There are moments, usually in the middle of one of Miss O’s tantrums or the aftermath of a tantrum, that I find myself wondering if this is the moment that I’ve ruined our relationship. Is this the moment when I’ve said something that will forever change how she feels about me as a mother or as a person?
I understand this is a common new mother worry, and most people get over it pretty quickly, but it’s still there for me, so don’t waste your time telling me not to worry about it. I’m already here and now you’re here, too.
My heart breaks when she cries. Sometimes I’m pretty good at remembering I’m the parent and there are boundaries that have been crossed. Consequences are a part of life and I’d rather teach her to work it out now than set her loose on society with a warped perception of how to get your way all the time.
When it’s a soul-crushing ugly cry, the kind with snot and immediately puffy eyes, I absolutely ache for her, especially when it was me that made her feel that way. Tonight she said to me, “Sometimes you don’t love me.” I’m sure you can imagine how my heart looked all clenched up in her tiny fist.
Without hesitation, I moved to correct her and assure her that I always love her, Daddy always loves her, Grandy, G-Ma and GrandDad, and Auntie L, Uncle B and Cousin A, etc, etc, etc all love her as well. Even when we don’t agree and are upset with each other, I still love her. I couldn’t hug that girl enough, but I saw it in her eyes. The disbelief. The moment she doubted my words and my hugs were useless. I killed her belief when I put her beloved Ponies in time out, a fate reserved for only the most drawn out of tantrums. Never before has she looked at me with those eyes. Something has changed and I know we’ll never get it back.
I’m not trying to win best-friend-mom-of the year over here, but I remember several defining moments with my mother that forever altered they way I felt about her and I can think of more than a few where she expressed how I had crushed every single dream she ever had for me. We get along far better now that we are both adults. I frequently find myself using this as a bar for how far along I am in ruining the relationship I have with Miss O as well, which is surely only perpetuating the self-fulfilling cycle I must have started.
I tell myself there are any number of ways I will, in her eyes and I’m sure others’, damage her for life. Some will be innocuous and a few more will be unintentional. My loud mouth will run away with me and my brain will be stuck in slow motion screaming, “Noooooooooooooo,” all while my eyes witness the joy and hope being snuffed out of her sweet face with bitterness creeping in to replace them.
She’ll be spiteful, like me. She already is. She’s a thrower like me, too. Bonus! I’ll have to warn her suitors about that one. I’ll have to help her improve her aim as well. She’s also got this negotiating thing down and can toss you a negative question like nobody’s business. “So, Mommy, [pause to make sure I’m listening] I can’t watch something after dinner, right? I can’t watch something because we have to have dinner, right?” She could be a little litigator.
For all her/my deficits, I also see in her great capacity to love. She is compassionate and tender. I’ve seen her hug her friends at school and offer them toys when they’re crying at dropoff. When we ask how her day went, we frequently get the mental health report for most of preschool. “H cried today and K is feeling sad, but J is happy so it’s ok.” I’ve also known nothing as lovely as my daughter’s little hand on my knee as she asks me why I’m crying or the concern in her voice when she reminds me shouting is not nice. I love her for that. I hope she remains secure in her convictions and unafraid to keep me in check.
With all of that, I’m still left to wonder if this is the moment. Will this be the thing she returns to each time she throws a tantrum or we’re arguing about curfew? Will this be the one lurking in the back of her heart, waiting to remind her of when it all changed?