My kids mess up. We apologize, forgive, and together decide what to do differently the next time. But then, we move on. I made a conscious choice a few years ago not to belabor their shortcomings.
Our kids have so many masters. Add to that a child who is incredibly eager to please and even I am exhausted thinking about a goal of daily perfection with countless peers, teachers, coaches, parents, grandparents and more.
My eldest daughter is that kid; a capital P pleaser. It takes one to know one.
I wish I could fast forward her to where I am now – with a very small handful of people whose opinions matter to me – beyond one that’s divine and those living under my roof. It is my and my husband’s job to help her get there but realistically, the urge to impress is likely to increase before it wanes.
When she was seven years old, I started to notice a recurring theme at bedtime, one of worry, a fear of failing and falling short of expectations. She suddenly used the words “overwhelmed” and “scared” a lot and seemed to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. My heart sank at the familiar feeling.
First, I was angry that she had such an intense need to please at such a young age. But then, I was the same way, especially with my parents. I remember falling asleep on nights after I had disappointed them or we’d exchanged harsh words, wondering if they’d be proud to call me their own.
Funny that unconditional love, which was never in question, alone was not enough. I wanted their approval too.
This flashback inspired a habit I hoped would help my daughter turn off and truly rest. Every night, I tell her in seven simple words: I am proud to be your mom.
Behind the words is a silent mantra. It varies but generally includes these musings: The day is done. Flaws are expected. Mistakes teach us. The score is settled. The details don’t matter. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are mine. And every single night, despite hard stuff, my head hits the pillow with immeasurable gratitude that I get to be yours.
I say the seven words to all three of my kids but it was my eldest who made me realize it was necessary.
If I’m honest, 17 years into a career, 12 into a marriage and nine into parenting my own children, there are still few things that give me the same zing of encouragement or punch of deflation than my parents’ response to me or my choices. I don’t know if one ever outgrows that. As a teenager I occasionally heard my grandmother criticize my mom and imagined how much it must’ve hurt.
I’d like my kids to care less what others think and we talk about it a lot in our house. But while we navigate that together, I never want them to question where they stand with me. My hope is that our routine bedtime exchange will remind them, no matter how many not-so-awesome choices they made or how harshly I reacted when they poorly handled a situation with a friend, disrespected an adult or even lost an article of clothing (AGAIN), they have my unconditional love and no-strings-attached approval. Maybe, just maybe, it will make them less likely to overdo it when it comes to seeking approval from others.
One night, about a year after I started using the seven words, I heard a “Hey Mom!” in the darkness and paused pulling the door shut just in time to catch a sweet third grade voice saying, “I’m proud to be your daughter, too!”
“Thanks, honey!” was all I could muster before I feared she would detect the ugly, happy cry brewing.
Now, on days when I feel like I am failing at this parenting thing, that memory reassures me. And I can rest better too.
This piece originally appeared on Pop Sugar.