You are seven years old now. When I look back at your first grade school picture, I can’t believe how different you look. Some years we can see subtle changes when we line up your photos, but this year you almost look like a different girl. Your baby teeth are gone; your face is looking more grown-up. But your insides are changing, too. Our relationship is evolving, and not always in the most comfortable ways.
Sometimes it is hard to be your mother.
But it’s not because I don’t love you. It’s because you are so much like me. I am so proud when I see the qualities I cherish in myself shining through you; I love that you enjoy reading, I am so proud when I hear you sing, and it is so gratifying to read your creative writing. You are (sigh) a people-pleaser like me. I love how compassionate you are, and your natural gift of empathy is clear to anyone who spends time with you. You are self-aware, and you are tuned into the emotional climate and responses of others. It is a gift.
I smile whenever I see your excitement at making plans; you dream big, and you prepare for vacations, performances, special occasions, and holidays with unbridled enthusiasm and fervor. (Of course, like me, this causes you great disappointment when things don’t go the way you had planned.) Like your mother, you revel in the anticipation, the list-making, and the organization perhaps even more than the actual event.
And in spite of these wonderful qualities of yours that you have likely inherited from me, I still find myself triggered by you on a regular basis. You are often demanding, self-absorbed, and overly sensitive. The slightest disappointment will send you spiraling into a fit of tears, or a prolonged pouting session, or an unpleasant outburst. Though you are extremely aware of the feelings and moods of those around you, you are often oblivious to your surroundings and need frequent reminders to take care of your belongings and consider how your choices affect others.
I find myself getting so frustrated, even disgusted, in these moments, but it’s not because I can’t understand them. I get it. Like you, I spend so much time lost in my own head that I frequently neglect my surroundings and belongings. I too am highly sensitive, prone to overreaction, self-involved, and emotionally demanding. I am one of those women who are referred to as “high-maintenance,” and I’m sorry to inform you that you probably will be, too.
When I respond with irritation or anger to a temper tantrum or perceived carelessness on your part, it is because these are the traits that I possess that make me most ashamed. They are parts of me that I know cause others to feel uncomfortable or inconvenienced. Yet they are deeply rooted aspects of my personality, and I experience great inward frustration knowing that I cannot wipe them out. On the one hand, I am proud of qualities that make me unique, but on the other hand, I wish I could be more laid-back, less emotional. That, my dear, is what we call cognitive dissonance.
The fact that I can relate to the root of your frustrations and the depth of your needs should make me more compassionate, but often, the opposite occurs. I have tried to subconsciously banish these undesirable traits from my own being (unsuccessfully, I might add) and it leaves me with a lack of patience and tolerance when I see these “ugly” parts of myself in you. Please forgive me. I need to remember more often that I am parenting you, not attempting to self-correct my own faults.
I’m sure that you sometimes feel that we love your sister more than we love you. This is not true, not even the slightest bit true. Your sister, at age two, is still in a stage where she is so physically reliant on me that in some ways, it is easier to love her. She does not challenge me, or talk back to me; she has not yet adopted the defiant and sassy attitude that is so developmentally appropriate for your age. And she has one more thing working in her favor- she has the benefit of a more experienced mother.
Potty-training, naptime struggles, and refusal to eat dinner no longer throw me for a loop the way that they did when you were a toddler. I have learned. What lies ahead is more complex and requires more emotional resources. The time-outs, the toileting, and the tiny tantrums? I’ve already been there, and while they are irritating at times, they do not cause me to question my maternal competence as they did when you were that age.
That hardly seems fair, does it? You and I- we learned together. You are still teaching me. Perhaps the first-born gets the worst deal, and certainly being a carbon copy of your mother adds to the challenge. Who knows if your sister will grow up to be like us, or perhaps she will be less uptight and require minimal emotional upkeep. Sort of like Daddy.
No matter how upset I get when you unknowingly hold up a mirror and reflect some of my least flattering attributes, no matter how annoyed I get when your sensitive temperament derails an otherwise smooth day, please know that I understand you. At your deepest, darkest part– a place you may not even be aware of yet– I know you. I see you. I will try to be a better navigator for this disposition you and I share.
And please remember- you and I are two of a kind. You will always be my first child; it was you who showed me how far my heart could stretch. It was you and I who started this family– it was just the two of us before there was Daddy and before there was Sophie. When you were in preschool, I used to take your hand and press it to my heart, and place my own hand on your heart, repeating the words, “I love you- no matter what.” On the days when you question whether that is true, let me repeat it again once more- I love you. No matter what.
Awww. I have a second grader too. And, I wrote a post today about how I worry about her becoming like me. 🙂 Raising a daughter worries me so much more than raising my boys. I’m so much more worried about screwing her up in some way. Super sweet letter. Loved it.
