s why I had to have this talk. Because I love that my daughters inherited my gift, but I don’t want them to inherit my curse.
And now I was upset because I felt like a fool. I thought that providing an environment where my daughters could have the freedom to be who they are, I was assured that they would be okay.
I was scared, because amidst all my accolades, the busyness, and the achievements, I was barely 13 when I ended up in the hospital after attempting suicide. The irony is that I was upset because this was the one thing I tried to do and failed, and not only did I feel like a loser, but I was angry that my “unnecessary hospitalization” presented a nuisance to the people who labeled me as “the naughty daughter, always wanting to be the center of attention.”
The truth is, I did want the attention. And that’s why I worked so hard. And that’s why I got the grades. And that’s why I used all my gifts to create fame and fortune. But that’s not why I tried to kill myself: I tried to end my life because I thought none of my achievements were enough to make me worthy. I never felt I was enough.
So the morning of the talk I felt an air of “I need to achieve to deserve” in my daughters’ voice that terrified me to the core. If you’re thinking it might have been in my head, I admit there is a possibility of that being true, because after all, you don’t think straight when your wound gets poked at. You just feel.
The thing is, no one wakes up one day and JUST decides they can’t do this anymore and one more day alive seems unbearable.
It starts with the Cinderella-sized to-do list you can’t seem to ever complete and gets longer with the rollover tasks, no matter how hard you try.
It starts with the long list of goals you set and never seem to achieve.
It starts with the many times you don’t measure up to the ideal standards – which are often not even your own.
Sure it’s great to have a sense of direction in your life, to set healthy goals, and to aim for excellent performance. I encourage my girls to be their personal best everyday and I strive to model that for them in everything I do as a mom, a professional, and human being.
And although we have all sides of the brain represented in my household, I am both linear and analogue and can find the balance between structure and creative freedom, discipline and play, motivation and inspiration.
Self-motivation is not the curse. The curse is what science calls “contingent self-esteem.” Contingent self-esteem turned me into the most successful child in my hometown, and the most miserable.
My unsupportive, perfectionist, unforgiving environment had much to do with it, but it is also self-inflicted.
- It’s the pressure to perform.
- It’s the addictive glory of achievement.
- It’s the competitiveness through comparison.
And just writing those three sentences gave me chills. Because the words pressure, addiction, and comparison are the robbers of peace, freedom, and joy.
I can’t say I wish I knew this when I was a child, because I probably did. The message was embedded in my dad’s words every time he declared he was proud of me for what seemed insignificant to me, like shining my shoes before I went to school. I was too focused on being the best at everything, and for much of my youth, I missed the point.
Every daughter needs to hear these words from her mother: you are enough.
Over and over.
Even when she looks confident and you think she’s got it down.
And I feel every mom needs to tell her daughter those words to validate her own self-worth.
That morning the girls and I had the talk, and we cried together, and we hugged, because moms and daughters can be best friends. This healing concept may have actually just closed my childhood wound.
And every mom, every daugther, every woman and man, would experience more freedom, more joy, and more peace if we understand that our value is not contingent upon anything we do. We are valuable because of who we are… we carry the same worth from the first to the last breath on this earth – yes, even with all the mistakes, failures, and in between.
I’m so happy that my daughters and I are on this journey together, that I can gather the strength to talk the hard talks, and that they are willing to listen. And not only that we can be each other’s friends when things are hard, but that we have each learned to practice what Kristin Neff calls self-compassion: to treat yourself as you would treat your best friend.
Writing this post has been extremely therapeutic to me, and as I peel off the layers, I get more hope to silence the inner-bully, not only in myself, but in my daughters, and the moms I mentor – and their children… because healed people heal people.
I’m going to leave you with this thought that just occurred to me: the reason we don’t have this kind of heart talks with our girls is because of fear. We fear they will become lazy, they won’t get good grades, they won’t pursue worthy goals… you fill in the blank. I have found that, in a supportive environment, they will still take action and multiply their talents, and they will do it with enjoyment.
With every decision you make about the way you parent and show up for your children, ask yourself: is it based on my fear and worry, or based on how much I love this beautiful being I call my child? Love is the most powerful force in the universe.
What is the hardest talk you’ve had with your children? I love to learn from you and I’m so very grateful for your contribution to the conversation in the comments below.