I catch a glimpse of you in the corner of my eye as you sit at your desk and entertain yourself doing whatever it is you’re doing. I don’t come closer to peek over your shoulder and ask you about the project you are working on so diligently. I don’t worry that maybe you need help, nor do I worry that you feel left out because your brother and sister are playing together again and you were not invited to join.
I glance over you quickly and my gaze moves to your siblings. My eyes stop at your brother and sister as they giggle loudly and whisper to one another and let out a larger, full-belly laugh this time. My heart sinks and my mind races with questions about their well-being.
I do worry about them. I am overcome with worry about your older sister and younger brother. I fear that your sister doesn’t love me unconditionally and that I am losing her to her friends, sports, and the teen years. I envy the connection she has with her father and think, why not me? I worry that she is holding every emotion, every fear, every joy, and every sadness inside, not sharing it with anyone and thus, not learning how to cope with life’s trials. I see her take the weight of the world on her shoulders, trying to please everyone else, feeling the need to always be okay, to always take care of herself because she doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone.
I worry about your brother, too. He’s such a sensitive boy and he feels everything so deeply. He reacts to everything with intensity and his emotions are so extreme. I worry that my patience is too thin for him. I worry that I don’t know how to teach him the coping skills he needs and that I’m not comforting him enough. I’m sad for him because his parents divorced when he was only a baby and he became the third child in a single-parent home. He has received the ultimate parenting shaft in so many ways and I wish I could stop the world and give him the full attention, love, and support he needs to make up for those first few years when, as a toddler, there just wasn’t enough of me to love him how he most deserved.
I worry about them because they are nothing like me. I can’t quite figure them out. I don’t know what they’re thinking, how they are feeling, or what their unique, emotional needs are and, well, they don’t tell me. But with you, middle child, I don’t have that worry.
You, my middle child, are just like me; you do tell me what you need, what you are feeling, and what you are thinking. I don’t have to spend extra time figuring you out, wondering what’s going on in that head of yours, or wondering if me just being me will damage you in the long run. I don’t worry, because I get you. You use humor to deflect, your mind is swift and overactive, and you take care of you first. You don’t hold back and you say what you mean and you mean what you say. If you want something, you ask for it, perhaps even demand it, but you don’t leave me guessing. You can react with a little tween ‘tude, but I never feel rejected or hurt because I once had that exact same attitude.
I have never second-guessed myself or my reactions with you. Until now.
Now, I realize that in my thinking that I had you all figured out, I expected you to always be okay. There were times when you became my scapegoat. Just yesterday you asked me to go upstairs and get you your soccer shin guards, to which I curtly replied, you’re capable, why don’t you go get them. That’s when it hit me! I would never, ever speak to your siblings like that. I would never speak to them like that because I worry so much about them. And so, it’s time I start to worry about you.
I have taken your easy-going personality, your independence, and transparence for granted and I have used it against you — without even knowing I was doing so. How many times have I snapped at you, just because I wanted your siblings to hear the lesson I was telling you? I was too worried about them to teach them, so I spoke to you, hoping they would hear it.
How many times have I given you an attitude because I was upset or irritable about something that your brother or sister did? I was too worried about them to address them directly, but I was not worried about you. I mistook your easy-going nature for invincibility.
How could I have let this happen and go on for so long? I have been so busy thinking that you’re okay that I may have made you not okay. I promise you from this day on, I will worry about you, too.
I am worried now. I am worried that I have parented you all wrong. I am worried that you do feel left out when your siblings play together so closely so often and don’t invite you. I worry that you don’t feel as loved by me as they do. I’m worried that I haven’t helped you enough with your homework, or praised you enough for your beautiful character, kind soul, and maturity. I worry that I have been too hard on you and that that will manifest into some awful type of mental health issue in adulthood. I worry that all the years I spent not worrying led you to feel less than or unloved.
I am sorry I did not worry sooner.
My own mother always said you are only as happy as your saddest child and God knows that’s true. But when does the worrying stop? I mother each of you differently because you are entirely unique, yet I love you each the same; my heart is so full of love for all three of you and I try my best to parent you in a way that will make your own individual journey on the road of life just a little smoother. I worried about them out of love and I didn’t worry about you out of love, too.
I don’t really know what I am doing as a mother, but I know I give it my all every single day. I know exactly what it is that I want to accomplish as your mother. I want each of you to feel 100% unconditionally loved by me every single day of your life. There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you, and my job as a mom is to make sure you know that, feel that, and believe that. I want you each to feel safe with me; safe enough to always express your fears, thoughts, anxieties, hopes, and needs with me. I want you to never be envious of one another; I hope you share in each other’s joys, sorrows, heartbreaks, and accomplishments with your egos aside and hearts full of compassion.
I want you to know that I am doing — and from this point on, will do — my best, and to understand that my best will never be enough. I am an imperfect mom, trying too hard. I am exhausted more often than not, and I fall short every single day, but I promise you, I am doing my best and some days my best will be better than others. Each day, I wake up and I make a promise to myself to try again to be the best mom I can be, learn from my mistakes, and try again.
And so, sweet Nora, rest your head on your pillow tonight and know that you are loved. I love that you and your siblings each have individual talents and personalities, and I love that the relationship I share with each of you is unique. My love for each one of you is beyond measure and in this way, the identical. I may show my love to you differently, but most definitely feel it the same; that feeling is beyond measure, beyond action, and beyond description. It is infinite, unconditional, and rewarding, and it bonds all of us, so that together, the four of us share something formidable. I would not trade that for the world.
This story originally appeared on Scary Mommy