Before I became a mother I heard so many stories about the powerful bound between a mother and her daughter. During the birth of my daughter there were complications that left me unable to have any more kids and lucky to be alive. I had always imagined having at least two kids but I had my girl and I was thankful and felt fulfilled.
She was a stubborn little girl from the day she was born. She would cry all day and all night long and nothing I did would soothe her. Around the age of 2 she honestly just became mean. She would throw things at me and hurl horrible insults at me if she didn’t get her way. “I hate you” and “You’re a bad mommy” became a daily part of her vocabulary.
I read all of the parenting books and sought advice from pediatricians, family members and even church leaders. Everyone assured me that I was a good mom, doing everything right, and that she was just a strong willed child and that this phase would pass.
I waited and waited for the phase to pass but it only grew worse. The more I disciplined her the angrier she became. I once spanked her when she was five and she insulted me the whole time in between cries. “You’re a monster. Wahh. I hate you. Wahh.” It honestly scared me knowing that nothing I did would force her to behave. By the time she was nine years old her room was almost completely bare because she had lost all of her toys one by one and refused to do what was necessary to receive them back.
The strange thing is that we still had a decent relationship. It was obvious that we didn’t always like each other but every once in a while she would turn into the little girl that I had always imagined and we would be able to enjoy each other’s company. One day when we were getting along my Mother watched us and stated that she was glad we were choosing to love each other.
That phrase stung. “I wasn’t choosing to love my daughter”, I thought. I always loved her and I assumed she loved me back. We just didn’t always get along. Those words stuck with me for a long time though.
One morning my daughter came downstairs and it was obvious that she was in a bad mood. My husband and I had become experts at avoiding her at times like this. As she walked in the kitchen with that sour look on her face, my husband and I both grabbed our coffee and headed towards the living room. Then for some reason the words of my mother came into my head.
Had I been choosing when to love my daughter? In my mind I was doing us all a favor by limiting our contact when she was unhappy. I had spent the last 9 years being yelled at and treated poorly. In return I had also yelled and said some pretty harsh things to my daughter. Neither one of us handled those situations well and I thought avoiding those rough moments were just better for our relationship. But maybe I was wrong.
I turned back around and asked her how her morning was going. Her response did not disappoint. It was full of her usual childhood angst, insults, and just her general disgust for me. I wanted to just walk away but instead I told myself to choose love. I told her that I loved her and that I thought she looked really pretty today. I edited a paper for her the night before and as I handed it to her I told her how much I enjoyed it and how much her researching skills had improved. I braced myself and was sure she would reply with some version of, “why are talking to me” or just ignore me all together.
But instead she said thanks and walked out the door. I’m sure to most that isn’t a heartfelt mother daughter moment, but for us, that moment was straight out of an episode of Gilmore Girls. I couldn’t believe it worked. I chose to love her and she chose love back.
I’m not going to pretend like every day was perfect. She still had her moods and sometimes I lost my temper. However, overall we were much better. Every time I chose love in a time when she didn’t think I would, she softened a little bit more. Her bad moods became less and less and our good days doubled.
When I was pregnant I never would’ve thought that I would have to work on loving my only child. I always assumed that the love between a parent and child was automatic and instinctual but for me it wasn’t. At first I felt guilty and like a bad mom. But the truth is love is and was always a choice, my daughter just made me realize how important of a choice it is.