I had a baby, my first, earlier this year. After over a decade of telling parents how to raise their girls, I'm now tasked with raising my own. I have no doubt I'll take back some of what I said from a childless perch -- and hopefully feel gratified about the rest. No matter what happens, I'm in the trenches now.
E is 8 months old. After some tough early months, I'm a goner -- head over heels in love. She is sweet, tolerant, serene and joyful -- a baby who, as my mother never fails to cheerfully inform me, "HAS THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE PERSONALITY OF YOU AT THAT AGE."
Yet, I can't help but compare her to other babies I know. Why is she so quiet when the others seem exuberant? That baby squeals and shakes with excitement; E coos, still as water. That baby turns the pages of a book, waves goodbye, crawls and climb the stairs. E doesn't do any of those things. Other Baby: 4, E: 0.
I know I shouldn't do this. So when the worry sets in, I think about my own life. I grew up desperate to achieve and be a star at everything I did. I grew hysterical in kindergarten when the teacher made a red "x" on a worksheet. My third grade teacher begged me to stop rushing through my math tables. I wouldn't. I wanted to finish first. I wanted to win.
I somehow perceived that winning would make me happier. It never did. It still hasn't. Nor has winning made me more confident. If anything, it's given me what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset -= the destructive belief that I must prove myself each time I take on a challenge, and the fear that I won't excel at everything I do. I will spend the rest of my life wrestling with that fear, trying to relax about failure.
Meanwhile, all these years, I have been asked how to raise confident girls. Yet, now all I can think about is how to be a confident parent. These are not one and the same. So much parenting literature focuses on what you need to do for and to your child -- what you should say, what you shouldn't say. But this parenting thing, it's first and foremost about me in the deepest sense.
This morning, as I watched her lying on her stomach, struggling to hold herself up and look at a book at the same time, my eyes filled with tears. This brand new life in front of me, who is looking to me for everything she needs, is in my hands: It is my job to love this child as she is.
It is my job to help her become the person she is meant to become, whoever that is, and no matter how different she is from me. I am not to impose my own fears or fantasies on her, but to watch and listen closely. This is what being a confident parent looks like to me right now: the willingness to accept what is, to love her through that, and have faith that everything is as it should be. Isn't that what real love is?
I have promised myself to try and find the line between encouraging her forward and loving her as she is. Because she will not be happier if she crawls first. She will not be more confident if she wins.
And I have learned enough in my own life, the hard way, to know better. What has made me happy in my own life is being loved for who I am, warts and all. What makes me happy are the small moments, like walking my dog as the sun sets, hearing a beautiful song or laughing with my friends. What makes me confident is feeling agency -- the awareness that I have the skills to change the world around me, whether it's in my relationships, my work, my hobbies or my own body -- but not winning.
This is my promise to E., and to myself. It will take practice, I know, and I'll have my bad days. But this kind of strength is about having faith. It means believing in what I can't yet see. That is what terrifies me about being a mom, but it may well be the key to my lasting confidence.