I’ve been going through boxes of old pictures, something I’ve been putting off until ‘someday’ for many years, determined to gather enough for each of our kids to have their own collection of childhood photos. It feels like another step in the transition from our family all living under one roof to being empty-nesters. As I sort through the images, I am transported back to what feels like a lifetime ago when our home was filled with cribs, high chairs, and more toys than I could keep track of.
In some ways, life was simpler then – most of my energy and time devoted to the single goal of raising our children. Of course, that encompassed everything from their physical health to their emotional well-being, education and the development of their morals and beliefs; in truth, anything but simple.
Ultimately, I really only ever wanted one thing for each of them, to know how deeply they are loved.
Thanksgiving weekend our daughter, Katie was home from college, eager to tackle a project she and Chris had planned for some time – organizing all the books in our library. I sat in a chair in the corner of the room, laughing as they bantered back and forth about the merits of keeping or giving away each book. I marveled at how like me she is in her belief that there has to be a pretty compelling argument to ever justify getting rid of books. “Aw, look at this one, I remember making this for you, mom!” Katie handed me the pastel, Hallmark memory book proclaiming “There’s No Mom Like You.” We flipped through the pages filled with flowery words about a mother’s love, smiling at the sweet pictures she and the boys had included, and laughing about how different we all looked so many years ago.
Then Katie reached for the next book on the shelf and turned to me, the tone of her voice taking on a sarcastic edge. “Oh look, another special one. ‘Mother’s Memories For My Daughter’…and it’s completely empty.” She proceeded to read several page headings aloud: “Stories from my life, fond memories and special moments, my thoughts when you came into my life…” Internally, I felt the familiar flush of shame. I know I have failed in numerous ways as a mother. Katie and I have even had conversations about the difference between the amount I’ve written in her older brother’s baby books and hers, as the youngest. And she is correct, there is a difference.
In that moment, I wanted her to know how deeply I regretted that difference. There were many reasons for it, reasons that I know are almost universal amongst other moms I’ve had this conversation with. And yet, those reasons do nothing to take away the sting of my daughter’s legitimate disappointment. My heart felt the weight of her sorrow as well as my own. “I am so sorry, Katie. I did not keep up with things like this for you, and I so wish I had done a better job there.” As she moved to reassure me quickly with an “it’s ok”, I let her know I wanted her to be able to express her disappointment without feeling like she had to take care of me. “I know, mom, but it really is ok. You know, I told my friends it kind of sucks that our family really loves each other, because it makes me miss you all so much more when I’m away. So, don’t worry about it mom, I know you love me.”
Her words spoke right to the core of my anxious, Enneagram 6 heart. My anxiety has always been centered on the fear of being unloved and alone, it’s what drives me to constantly check in even with those I’m in close relationships with. ‘Are we ok? Do you love me? Do you believe I love you?’ I know there is goodness in my commitment to make sure my family and close friends know they are loved, and I also know there is brokenness in my fear that I won’t be able to guarantee that. I so long to be able to simply rest, and trust that love will always be stronger than my fear, if I choose to welcome and allow it. To be able to laugh, like my daughter, and say “yeah, it’s a bummer we love each other so much.”
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.