Thriving is not achieved through the relentless pursuit of success. It is achieved through time and the freedom to explore. It is achieved through emotional and financial security. It is achieved through support and nurture. We know this and yet it is still one of the most difficult parenting pursuits for Americans. Some of us face very real roadblocks which need to be removed by changed policy. Some of us are so focused on our missed opportunities that we struggle to see how our desire to make sure our kids also don’t miss out might be impacting our kids. Some of us just don’t understand the systemic pressures that are weighing down our adolescents because that pressure just wasn’t there when we were kids.
And how has this affected my daughter? I was boy-crazy girl who wanted a boyfriend from a ridiculously young age. I wanted to feel beautiful and loved and the fact that I didn’t have a real boyfriend until right after graduating from high school was a point of devastating disappointment for me. My 10-year-old talks about wanting to someday get married, has good friends who are boys, and we’ve started to see glimmers of crushes bubbling under the surface, but it isn’t her main goal. She wants to travel, she wants to be a vet, and then she wants to someday get married and have a lot of kids.
When my daughter decided she was done with dance, it was the end of my own unfulfilled childhood dreams. But when she said she was done with piano, it felt like so much more than that. It felt like a rejection of one of the things that had been such a big part of my own childhood. But I know that’s not fair. After all, she’s never seen her mom lose herself in a piece of music, fingers flying up and down the ivories. Instead she’s watched her mom spend hours lost in her own writing, her fingers making words instead of music. So much so that she has taken to doing her own writing, creating stories and drawing pictures to match, convinced that someday she will create something worthy of other’s praise. Her stage is the page, not the baby grand.
Arkansas is lovely, something we didn’t really discover until our spring break camping trip just months before, but the walk to the lake helped to highlight what stops at roadside RV parks never revealed: the natural beauty of the whole state. For three years we had questioned the nickname “The Natural State,” but once we were off of the interstate, we finally understood why people in Texas headed directly east for vacations: there is genuine natural beauty that rivaled what we had seen on trips through Tennessee and Kentucky. It was too overcast for a true sunset, but the mist hovered over the lake in wispy clouds that only slightly obscured the darkening pine-covered shoreline.
We had found a compromise that would allow our family to camp to celebrate the end of the school year and would be close enough for me to make it back for the graduation ceremony that always falls on Memorial Day weekend. I was willing to do the driving necessary if it meant that we got to go camping for a three-day weekend and temporarily unplug from everything.
Now I openly share because I want my daughter to understand just how much she was wanted and that while there are no guarantees in life, I will be there for her regardless of where motherhood takes her. I don’t forget that I was one of the lucky ones who finally had her prayers answered without extreme measures. Living in heartbreaking silence is a lonely, embarrassing space, but it shouldn’t have to be. It isn’t our status as mothers that gives us value as women; our very existence is valuable because we are children of God and as such, we have more to offer the world than expansion of the population. And while that is a difficult thing for the brokenhearted to accept, that is the message women need to hear.