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During two years of an overly distracted life, I communicated more to a screen than to the people in my family. My schedule was so tightly packed that I constantly found myself saying, “We don’t have time for that.” And because there wasn’t a minute to spare, that meant no time to relax, be silly or marvel at interesting wonders along our path. I was so focused on my agenda that I lost sight of what really mattered.
Calling all the shots was a mean voice in my head. My internal drill sergeant was continually pushing me to make everything sound better, look better and taste better. My body, my house and my achievements were never good enough. Holding myself to such unattainable standards weighed heavily on my soul, and my inner turmoil eventually spilled out at people I loved the most.
Sadly, there was one person in particular who bore the brunt of my discontent: my firstborn daughter.
She could not make mess without me shaking my head in disappointment.
She could not forget her homework, her jacket or her lunchbox without me making a big deal about it.
She could not spill, stain, break or misplace without being made to feel like she’d made the worst mistake in the world.
Although it pains me to write this, I remember sighing heavily in annoyance when she fell down and hurt herself because it threw me off my “master schedule.” My daughter was not allowed to be a child who learned by trying and, yes, sometimes failing.
The truth hurts, but the truth heals … and brings me closer to the person and parent I want to be.
Every time I came down hard on my daughter, I justified my behavior by telling myself I was doing it to help her—help her become more responsible, capable and efficient and preparing her for the real world. I told myself I was building her up. But in reality, I was tearing her down.
I vividly remember the day my mother was visiting from out of town. The children were playing alone in the basement. My younger daughter began crying hysterically. I ran downstairs, fearing she was seriously hurt.
The first question out of my mouth was directed at my older daughter. “What did you do?” I asked angrily.
My child didn’t bother to explain that her little sister had slipped on the library book that was sitting on the bottom step. There really was no point. My beautiful child with humongous brown eyes that once held so much optimism looked defeated. Silent tears of a broken spirit slid down her face. My daughter knew it didn’t matter what she said, she’d still be wrong; it would still be her fault.
And there was my mother standing beside her, a silent witness to the whole ugly scene.
As my older daughter ran off to the sanctity of her bedroom, an unexpected question came out of my mouth. “You think I am too hard on her, don’t you?” I snapped.
My mom, who’d experienced her own difficult parenting moments and struggles, held no judgment in her eyes, only sadness. Her simple response of “yes” only confirmed what I knew in my heart.
I mustered up the courage to find the words that needed to be said. Apologizing didn’t come easily for someone who strived to make everything look perfect all the time, but I knew what needed to be said.
I found my child crumpled up like a dejected rag doll on top of her bed—her face puffy and red from crying.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
My daughter didn’t move.
I sat down on the edge of her bed and began saying things I’d never said to another human being—not even myself. “I feel mad inside a lot. I often speak badly about myself in my head. I bully myself. And when I bully myself, it makes me unhappy, and then I treat others badly—especially you. It is not right, and I am going to stop. I am not sure how, but I will stop. I am so very sorry,” I vowed, trying not to cry.