I went to my cousin Noel’s baby shower. She is having a girl. Due soon. Luke’s birthday. There were little recipe cards at the shower and we were supposed to write down advice for the parents to be on them. I had to leave mine blank. I have been thinking about it ever since.
In many ways, blank is the right answer.
It’s either blank or fill an entire recipe box, right?
So from a seasoned momma to one to be, I say this:
Teach empathy above all else and in a world that is full of a million critics, don’t be one for your daughter. When you look at her newborn face and imagine a world full of possibility, an open, uncharted life, choose to be her biggest cheerleader. That will be easier when she is three than when she is fifteen. So just don’t forget because it’s super easy to become The Critic when she turns fifteen. She will make friends with someone you don’t particularly like, she will wear a sheer top to school, she will wear too much eye makeup, she will fail a test, she will drink vodka. A million people will tell her that she is wrong or not good enough (today a boy in my daughter’s class snap-chatted pictures of her legs because he said she was grotesque), or she will find out the hard way that she fucked up, or she will be unbelievably hard on herself, so trust me when I say that the job of critic is already taken.
Sometimes she will want your advice, but mostly she will just want to collapse into you. She will want to cry in your bed and have you assure her that everything is going to be just fine. Even if you personally worry that it won’t be fine, just slip your aging fingers through her unruly hair, biting your tongue at the suggestion to brush it, and simply say, “let it be, baby.” Again, easy at three. Hard at fifteen. If you want her to trust you when she is fifteen, never lie to her when she is six. Never punish her for mistakes anyone can make.
Sometimes you will live vicariously through her.
Sometimes, though, you will scream at her. Loudly. So loudly that it startles you. On the day she is born you won’t believe that. When she is thirteen and calls you a “such a bitch,” “you are being ridiculous,””you just don’t get it,” you will find empathy an incredibly hard thing to find. Dig deep, momma. When my grandma Jean’s kid would shout to her that he hated her, she would reply “That’s okay, I have enough love in my heart for both of us.”
Love her. Love her by lifting her up, by telling her she is already perfect, by laughing with her, by getting to know her friends, by setting a routine, by making birthdays really important, by not having too many rules, by giving her permission to fail. Tell her that she is lovable and capable. Don’t wrap your dreams up in hers; let her live her own dream. Love her in all of the ways you wish to be loved yourself.
Today, an acquaintance of mine lost her mother suddenly. No goodbye. No last hug. Suddenly. If all things go in the order that you hope they do, one day your daughter will lose you too. Leave a legacy of compassion, of long drives and road trips, of your favorite recipes and family traditions … so that when you are gone, she can still feel you. And it feels warm.