It is a beautiful cycle: that of being first a daughter, then a mother, and then a grandmother.  A cycle steeped in love, understanding, tears, comfort, joy, pain, fear, pride, beauty, and bound by even more love.  Ideally.

When that cycle is broken, we become broken daughters who become broken mothers.

Four daughters, three mothers.

Four daughters, three mothers.

Right now I’m right there in the middle of that cycle.   I’m a mother.  A daughter and a mother.  And never in a million years did I dream that I would be a mother.

When I was a little girl I wasn’t really interested in playing with baby dolls.  I didn’t really like playing “house”.  I liked playing “boss”.  Just ask my brother.  I wasn’t really into babysitting, choosing instead to work in a more career-minded field, even in high school.  I was obsessed with the “real world” and carving my own path and building a life as a professional and independent woman, preparing for whatever stage of life was coming up next.

As a daughter, I have always been very much loved and supported by both of my parents.  They have encouraged and loved and lifted and protected and rescued and spoiled me.  I was punished most of the times I needed to be punished.  I had limits and boundaries and order in the home.  I had an ideal childhood and yet when I was old enough to spread my wings, I was still reckless.

I remember the first time that I made my mom cry.  

Well, it was the the first time that I noticed her tears.

I’m sure I had done something to my brother or with my brother that we shouldn’t have done and I’m sure she was disciplining us. I don’t even remember what happened that made me think that I hated her at the moment, but I told her that I did.  And when I saw the hurt in her eyes and the comfort that my dad had to give her because of the stab of my words, I ran.  I ran to my tree in the backyard and climbed.  I wanted to leave.  I wanted to be far away from the hurt that I had caused.  I never wanted to see her hurt like that again.

But that was just one of many times that I thought I hated my mother.  And certainly not the last time that I hurt her.

There was the time she wouldn’t let me wear the huge hoop earrings I had just bought because they weren’t appropriate for my age.  I snuck them out of the house and wore them anyway.

Then there were the numerous outfits that were banned because they were too tight or too short or too revealing, even though they were very much in style at the time.  Yes, I wore them anyway.

And of course there were boys that I liked that she wasn’t ashamed to tell me she didn’t approve of.  I dated them anyway. 

I know now that in everything I wasn’t allowed to do, my mom was protecting me from something I lacked the maturity and perspective to see or understand.  I was reckless anyway.  

Most of the time when my mom said no or redirected me towards something more appropriate or wise than what I wanted at the time, she would tell me that she knew she was probably stricter than some of my friends’ parents, but that she did it out of love and that one day I would understand.

There is one thing I’ve really just begun to realize about my mother’s way of mothering: she always gave me space to make my own choices, even if they weren’t the right ones. 

Fast forward to age 30.  I was about to become a mother.  I WAS TERRIFIED.  My husband and I were about to be responsible for a life, another human being.

While I was pregnant, the deeper truths of my mother’s love began to unfold to me.   I knew with the first movement of my daughter’s life still preciously and safely held inside my body that the promise of her life would mean that she would bring the deepest of love and the deepest of heartbreak for me.

When my daughter was placed into my arms for the first time and I clumsily held her tiny body next to mine I melted and gazed at her perfect face.  I counted her fingers and toes and touched her perfect skin.  I was in awe of the tiny miracle that I held.

My MessesThat sweet miracle is now almost 8 years old.  She has a little brother that she loves fiercely.  She is smart. She is beautiful.  She is kind.  She is wise beyond her years.  She questions everything.  She loves to learn.

She is certainly not perfect.

She leaves her clothes scattered throughout the house.  She has stacks of books in every room.  She leaves dishes out wherever she finishes them.  She hates getting up in the morning.  She has to be reminded to do the same things each and ever single day.  She has a fierce temper and is incredibly sensitive.  Her eyes flash when she is mad and she stomps and pouts and tells me exactly how she feels.

She is absolutely my daughter.  I see myself in her in so many ways and it terrifies me even more now to think that I am responsible for her life.  I so want to do everything I possibly can to protect her from making the same mistakes I’ve made in my life.

I understand my own mother so much more than I did before I became a mother.  I know that some lessons are learned by being taught and sometimes it takes skinned-up knees and tears to really learn them.

I also know how it feels to hear my daughter tell me that she hates me.  Oh the sting of those words.

But I also know the power and the healing behind my words back to her, words told to me by my mother: “I love you, anyway“.  Even when they are uttered through clenched teeth and tears and hurt and fury and fear. They are unconditional words.

My children are the closest to heaven that I have ever been.  When I held each of them for the first time it was as though I were feeling the first breath of creation.

I can’t even begin to imagine how my mother felt when she held each of her grandchildren for the first time. What a beautiful cycle.

Motherhood is indeed my messy, beautiful.

Most days I don’t feel like a warrior, but I do know that I am not in this alone.  I know that there were generations before me that I can learn from, a loving husband and friends that I can lean on and walk beside, and a strength that we all possess that can only come from the God that made us mothers in the first place.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

Psalm 139:13-16 MSG

Jennifer Collins is a Graceful Mess.  

Living a messy life, full of grace.  

Join in with the other Messes on the Graceful Mess Facebook page.

Follow me on the Twitter: @GracefulMessME


This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HEREAnd to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Messy, Beautiful, Warrior

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