Dear Emma and Clara,
This coming weekend is Mother’s Day–my tenth as a mother. You will shower me with homemade gifts and sweet cards, but it is you, my daughters, who I want to celebrate. And whom I want to thank. In the past decade, the challenges of motherhood have brought me to my knees like nothing else before, and yet, what I have learned from you has given me the strength and courage to get back up again. You have shaped me into a far better person than I ever imagined I could be, and taught me three important, life-changing lessons that I didn’t even realize I needed to learn until I became your mother.
1. It is okay to change your mind.
As a little girl, I never dreamed about being a bride or a mommy. As a matter of fact, on our first date, I told your father that I was never getting married and never having children. No way, no how. Not one iota of a chance I was going to change my mind.
I surprised us both a couple of years later when I decided that I did want to get married after all, but I assured your dad that I was holding steady regarding my decision not to have children. I was not mother material. Children were out of the question.
And then, ten years later, I changed my mind again.
I once read that you should “always keep your words soft and sweet–just in case you have to eat them.” I will gladly eat my words no matter how strong the taste, because changing my mind about becoming a wife and mother was one of the best decisions I ever made. Yes, I was blindsided by your births, almost undone by the steep learning curve of parenting, but it has been worth it. Each day you infuse my soul with such sweet joy that I am often left bewildered, humbled, and stunned as to what I ever did to deserve such goodness.
And so, I encourage you to always be willing to change your mind, to override fear and be true to yourself. Never be too stubborn or too stuck in a rut or too worried about what other people think (including me) to changing a career, a school, where you live, or even your spouse if necessary.
Be willing to eat your words to find your best life.
2. Perfection isn’t love.
When I became pregnant, I decided I was going to do everything exactly right. I was going to be a perfect parent, because after all, the stakes were pretty high: I was molding a human being. There was a lot riding on me not taking one single misstep.
I read all the parenting books and repainted your rooms with non-lead based paint. I made your baby food from scratch, did an exhaustive review of every preschool in town, and carried you on my back all day long so we could bond and attach. But still, I made some terrible mistakes. I lost my temper routinely, sent you to preschool when you weren’t ready, and was often distracted when you needed my attention most. Many nights I went to bed feeling the weight of my guilt for not being the mother I should be, but every morning, you greeted me with open arms and a forgiving heart. You forgave me my imperfections and loved me in spite of all my mothering mistakes. In fact, where I was wrong has often become where we grew strong. My errors have taught us to love more fully, more completely, more unconditionally.
So if I may make a suggestion: Don’t waste your time aiming for perfect. Allow yourself and others to mess up, misstep, take a detour. Strive less for perfection, and search more for the love that grows between the mistakes.
3. Be kind.
Upon your births, I found myself desperately wanting this world to be a better place, a safe place, a kind place for each of you to live and breathe and perhaps raise your own children some day. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Even though kindness was a foreign language to me at the time, I took his words to heart and began a self-guided study in the art of kindness.
You were excellent tutors, and I discovered that kindness is often the biggest gift when it comes in the smallest gestures. A smile to a stranger. An apology. A note in a lunch. As simple as a nod of the head that says, “I hear you. Go on. You are important.”
On my wall is a painting with these words of Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Being alive is beautiful and hard. Be kind, if not for others, then for yourself, because darkness, anger, resentment, and grudges are a heavy burden to bear. The energy we put into the world, be it good or bad, can tip the balance. I have been wronged and I have wronged others enough to know that kindness is what will continue to make our world go around and nothing else.
Be the kindness that the world needs.
I don’t think I need to say that there are hundreds of lessons within these three lessons. It would take me many more pages to even begin to explain them all, but let me end here with this:
Thank you for being my daughters. For all you have taught me. For reshaping the contours of my heart into a thing of beauty.