The Responsibility of Being Loved

Confession of a Guilty Mother

During a meeting about Secondary School admissions, the weight of my daughter’s love hit me like a tidal wave.

She’d been interviewed alone by the School’s Assistant Principal, before I was invited in to join them. One of the questions he’d asked her was where she’d like to time-travel to, and he laughingly informed me that she’d given a unique response: ‘I’d like to go back to when my Mum was little, to see if she was as perfect as she says.’

This seems like an innocuous, cheeky, mildly amusing reply until it’s combined with the conversation we had on the way home. I wanted to know how she’d answered other questions, and more than once she told me she’d prefaced her reply with, ‘I’m not sure, but my Mum thinks…’

When I recovered from the shock that she does actually listen to me, the gravitas knocked me off my usually flippant, often sarcastic course. She listens to me. The words, which I carelessly throw in her direction, stick.

I know it sounds peculiar that this would be news to me, so I’ll put it in context. I have another daughter, four years older than this one, who has rarely listened to a single word I’ve said or proffered random acts of affection. A daddy’s girl from her first breath, she stated, at less than three-years-old, ‘I do love you Mummy, I just love Daddy so much more.’ This wasn’t designed to hurt, it was simply a statement of fact.

In the four years before her younger sister was born, I presumed that was the way maternal relationships flowed. I thought it was simply nature’s way that a mother would love their child so very much more than that child could possibly return.

And then I had my youngest.

At the time of her birth the UK was at the start of a long depression. The financial crisis hit our business hard and we were floundering, forced to sell all our investments and assets. Even the family home was on the market. Her advent was the only light in a very dark time, and she burst into our lives with the unassailable energy of a volcano.

And she needed me. She needed me more than any living thing had ever needed me in thirty-eight years.

Where her sister wanted her own space, this baby wanted to be attached to me, viscerally, all her waking hours. She wouldn’t be held by anyone else. She screamed and stretched out her arms for me, and me alone. It was probably unhealthy, co-dependant and inadvisable. But it felt good.

Fast forward ten years and she no longer clings to me like a baby chimp; in fact, she’s a big fan of sleepovers and school trips away. It’s for the best that my little one doesn’t need me anywhere near as much as I thought she would at this age.

But she still makes no secret of the fact that she loves me.

She’s independent, funny and clever. She’s quirky, thoughtful and kind. She’s far brighter than I have ever been, and this is why the meeting at school and the subsequent conversation weighed so heavy on me. I don’t feel worthy of such an acolyte.

Image Tim Mossholder — Pexels

My mother’s guilt has rocketed: I don’t always concentrate when she’s telling me about her day. I don’t always look up from my phone when she enters the room, usually dancing and chatting at the same time, ideas crackling like popcorn in a pan.

Just as my eldest is a personality replica of my husband; funny, tenacious, fearless, quietly anarchic, and introverted, my youngest is a much better version of me. We are both gregarious to a fault, controlling, we love language and people and we can suddenly flip from confident and brave to terrified and timid if we encounter one of our (similar) irrational fears.

I can be endlessly sympathetic with her because I understand how her mind works. I know she’s a Spin Doctor, a master manipulator and I don’t even mind when she uses those skills on me, because it’s cute and clever and usually involves me getting praise and affection, even if it is just a means to her ends.

How can it be right that this erudite, emerging personality can choose me as her guide? I fear someone less vain, more measured and patient, should be showing her the way. I don’t think before I speak, and I talk far more than I listen. I snap and I shout. What if I carelessly break the shell of this precious egg before she’s ready to hatch into the world?

Do all parents have these concerns? If they do, then I’m late to the party, because I was just swimming along with the tide until, the day of that meeting, I washed up on the beach, a new burden of responsibility covering me like wet sand.

I wonder, will I choose my words more carefully now I am aware she’s listening? Will I yell less, listen more? I hope so, because now the responsibility is mine to own. But I suspect she’ll go on loving me either way, and for that, I am luckier than I deserve.

Image Mabel Amber — Pexels

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