I can still picture my daughter Brittainy as a bright, talented sixth grader. She could figure out technology with lightening speed, dribble a ball like it was attached to her hand with a string, and never so much as flinch when a soccer ball came straight at her head. With her dark hair, she took after her dad. They spent hours watching the Women’s USA Soccer team and figuring out a way to build a guitar pedal instead of handing over hard-earned cash for it. I would try to chime in, but their conversation sometimes left me in the dark. Staying up with the newest point guard for the Houston Rockets just wasn’t in my wheelhouse.
I would listen to my daughter with amazement. She was so smart, so talented, so beautiful. I couldn’t have been more proud, but I also felt pangs of frustration. It was hard to find things for her and I to do together that we both enjoyed. I could barely dribble a basketball without hurting myself and my 75-year-old grandmother could outrun me on the soccer field. I once almost singed my hair just standing beside her as she soldered wires together for a guitar pedal board. I liked shopping for shoes. She didn’t. I loved looking in junk jewelry stores. This bored Brittainy to tears.
But I was determined. I devised grand plans of hanging out twice a month, just she and I, mom and daughter nights that would give us time to connect and talk. They weren’t easy to schedule. Between soccer practice, church and school stuff, we had to get creative, but we finally landed on some dates. I planned our first night, a trip to the mall. We could walk around, eat some junk food, and hopefully talk about her friends and school.
I’m not sure where I got my expectations (probably a Hallmark commercial), but compared to the picture I had in my head, the night was a disaster. She didn’t want ice cream. She didn’t want to go into Claire’s and look at purses. I saw a glimmer in her eye when we looked at soccer shoes, but I didn’t know how to talk about the different brands. The night ended in an argument when she asked, “Can we just go home?”
What in the world? She was my only daughter for goodness sake. I couldn’t possibly love her more. So why were our times together so hard? Luckily, I had a mom friend who had walked this same road before me. As she talked, she shared some wisdom I’ve never forgotten.
This one should have been obvious to me but it wasn’t. I was trying to think of things we could do together, but sometimes the first move is just to ask. When I did, Brittainy said she’d like to shoot baskets in the driveway. Deep breath. I stink at anything with a ball, but the barely used sneakers went on anyway. And shoot we did. She sank almost every one of hers. Most times I didn’t even hit the backboard. We laughed (mostly at my horrible aim). She gave me pointers and showed extraordinary patience. Here’s what I learned about my daughter. She didn’t expect me to be good. She just wanted me to be in the circle of what she cared about.
Shoo away the expectations.
I’m a goal driven person, but I’ve learned that with my kids I can’t force the relationship with expectations that aren’t helpful. Planning fancy family nights or events with my kids where there’s a specific expected outcome is a recipe for disappointment. I’ve leaned to let it be what it is. Sometimes we talked about deep things, other times I endured one-word answers and an I’m-so-over-you attitude. Geoff and I still remind each other that it’s about showing up and letting our kids know we love them the best we know how.
Never give up.
I think this is the biggie. Being available and willing to do whatever with my kids, in their time and on their terms, sends a powerful message: I’m not going away. Even when you grunt at me and roll your eyes. I still love you.
There will be moments when you are tempted to do nothing because it feels like there is nothing to do. Keep going. Keep showing up. Keep being there in the moments when they think they don’t want you there.
Today, Brittainy is a beautiful young woman who recently tackled taking a moped apart, cleaning the carburetor all by herself. I wouldn’t know a carburetor if it walked up and introduced itself to me. Brittainy and I may not have a lot of hobbies in common, but we both know this: A great mom and daughter relationship is worth fighting for.
What’s your favorite way to hang out with your kids? How can you do more of it this week?