Friday, December 12, 2008

My Daughters/My Self

This morning I read Judith Warner’s NY Times blog post “My Daughters/My Self.” I’ve always enjoyed reading Warner’s columns, blog posts and books, and was surprised by her subject today. She usually writes about the high-pressure culture of motherhood in the U.S., and the anxiety felt by mothers to raise “perfect” children. Today’s subject was herself, and how she has noticed herself becoming emotionally enmeshed with her daughters in a way she wasn't when they were younger.

I've been there. I found it comforting to read Warner's thoughts. And they triggered me to reflect again on something related to but different from Warner's perspective.

It's that being a parent has taught me more about myself than I've learned in any other way. From their infancy, my daughters' personalities, actions and feelings fascinated me as I sought to know and honor them as individuals separate from me. Still, as they grew up, I often felt emotionally linked to myself at their age.

It was an unexpected bonus that my keen observation of their developing selves also shed a bright new light on my childhood and how I developed into myself. Sometimes it felt as though I was looking through a one-way mirror at my younger self, understanding and accepting truths about myself in a new way. A few times it even helped me to forgive myself for childhood actions I was guilty about.

But the most learning happened when they broke through my sense of the one-way mirror and brought me back to the present moment in their lives. Kids have a way of persisting until we notice their needs and focus on them. When that happened, it linked who I was as an adult and parent to who I had been as a girl. It felt deeply satisfying, like the completion of a circle I didn't even know I was drawing. And it gave me the freedom to set aside my past and focus on the here and now.

If you have the time, I highly recommend reading Warner’s post and the corresponding comments. It's so good to hear other parents' thoughts, too. One comment recited a favorite quote of mine from Khalil Gibran: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you they belong not to you.”

It's a good reminder that even as parents, we must first be ourselves, continuing to grow and develop as human beings. It's wondrous to me that our children can help us do that just by being themselves, different from who we are.

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