This sweet mirror of mine.
There’s the gentleness in her hands as I brush her teeth and she turns around to stroke my face. The soft kisses she lays on her baby’s face, the softer words still as she tucks her most loved and ratty bunny into bed and wishes it a “goodnight and love you”. It takes my breath away each and every time because it’s her, but it’s also me, isn’t it?
But there’s also the loud shouts of “dinner time!” as she creates a tea party in front of her, the high pitched cackles and she turns to tickle us, the snicker that is almost unequivocally mine as she laughs at her own nonsensical joke. And yes, there’s occasionally the slightly too harsh “lay down” said to her babies, but one that is always, always followed by a “sorry baby”.
They are us. These mirrors in which we are reflected and transformed.
That’s not to say that because a child who pinches or hits, or says an unkind word to another is not gently parented. I for sure have never kicked Eilish, or shouted for her to “go away”. Children are still individuals, they are still creating and forming their own, they will never simply be and should never be just another smaller you. Not every action is a reflection.
But yours still matter.
Modelling is, along with consistent and clearly defined boundaries, described as one of the cornerstones of respectful parenting. Janet Lansbury talks about “never underestimating the power of our modelling”. And, for me, it is the most powerful tool in our everyday. While Eilish gets up and down from the table as much as she likes, as parents we sit and wait for one another to finish. I never force her to talk to adults that she doesn’t know, but I’m friendly and chatty to people we meet. It all sinks in.
How much more willing will our children be to accept the qualities that we hope will form them, if we are constantly and consistently embodying themselves? I want my daughter to witness me learning about the world around me with curiosity and resilience, I hope she sees me act with integrity and passion, and I sincerely wish she bears witness to what it means to gently respect yourself in the same ways we do to others.
Yes, I hope that she embodies so many of the values that I hold as important, but I don’t want her to blindly obey me with no sense of autonomy. I want her to know that these things are important because I live them, not because they are dictated without any real example. She knows that I love her unconditionally and with strength, and if she needs me I’ll be there to help her work it out.
I’m glad when she sees the chinks, the small cracks and scratches in my surface. Modelling good behaviour is powerful, but sharing imperfections and flaws is perhaps even more so. Apologising is so very important.
I don’t want to be perfect, and I don’t want a perfect child. I don’t want her to fall in line behind me. While the big feelings may sometimes be difficult to deal with and on some days I may long for just five minutes without being touched, every strong emotion is a little victory. A testament to the strong-willed and the independent that I get to witness.
Not craft, or mould, or create, but witness.
Here’s the crux of it; in her I see me. In so many different and ever-evolving ways. But I also see a person diverging. A personality forming, a whole human who will not be just me. For every way that she is alike, I am sure that there are at least three that she is not.
You have this privilege of showing them what life is, introducing them to the world around them and helping them figure out our family and community’s cultures; and then you get to watch them take it all and make it theirs.
What magic that is.