In my teens I began to hide parts of myself because I knew that you would worry. In my 20s I kept some distance because I didn’t trust you to understand. But now that I have a little girl of my own, I need to outgrow the childish desire to conform to my parents’ expectations. I will always be your daughter, but I also want to be your peer and friend – so there are just a few things I need to explain.
It’s not because you were bad parents that I choose to parent differently. That you instilled in me a profound desire to do my very best is a testament to your success, and doing my best as a mom means discovering ways to improve upon everything I know, including all I learned from you.
It means paying close attention to my instincts, which are linked to the specific place and time where I am parenting – a different place and time than you dealt with when you did all this for me.
I’m not going to give my daughter the same advice about sex that you gave me, not because I disagree with what you tried to say, but because I now understand better what it was you meant. Please trust that I’ve examined the ways I misunderstood you for so long, and taken responsibility for how this hurt me. I’ll do my best, just as you did, to make the heart of your message clear.
I’m not going to bring her to the same church, not because I think your God is false but because I know truth enjoys introducing itself to each person differently.
I may not praise or punish all the same things you did, not because our values are so different, but because I know there are many ways to encourage a child to blossom, and I need to follow her lead to find what works.
My marriage won’t look just like yours, not because I reject the home you raised me in, but because each household is a unique ecosystem of personalities and circumstances. To thrive, it must honor its own rhythms and its own boundaries; it must grow its own roots and bare its own fruit.
I’m going to do some things my way just because that’s how I like them. I’ll ask that you get on board without question because sometimes a mom just needs to make a call, and if my three-year-old can cope with this from time to time, I’m sure her grandparents can handle it, too.
I may do a lot of things differently and I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings. But my great desire to please you is not a good excuse to avoid doing what feels right, even if it seems risky, and even if I make mistakes.
But believe me, there is so, so much you taught me that I am so, so excited to pass on.
I play with my daughter as attentively and as goofily as you did. I give her every chance to know nature, to imagine, to be silly, and to learn all she can do without having to be taught or entertained.
I’m going to show her that generosity should extend beyond blood family. I’ll read with her all the books she wants, and someday I’ll listen attentively when she shares what she writes. I’m going to tell her funny stories about my childhood and admit to what a dope I sometimes was.
I’m going to always take care of her the best that I can when she’s sick or in despair, no matter how old she is or how much she feels she should be able to do things for herself. She will know that she can always come to me.
I’ll always make time for family vacations and never bring stress from work into our home.
I’ll cook her healthy meals and respect her dietary choices no matter how obnoxiously often and arbitrarily she changes them.
I’ll do everything in my power to keep her safe.
I’ll make her friends feel welcome at our house. I’ll make sure she knows she’s the most important thing in my life, and that the world needs her to be her best self, whatever that turns out to mean. I will show her that being smart means taking every chance to learn, especially from your own mistakes.
I’ll tell her she can be a leader, and she should dare to be great. I’ll introduce her to the Beatles and vintage MGM films. I’m going to go all out for holidays, because I know how magical they were for me, and honestly? Finding out about Santa wasn’t that bad.
I’ll strive to be someone she can admire, surround her with people she can admire, and do my best to understand that she may admire different things than I do.
I’m going to defend my deepest convictions even when she rolls her eyes at them. I’m going to do my best to hear her out when she shares hers with me.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me to always try my best. Thank you for supporting me as I do it in my own special way.
So, are you ready to meet the woman you raised? Because I think, despite our differences, we might just become great friends.