Last year, I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. There is no cure, but my prognosis is good right now. Which means I have time. Because as soon as I was diagnosed, I realized I wanted to try and repair my relationship with my daughter. It's been strained for nearly two decades now - that's almost 20 years of fights, most of which have all been trivial, but they're arguments that have continued to plague us year after year.
And while I thought my cancer diagnosis might be an immediate opportunity for us to repair our relationship, it became obvious pretty quickly that Ashley wasn't interested in doing so. So now that I may not live to see any of her adult milestones, like getting married and having babies, I'm coming to terms with that fact - and the notion that the two of us will never see eye to eye. We won't have the relationship that I was told to expect when I became pregnant. Because when you start out as a mother, no one ever says, "you know, you might not like your child and that's okay." I wish someone had told me that.
When my now-teen daughter was born, I kept waiting for that feeling of love to wash over me. It was a feeling my mother told me about, one my friends kept gushing over. I kept thinking about that mother-daughter bond that you hear about, but there was nothing. Embarrassed, I just assumed that it would come eventually. And I did fall in love with her - like any mother, I would never want any harm to come her way- but the streak of stubbornness, constant fussing, and unease around me made it difficult for me to like her.
When you start out as a mother, no one ever says, "you know, you might not like your child and that's okay." I wish someone had told me that.
It got worse when I gave birth to our second child two years later, because that bond was instantaneous. I looked into his little eyes and knew right away that he was one of my great loves. Yet despite two years of trying to bond with Ashley, it still hadn't really clicked between us. Still, as they both grew I tried to be fair. Really, I did. I gave them the same opportunities, I showed up for all their soccer games and recitals equally. But I noticed more and more that my daughter's attitude toward me was cold and spiteful and I, in turn, began to feel the same way.
While most mothers gushed about their perfect children, I remained unhappy with the prospect of having to deal with this tiny tyrant. In her early childhood years, it was her constant opposition that had me rattled. Once, when she was 6, I asked her to tidy up her toys. Within minutes it went from a gentle mention to full-out confrontation. She screamed, "NO!" and I screamed, "YOU DO IT NOW." My anger at the toys on the floor was building in my throat like a monster. My inability to cope and my inflexibility saw her as a defiant person, not as a normal kid testing boundaries.
As she grew older, she became a teen who spent hours hunkered down in her room. When she wasn't watching YouTube videos or chatting on social media, I felt like she was undermining me wherever she could, playing devil's advocate and suffocating me with her attitude. I struggled with trying to instill the idea that family is where we practice being a part of the community, and that we each have roles and responsibilities in our families. So I let her get away with her rude behavior, escaping to her room and online presence whenever she pleased, but it only caused my own disdain to grow deeper.
I understand that a lot of this is on me. I'm the parent and I shouldn't have stooped down to her level as often as I did. After all, her behavior was just normal teen behavior. I think I struggled with it so much because I still had this pipe dream that my daughter and I would eventually become best friends - or at least be able to tolerate each other - because, once again, nobody told me that I wasn't necessarily going to like my child. I love her, yes, but I didn't enjoy spending time with her. And I hated that.
I understand that a lot of this is on me. I'm the parent and I shouldn't have stooped down to her level as often as I did.
As cliche as it may sound, being diagnosed with cancer was really my wake-up call. Being told by someone who's basically a stranger that you may not have very long to live makes you reflect a lot. Ashley was a big part of that for me. I realized that I had made a lot of mistakes as a parent - I could have disciplined better, which may have subdued the resentment I felt whenever she pushed back. And maybe I could have talked with a professional, someone who could help me accept much earlier that, even though she's my daughter, the two of us are very different people. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Because now, even though the doctor says my odds of beating this cancer are good, the fact remains that it's spread throughout my body and I just don't know how much time I have left. That's what, admittedly, forced me into this place of acceptance. A place where I understand that Ashley has a strong, stubborn personality (kind of like me), and that it's absolutely fine that we don't always see eye to eye. When she pushes my buttons, I now take a deep breath and remind myself that she's still a teen; she's still figuring out who she is as a person, and who she wants to become. And it's up to me to give her that room to grow.
Now that I've realized just how fleeting time really is, I worry I won't be able to give her that room and still get through to her while she could use my support. Because I still want to be a good mother to her. I want her to continue to grow into a strong, confident woman who goes after what she dreams about and isn't afraid to push back against the naysayers. After all, she's had plenty of practice with me - she might as well use the stubbornness I resented for so many years, and develop it into one of her strongest assets. Even if the two of us don't ever have moments where we post mother-daughter bonding pictures on Instagram, I want to spend every second I can helping her. Because regardless of our battles, how much we get on each other's nerves, or how often we fight, Ashley will always be my child. And because of that simple fact, I will love her until I take my last breath.
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