This post is part 7 of 7 in the series Sugar and Spice & Everything Daughters.
I didn’t appreciate my mom when I was growing up. I think that’s a pretty common fault of know-it-all 14-year-olds. At the time, I thought the world revolved around me and Mom’s primary job was to make sure that world kept spinning.
Factor in that we’re both strong-willed firstborns and you have a recipe for epic, mother-daughter battles. We disagreed, we miscommunicated, and we saw each other only through our own eyes, finding each other lacking. Or, at least, I found my mom lacking.
I thought she dropped the ball with me. (She didn’t, by the way.) She was loving me in incredible ways – serving as my homeroom mom and Girl Scout leader; creating elaborate, homemade Halloween costumes and delicious, hand-decorated birthday cakes; and attending every one of my hundreds of ball games, recitals, concerts, and events.
But, I didn’t understand or receive it as love.
You see, I wanted her to be more affectionate, encouraging, and aware. I longed for long talks and a safe place to share my adolescent struggles. I hoped she would see the pain I was in and offer the hug and shoulder to cry on I so desperately needed.
But, that’s not how my mom is wired. She shows love by laying down her life for others in acts of service. She sacrificially gives, putting in long hours behind the scenes to make a moment perfect for others. She shows up early and stays late. And she’s loyally in your corner always.
But, when you’re 14, you don’t always see those acts as love. You don’t understand the heart behind them and you begin taking them for granted. You miss the messages of love wrapped up in each act of service instead choosing to focus on what you perceive is missing.
When I became a mom myself, in an epiphany of the heart, I got it. Suddenly the scales fell from my eyes and I saw for the first time all of the ways my mom had loved me. I saw each sacrifice the way she’d intended it: a gift for me to unwrap. A beautiful offering of herself wrapped up in a cake or costume or three-hour track meet sitting on cold, uncomfortable bleachers.
I’ve since apologized to my mom on behalf of my 14-year-old self who didn’t get it. I’ve apologized for judging her mothering and told her what a fantastic mom she was and is. I understand her love now. I get it.
But, my experience with my mom growing up definitely shapes my approach to raising my own daughter. My mom loved me through acts of service when what I wanted was affection and words of affirmation. And naturally, because I want to experience with my own daughter what I missed with my mom, my mothering approach focuses on hugs and words and creating safe moments every day for my daughter to share her heart with me.
I want to her to feel safe and understood. I want her to crawl up onto my bed, lay her head on my shoulder, and tell me all about her day. I’m constantly asking about her friendships and how her heart is feeling. All the touchy-feely stuff I longed for growing up.
But, the question I’ve begun pondering lately is, What if those hugs and I love yous and heart-felt questions don’t feel like love to HER? What if I’m missing it because her love needs look altogether different from mine, just like mine looked different from my mom’s?
I don’t want it to take 30 years for my daughter to understand my love for her.
So, I’ve started paying close attention. I’m studying my daughter to understand how God has created her both to love AND receive love. Does she respond to one-on-one time together, words, hugs, or gifts? Or does she light up when I do something for her? What if acts of service are the key to her heart and my pendulum had swung so far in the other direction that I’m missing it?
Could it be I’m living out my mother-daughter dream while creating her mother-daughter nightmare?
The answer lies in knowing my daughter’s heart and the willingness to love her the way SHE needs to be loved. Oh sure, everything in me cherishes a good ol’ mother-daughter heart-to-heart, but maybe that’s more about me?
At the end of the day, I’d rather she know with absolute certainty my love for her, even if it’s packaged in a different form than I prefer.
Figuring it out takes time and a keen eye. It takes asking a lot of questions. Try asking your daughter, “What makes you feel loved?” or “How can I best love you?” Then listen and take notes. If your daughter can’t answer those questions yet, begin by trying different expressions of love and seeing how she responds. My mom and I could have saved years of banging our heads against the wall in our relationship with each other if we’d known to try this.
Can your mother-daughter relationship be perfectly strife-free? Will you always be on the same page in your loving of each other? Probably not. After all, every daughter eventually becomes 14. But, knowing your daughter’s heart and the best way to reach it is the first step toward creating a loving relationship now that will continue well into the future.
I love my mom and I know she loves me. I love my daughter and she knows I love her. No matter whether that love looks like a long day working together on a sewing project or a quick “I love you” on the way out the door, what a privilege it is to be both a daughter and a mom. To learn and to pass it along. To love and be loved.
Like mother, like daughter.
Read more from our Sugar and Spice & Everything Daughters series!
- I Didn’t Want a Girl
- The Pressure of Raising Girls
- Ribbons and Bows
- The Reluctant Mother to a Daughter
- She’s a Girl, but That Alone Does Not Define Her
- Dreams for My Daughter