Courtesy of Liza Wyles

10 Things My Daughter Has Unknowingly Taught Me About Myself

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I have learned more about myself in the nine years since becoming a mom than I had in the decades beforehand. Since she was my first, there are things my daughter has unknowingly taught me about myself from the moment she arrived in my life. She was the catalyst for insurmountable change, essentially transforming me from person to parent. As I started to navigate motherhood, I was forced to look at the world through her brand new eyes, and that included looking at myself.

I’ve felt that my kids have held up a mirror, allowing me to see parts of myself I never would have noticed if it wasn't for the experiences of parenthood. My Type A personality was never going to fly when I had two toddlers, so I had to learn to mellow out and embrace flexibility. I reevaluated my career path in light of having children, and left a lucrative position to pursue something riskier, lower-paying, and ultimately more satisfying in the long run. Having children didn’t change the course of my life, but it has brought into focus those parts of myself I want to improve, for my kids’ sake.

Recently it dawned on me then I’m never going to grow into the mom I think I should be as long as my kids are still growing up. We’re all evolving in the process, together. As a result, I’m definitely learning some things from my daughter, who firmly, but respectfully, calls me out when she knows I could be doing better.

I Interrupt

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I have a tendency to finish people’s sentences. It’s a bad habit but one that manifests when I want to show I’m fully engaged in our conversation. This really backfires with my outspoken daughter, though. Not only does she call me out for interrupting her, but she calls my husband out when he chimes in before letting her, and me, finish. It’s kind of cool having her as a tiny advocate, but I do have to be better about not cutting her off, no matter how long it takes her to tell me something.

I Have Little Patience For Long-Winded Stories

My kid spins a good yarn. She’s a bit of a performer, so she really milks it when I ask her about her day. She launches into a play-by-play of her 6-hour school day, clearly embellishing moments for dramatic effect and spiraling into tangents that are totally irrelevant to the events of her day. I can barely contain my frustration, rolling my eyes when she takes a moment to spin mid-story, or imploring her to just stand still so I don’t have to follow her around the house to hear everything. “Hurry up and get to the point,” I want to hiss at her.

But this never-ending story is the point. She has my attention and she wants to keep it for as long as possible. Well-played, kid. Once I remember her goal, I can better settle in, pushing aside the mental to-do list I feel I have to tackle in the narrow window of time between coming home from work and putting the kids to bed. All I have to do is be fully present for them. It’s kind of shocking how difficult that is.

I Don’t Spend Enough Time On My Hair...

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I already knew that I didn’t really care to deal with my hair, but I didn’t think it mattered to anyone. Apparently it matters to my daughter, who could spend hours with me seated at her feet while she styles my frizzy locks.

…But I Still Like Brushing Barbie’s Hair

30 years after I pretty much quit playing with dolls, I still find it incredibly soothing to sit and run brushes through their long synthetic hair. Although my daughter asks me to do so in order to untangle the worst knots I’ve ever seen on a doll’s head, I actually enjoy the methodical nature of combing, especially on an object that doesn’t yelp every time I hit a snag.

I Don’t Treat Myself Very Nicely

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I instinctively have always put my kids first. This has led to cold food left on their plates qualifying as my dinner. I would never feed them the stuff I agree to consume. When my daughter asked me why I don’t eat breakfast with her and her little brother on school days, I said it was because I can’t exercise after I’ve eaten (I go to the gym after putting them on the bus in the morning). That is true, but the real reason is that I know there will be enough food leftover from their plates for me to eat later, even if the cereal is mush and the bagel is tough. That’s not how I would nourish my family and yet, that’s the meal before starting my day. I’m literally eating garbage and I hadn’t realized it before my daughter questioned it.

I Don’t Hang Out With My Friends Enough

I spend what seems like a lot of time coordinating playdates for my two kids. When they were really little, these playdates were mostly for me, so I could get some contact with another adult while spending time with my kid. Now that my children are 6 and 9, and definitely old enough for drop-off playdates, I realize how much more effort I’m putting in to arrange their social lives than my own. I see a friend maybe once a month for lunch or a cocktail after work. I miss my friends and I think I’m entitled to spend time with them, especially since my kids are ditching me for their pals anyway.

I Don’t Remember Anything About The Revolutionary Era

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Going over fourth grade Social Studies homework with my daughter, I realized how little I retained from my own history lessons. Thank goodness for Hamilton. I’d be useless in helping her if I hadn’t memorized those song lyrics, which re-tell our nation’s history from a specific point of view. Thankfully, most of it is accurate.

I Often Treat My Kids According To Their Gender

Why did I sign my daughter up for dance class, and not my son? Why do I gravitate towards superhero shirts for him, and My Little Pony ones for her? Why don’t I tell him he can grow his hair long? Why haven’t I asked if she wants to try Little League? Why am I still subscribing to these ancient, gendered parameters of raising boys and girls?

The truth is, my kids organically gravitate towards activities and behavior that have been stereotypically identified with their respective genders. Still, I could have done a better job asking if they’d like to explore things outside their current, and fairly stereotypical, interests. Though my daughter has no problem playing male characters in imaginary games, I could be doing more to push back against limits society tends to put on our kids when it comes to gendered toys, clothes, and pastimes.

I Have A Ton Of Makeup I Don’t Wear

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I know this because my daughter has rooted through all of it, experimenting with a rainbow of lip colors that also ended up on various walls throughout our apartment. I didn’t remember having that shade of brownish pink until I saw it smeared across her face in a terrible attempt to look grown up. If she had told me she was going for more of a clown effect, I would have applauded her efforts.

I Can Be Happy With My Body Because Of Its Shape, Not In Spite Of It

By the time I was my daughter’s current age, 9 years old, I already hated my body. I considered myself fat. Though I loved my dance classes, I was aware of where my body landed in the spectrum of shapes at the barre. I was one of the chubbier ones. I loved eating, but I never listened to my body’s own cues at mealtime. Food was love for me, and I indulged, much to the chagrin of my own body-conscious mother.

I remember when my daughter was born and my only wish for her was that she didn’t grow to hate her body. I spent so much of my life calibrating my happiness by my clothing size and, even in my skinnier times, I couldn’t shake my insecure ghost. Having kids finally made me realize there are so many other things in life that deserve my attention and efforts than obsessing about my weight.

My daughter seems barely self-conscious. She enjoys picking out her clothes, but she takes no issue with how things fit. When she outgrew her beloved jeans shorts recently, she wasn’t upset about being “too big” for them. In fact, she proudly announced she needed a bigger size. She does not equate the shape of her body with her happiness. She is short, though, and wishes she wasn’t, but there is nothing about her flesh that she finds worrisome. I watch her eat, and she enjoys her food, but she stops when she is no longer hungry. She’s left unfinished slices of cake, because she “had enough." Through her unfiltered gaze at the bodies around her, I can see why I have no reason to hate my body so much. Am I at my goal weight? Nope. But I’m healthy and I have some really great shoes that she will soon be able to borrow. In fact, she can’t wait to be bigger, in that way.