When I was a child my mother told me two things that still resonate. The first was “Robin, don’t show all your teeth when you smile.” Yes, a big ouchie, but I don’t take a picture to this day without thinking of Mama.
The second? “Robin, I’m not your friend.”
Now that hurt! It took years for me to get over the pain, to grasp the multi-faceted meaning of her simple statement. But one day, my eyes met my precious Songbird’s over the dinner table, and unbelievably, I heard myself repeat my mama’s words: “Darlin, I am not your friend.” Bull’s-eye! Man down!
When Songbird first heard me say these words she was speechless. Up until the last year or two, I was Mommy, someone who loved her unconditionally (as long as she cleaned out from under her bed, held her pencil properly, etcetera, etcetera, yeah, unconditionally); who said “yes” every once in a while; the mother who fed her, taught her, cuddled her, and transported her; the one who translated all the girly stuff for her dad and brothers. But one day, all of that got tweaked—maybe it happened the day she borrowed her first shirt or slid her toes into my shoes for the first time or we stayed up late together to watch a Lifetime movie. Suddenly, Songbird saw me as her “bestie” and the world as she knew it opened up: she pictured us holding hands, skipping through the mall, whispering about boys, comparing diets.
I saw her face crumple and heard her heart break, but oh, Songbird, a mother is so much better than a BFF! We do all these things, and much more, but instead of suggesting the belly-baring top, we talk about the meaning of modesty. I don’t tell her her butt looks big in those jeans, but that her butt shouldn’t be in those jeans in the first place. (Forgive me, little people. I know we shouldn’t say “butt.”) We don’t ooh and ahh over boys, but I share my vision of the kind of man she can expect to marry and we discuss why courting is better than dating. Instead of comparing the latest fad diets I relate my constant struggle to accept my own physique; I pray that she’ll see herself as God sees her and I remind her that “man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) And we do it over our steaming cups of Starbucks chai tea latte or Auntie Anne’s pretzels.
How does a friendship with your child work anyway? Friends her age don’t correct or discipline; they advise, affirm, and encourage, even when their BFF is in the wrong. If I see Maven and the Lone Ranger tussling in the yard, would I shout “Fight! Fight!”? People befriend others that have qualities they admire and desire to imitate. Should a 43-year-old woman really act, dress, and talk like a 14-year-old? If she was lost in the woods should she ask a park ranger for help or the equally lost friend crying her eyes out beside her—in other words, does Songbird need another misguided, hormonal, sweet-and-sour girl her age telling her what to do?
Sounds harsh? Maybe, but the obvious answer is nope, because she wouldn’t listen anyway. Instead, she’d complain about so-and-so who’s too bossy and thinks she knows everything. She needs me, the person who has a right to be bossy but has the brass to admit that in spite of not knowing everything I still know more than she does (as long as we’re not talking about lip stains vs lip gloss). In this world that says anything goes, she and the rest of my little people need a kick in the…backside, a stern word or two, and some loving criticism that steers them back on the right track. They need the only people in this competitive world who love them enough to want them to do better than we did, dear old mom and dad. We’ve been there and done that and can tell them where to buy the t-shirts at a discount.
The other day Songbird asked me to “turn off the mom thing for a moment and think like a girl.” I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, and did it. Well, I didn’t turn it off, but I turned it down, and it’s something I’m doing more often and for longer periods. I listened; she talked. She listened; I talked. And then I turned the “mom thing” back up because after all, I’m the only one in the room wearing a bra who’s been her age and mine. Now, her friends can’t do that, and I love her friends dearly because God has blessed her with some great ones, but in the end, if she stops texting them or checking the “like” box they’ll just give her “her space” instead of sending her Easter dresses and shredding three cups of carrots to make her favorite cake when she visits once a quarter (oops, sorry, this isn’t really about me).
Songbird is starting to get it, and I know I’ll have this painful moment a few more times with the other little people who still see me as Mommy. Yesterday she admitted we have a special relationship, which is so much better than a friendship. She’s right. Our relationship grows and changes as she grows and changes, and one day, we will laugh and cry over the boys we’re married to and we’ll point out how all the weight we’ve gained over the years only enhances our beauty. But for now, I’m leaving the friendship thing, as I leave most things, to God. He’s our greatest Friend, Lover, Mother, Father, and best of all, our only Savior. He does everything well and fulfills every need. I’ll just stick with what I do best.