I sat on the floor with my mom and dad, watching my daughter tinker with her toys. I was telling my parents about a new and exciting ghostwriting opportunity, a milestone in my writing career. As I spoke, they occasionally nodded as they grinned at my crawling baby. When I reached the peak of my story, my daughter did something cute and they both cheered wildly for her, followed by a lackluster, “that’s good,” about me. To test their loyalties, I started telling a story about the latest solid food my baby had tried.
And wouldn’t you know it: two pairs of eyes were on me, eager to find out more.
I read somewhere (maybe it was embroidered on a pillow), “If I knew grandchildren were this much fun, I would’ve had them first.” Though the humor is the obvious irony: there’s a deeper truth in it. For many new grandparents, I think having a grandchild is a chance at redemption from their mistakes as parents. For my parents in particular, I have an anecdote that describes this well.
When I was a baby, my dad and his father were riding with me in a car. When I supposedly let out a massive fart, my dad wrinkled his nose in disgust but my grandpa looked at him with a smile and said, “My granddaughter can do no wrong.” My dad told me this story recently, and in homage of the circle of life he now says this same thing of my daughter, that she can “do no wrong.”
The story itself is sweet, but I’ve only figured out recently why it upsets me. In saying defensively that my daughter can “do no wrong,” my dad presumes that I’m judging her the same way he judged me when I was a child. And here’s the thing, I’m not. Both of my parents have commented how wonderful it is to simply adore my daughter, to adore her without judgment. And I agree, because this is exactly how I feel toward her.
I have no expectations for her, nor do I have criticisms. She is goofy and quirky like all children are, and when I comment on her quirks, I’m merely stating the truth, not wishing she behaved differently. I’m no Tiger Mom: I’d call myself an Otter Mom. Chill and carefree or perhaps even a Sloth Mom. My baby has both rolled over late and crawled late, and this didn’t bother me. She will probably walk late, too—and to this I say, great! She’s not a Baby Einstein, but she is perfect because she is my baby. And in my eyes, she can truly do no wrong.
But when I watch my parents celebrate my daughter with such unhindered joy, I think I’m mourning my childhood. Or, rather, what my childhood could’ve been, if my parents had loved me without judgment or expectation. I’m the firstborn, a long-awaited arrival after my mom struggled with infertility for nearly eight years. I hit all my milestones ahead of time, earning myself the nickname “Amazing Amanda.” The bar was set very, very high. My parents expected me to grow up a conservative Christian woman with a business degree, and to go on to be a CEO, supermom, and superwife to a rich and successful husband. How could I not? I was quite a perfect baby, after all.
Instead, it took me five years, a long struggle with depression and two college transfers to earn my degree, and I still don’t have a “grown-up” job with benefits. Instead I’m doing what I love, writing and painting for a living. I’m also an atheist and a liberal. I had sex before marriage, and I’m absolutely glad I did. None of these things I would change. I am absolutely who I wanted to be. But I am absolutely not who they wanted me to be. They’ve grown used to me now, but in their eyes (and they’ve said this), they think my greatest accomplishment may be my role as a mother.
How can I possibly take this as a compliment? I think I’m doing a good job as a mother, but there are so many other things I’ve accomplished that I wish they would recognize. And the horrible thing is, their attitude actually makes me resent my daughter a bit when I’m around them. Will she grow up to be the girl, woman, they wanted me to be? Will she, in an act of rebellion, become my opposite—a straight-laced, religious young woman, exactly the person I’m not?
As I watch my parents’ love for my daughter grow daily, I feel a wedge being driven between me and them. I worry that the older and more wonderful my daughter becomes, the more I’m going to resent them for their relationship. What pains me the most is that I always thought having a child would bring me closer to my parents. I assumed that coming full-circle and becoming a parent would only improve our relationship. And while there have been a few transcendental moments, the moments where I fade into the background are becoming the standard.