Thanks Meredith! I will have to check out your post, too! Always funny when bloggers are on the same wavelength! 🙂
I could not be nodding my head more than I am, Stephanie.
You see, I’m just like you. My son is so much like me in many ways. You’d think this would make it easier to parent him, but it’s just the opposite. It makes things far more difficult. We clash more because we tend to react the same way to things. You nailed exactly the reason with : “The fact that I can relate to the root of your frustrations and the depth of your needs should make me more compassionate, but often, the opposite occurs.” That is just truth because I do see so many of the things I’d like to modify in myself come out in him. GAH!!
As he has gotten older, I do think it’s helped me with some of the things he’s faced because I really do understand him. So YAY! As much as it sometimes causes clashes at times (and it sure does) it also means we “get” each other in a way that is deep and we both realize it. Ah, motherhood is weird and wonderful, isn’t it?! –Lisa
That is so validating to read, Lisa. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. I always love your perspective! xo
I was crying just a bit reading this and even though my girls are only 16 months apart, sometimes I just do butt head more with Emma, because she is just more independent by nature. And yet, she gets that independent streak from me. So, I could relate just slightly to the older child part and how I worry sometimes she may think I love Lily more, too. You said this so beautifully and quite perfectly though. Seriously, could not agree more if I tried.
Thank you so much, Janine! It is interesting how we interact differently with each child, isn’t it? The ones who are similar to us seem to push our buttons more…
OMG this needed to come with a warning that I’d have tears streaming down my face at 9:30am while I’m avoiding writing a post and going into the office. Stephanie. I love this so much and in so many ways. Some of those self-absorbed traits you mentioned wanting to wipe out “highly sensitive, prone to overreaction, self-involved, and emotionally demanding”…me too, friend. Me, too. Sigh. This is an incredible letter. The photo of the two of you at the end is gorgeous and the fact that she packed five pairs of shoes for a three day trip? YES! Thanks for the reminder that sometimes the things that most annoy us about others are the ones that we’re the most ashamed of.
That means so much to me- thank you. And no wonder we are friends- we share some of the same charming attributes! 🙂
Oh, I could so relate to this beautiful post…my middle son is my mini-me, not just in looks, but in personality too. My husband jokes that he is like my voodoo doll –if someone pokes him, I feel the pain too. But, like you and Izzy, my middle guy is most like me – ultra sensitive, and that gets us both into trouble sometimes. But even more so, because he is most like me, he pushes my buttons so much more than my other kids — because I see so much of myself in what he’s doing and yes, it’s that self-correction that we want to do so badly. I’ve written letters to all my sons that are ongoing pieces which I add to as they grow and develop. I plan to give them each their letter right before they go off to college. For my middle son, I’m now going to remember to add in a part about our similarities and how that has made our relationship sometimes difficult, but always always special.
Emily- that letter collection is such a brilliant idea- I am definitely going to copy it! I really appreciate hearing your perspective, and knowing that other people (that I respect!) experience this as well.
I saw so much of me in this. With each of my kids, I find myself short with them for different things. I realized recently that what sets me off instantly with them are things that I don’t like about myself. I think I’ll share this with them–or at least the sentiments behind it to start a conversation.
Another excellent post!
I really appreciate this, Jen. I think “veteran parents” have a better handle on this phenomenon, and it makes me feel better knowing that others whose children are older than mine have experienced this as well!
This is beautiful. It is amazing how quickly our children can change it was feels like a very short period of time. I love when you said it was her who showed you how far your heart could stretch. I often say something similar about my firstborn…it’s something about that first child that teaches you that you can be a Mom (at times in spite of yourself 🙂
Thank you for that, Tiffany! I really appreciate your kind words!
I’m the same way with my son. All of his bad traits, he inherited from me, and yet, rather than sympathizing, I’m more annoyed by them than anyone!
I am so glad I am not the only person with this bad habit. In my head, I know it doesn’t make sense- I should be more understanding! But it just doesn’t work that way…
Beautiful! My oldest daughter is very much like me as well. Some of her traits make me insane, but we are also kindred spirits. She gets me and I get her – even when we make each other crazy. When I am old a gray, she will be the one who sits in the rocker beside me and keeps me company. 🙂
I love that image, Lisa! Thanks for that!
So very sweet, and heartfelt. I felt as if you were writing to me, oddly enough – those character defects you describe sound very familiar. I’m sure it has something to do with being a first born, too… 🙂
Your daughter is lucky to have such a mama.
I knew there was a reason I liked you so much! 😉 Thanks so much Natalie.
