The Heartbreak of Raising Daughters Who Are Strong Enough to Leave Us

girl pouting
iStock.com/maximkabb

She sat on the edge of the bed, her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed. Her cute little pixie face was telling a story. One of anger. Or was it? I've learned that often when I am looking at my children's angry faces, their anger is often masking another kind of emotion ...

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Sadness. Hurt. Disappointment. Exhaustion. Worry.

Lately I have been trying to hear my little one's whole story, rather than narrowing in on one minor detail. Anger usually plays a minor role in the bigger picture.

I've been trying to listen. To understand. To have compassion.

I've learned that for me to be the narrator of their own story, is to limit knowing their whole hearts.

Oh how I long to know and understand their whole hearts ...

So I sat on the opposite bed, arms open, quiet. Waiting.

The room was heavy with silence, as mother and daughter stared at each other.

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Rather, I stared at her. My beautiful little willow. Blonde, wild, and eyes on fire. She tried her best to avoid my gaze.

Because even though she was only 5 years old, she knew that the hurtful words she carelessly flung my way had the power to sting.

"You are mean."

Honestly ...

Those words DID sting. Maybe they shouldn't. I am Mom, after all. Older. Wiser. Mature. Strong?

But still human. Created to feel deeply. Created to love deeply. Not immune to pain ...

I sighed ...

"Lili ... "

She wouldn’t look at me; her focus was on her teeny tiny feet. How many times have I kissed those sweet little toes?

She and I have always had this unspoken understanding: We don’t fight each other. We fight FOR each other. Blood of the same blood. Bone of the same bone. Our story together is one birthed with struggle, with pain, but with victory. I could have lost her, and she could have lost me. Miraculously instead, we have been weaved together, bonded, our hearts forever meshed together.

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But she is growing, maturing, and slowly slipping into her own beautiful person. In a sense testing the waters, learning how to make her own decisions. To live well, without me. Her vibrant, independent spirit is taking over, like it should -- like it was designed to.

I've already done this dance with her older siblings, so her desire for independence is not at all foreign territory. But it still has an undertone of pain. Whoever said labor ended at birth was misleading ... The tears and pangs of motherhood linger on. They come in waves, without warning. Relentless and unapologetic.

"I didn't mean it, Mama." Her tone was defensive, and strong.

Even still, I could tell that her anger was slowly subsiding. But she was still overcome with her own stubbornness. The space that separated us was not more than three feet, but it felt like miles.

"l know, honey. Look at me."

I wanted nothing more than for her to look at my face. But she refused, hugging her arms around herself more tightly than before. As if that would keep her from running to me. I could sense her struggle. She wanted to be near me, but was fighting for her need to be apart from me.

"I’m mad at you." Her voice had softened, and was minced with sadness.

She was angry that I told her that she wasn’t allowed to change into a new outfit. But I had a feeling that her anger stemmed from her pride. That I didn’t allow her to make her own decisions. That I was still in control and she wasn’t.

"I know, baby. I know. Look at me."

Slowly, her tear-filled eyes met mine. You could almost taste the heaviness in the air. Almost touch the conflict she was grappling with.

Then she crumbled. Within seconds she was on my lap, sobbing into my shoulder. She was back where she belonged. Heart to heart. Mother to daughter.

I could sense that she was almost relieved to shorten the distance between us. Relieved to give me permission to still be mom, so that she could still be baby. Even if only for a moment.

Oh how thankful I am for those moments ...

"I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it."

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Five. The age where independence and babyhood both conflict and intermingle.

"I know, honey. It’s okay. It really is okay."

Five. The age when motherhood takes on a new role; where your heart attempts to bridge newly found independence’s ever-gaping hole. Where you reluctantly let go of tiny little hands and allow them to safely stumble and fall. Where you steadfastly remain within arm's reach, to pick up the broken pieces, and kiss tear-stained faces ... only to let them go again.

... only to let them go again.


Cari Dugan shared this post from Dugan in Cahoots with CafeMom as part of our monthlong tribute to moms for Mother's Day. Photographer and mother Cari keeps track of the beautiful mess of motherhood at Dugan in Cahoots. Follow her on Twitter at @DuganInCahoots and on Pinterest, and "like" her on Facebook.

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