Wow. That was incredible Stephanie. I could have written a similar letter to my eldest son Evan. He and I are so alike, and though I have empathy, I find rage in the same moment because I am ashamed that I too, am so much like him. Thank you for sharing this. Incredible.
Oh, Julie, your comment made my day. Coming from you, that means so much. Thank you.
Lots to say here! First, beautifully written, as always. H is not yet 2, so it’s hard to see how our personalities will clash. Plus, I think the same-gender parent relationships are always more challenging as the child grows. But even as I see him begin to mimic my mannerisms, my heart always sinks to imagine that he will grow up to have my flaws — either inherited or learned. And there are oh-so-many of them.
A business school professor of mine once said something that has stuck with me ever since. It was a leadership class. His basic message was you can’t cherry pick attributes. Sure, you wish you had the big job your friend got… but to have it, you’d have to move to Nashville (or something undesirable… for me, moving to the south would be my death). Basically, you can’t be YOU without all your good and less-good traits. Of course you should work on the less-good ones, but to banish parts of your personality to a corner does no one any good, not even your daughter.
Hello, pot. This is the kettle calling to tell you how black you are.
Also – sensitive does not necessarily equal high maintenance. I don’t find you to be high maintenance at all.
Oh, kettle, the pot is so very fond of you! I really appreciate your thoughtful comment- every word of it. You are awesome. And thank you. xoxo
I love this, Stephanie, in part because I totally could have written this! You and I are so alike, and our daughters are so alike. My daughter also blows up at the smallest things, and it’s hard for me to keep calm, too. And I love how you’ve written about how different it is with the second… we have experience, we have the wisdom of the things that pass. I love that you’ve admitted that sometimes, it IS easier to love one of our children because of the stage they are in, and it can be different each day or each hour. Awesomeness all around, my friend.
Well, I loved your letter to your seven year old, and I think I commented at how similar they, and clearly “we”, are. Your comment made me so happy- thank you so much!
This post hit home so much for me it’s freaky. My daughter is my first born, and she is just like me. We butt heads, and she thinks I love her brother more. At fifteen, though, I am seeing the woman she will be emerging, and I like what I see. She may have some of my bad traits, but she has my good ones too, and so many of her own. Wonderful post, Stephanie. And I love that Izzy packed five pairs of shoes for a three day trip. A girl has to have options, right?
Dana, it is so comforting to hear that. Your comments always add so much to my posts- thank you!
Oh my gosh – “it was you who showed me how far my heart can stretch” – this is perfection. I wish I came up with that phrasing.
As always the clarity of your view of yourself and your relationship with your first born is amazing. This sentence blew me away: “The fact that I can relate to the root of your frustrations and the depth of your needs should make me more compassionate, but often, the opposite occurs.” I can completely relate to this sentence both as a daughter and a mom. I’m sorry, I feel kind of awkward repeating myself, but your introspection ability just blows me away!
You make me smile. Your comments are like some kind of drug to me. I should print them all out and line them up. I love you! xo
Love your letter. I see some qualities of me in my daughter and those are hard to deal with. What is even harder is she is more like my Mom than me. I told my Mom the other day it was like I was raising a little version of her – same temper, attitude, etc. My son on the other hand is like a mini me in a lot of ways and that is challenging to deal with as well.
That’s an interesting twist- the child who is like your mother! I happen to be a lot like mine, so it seems the traits just keep getting passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter… Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Ultimately– “I know” and “I see you” might be the most magical words for a child to hear. I loved this.
Thank you so much, Nina- that means a lot!
This post resonated with me because I am raising my spitting image. In a way it’s hilarious to see myself in him, it is scary at the same time. I want him to be better than me (I’m sure that we all do).
This is so beautiful! I often feel like I am learning as much from my kids as they are learning from me. And my oldest son has a very similar personality to me. He and his sister are like me and my sister were…unfortunately. I hope that they grow up to be close like me and my sister.
Such a sweet letter from your heart. I’m sure your daughter will treasure it some day.
This reminds me so much of me and all three of my children. The times when I find myself at wit’s end are when they are acting exactly like me. But we survived without anyone pinching our heads off, and I suppose they will, too. =)
Although this is over a year old I am bawling my eyes out! Probably doesn’t help that its 1am..But honestly almost every word you wrote in this article fits me and my daughter to a “T”. I love her SO much, but fear she doesn’t always get that message because of how similiar she is to me! And the sensitivity, and “high maintenance” you speak of – well, we would all just get along so well! Lol. So, please know that even a year after your original post you are helping people! So glad I ran into your blog! (((Hugs))) from a stranger who thinks you are great! (Not in a creepy way, lol)