I remember, so clearly, waking up super-duper pregnant on October 10. It was midnight and my stomach was breakdancing and acting all kinds of crazy. Expectant mothers are ambushed by any number of gastrointestinal problems, so I laid there taking my licks, then waddled out to the kitchen for a glass of juice. I was relieved when whatever was going on with my crotchety digestive tract finally eased up, and I stood in front of the open fridge like my mama told me not to do, guzzled down a cold drink and headed back to my bedroom. As soon as I hit the doorway, the same cramp that had roused me from my sleep reared its ugly head again. Then, an epiphany: Oh. My. God! I panicked. I’m in labor.
Last week marked the 14-year anniversary of that 16-hour-long adventure in contractions, my mom’s Dukes of Hazzard stunt driving to get to the hospital and the birth of my only child, who’s the light of my life. My daughter, Skylar, has been the biggest blessing I wasn’t expecting and, honestly, wasn’t prepared for. Because of her, I think about everything more deeply, from the budget that keeps our household running to the qualities I appreciate in other people and would like her to adopt. She forced me to get out of the me, me, me of being an only child and totally shifted it to her, her, her because I’d become a mother.
Being a mom has also made me confront — and apologize for — what I put my own mama through when I was 14 myself (and 15, and 16, and 21, and 25…). But if there was one thing that would’ve made our relationship easier, it would’ve been a better transfer of knowledge and wisdom. Logistically, she told me all the right things: how to clean house, how to keep myself up, how to respect my elders. But she was very secretive about who she was as a person: Why she and my father broke up, what she was afraid of (besides ticks and caterpillars), why she never became the cosmetologist she dreamed of being when she was a kid.
Sometimes we’re so guarded and protective of our failures and mistakes that we don’t pass the lessons we learned on to our daughters in a way they can receive them. We just hit them with the do-it-because-I-said-so routine, hoping, expecting, that they’ll listen. That’s a pattern I have intentionally avoided with Skylar. Nothing is off limits for her to ask me — sometimes to my frightful chagrin — and I answer not just as Mommy but as Janelle. Because it takes transparency to really help a daughter step fully into her personhood and avoid, or at least lessen the impact of, the foolishness we’ve waded through before her.
Here, with the help of input from my Facebook friends, are 14 things every mother should share with her daughter (hoping, of course, that mama first knows these for herself):
1. Her family history and the struggles and stories of the people who came before either one of them.
2. Her flaws and her heartbreaks, as hurtful as they might be, because perfection isn’t realistic but disappointments are. They, however, aren’t the end of the world unless you let them be.
3. Pride in being who she is, from her quirks and craziness to her most laudable qualities, and the lesson to never over-invest in her beauty without equally investing in her intelligence.
4. How to understand her worth. Power and self-confidence ebb and flow — sometimes up, sometimes down — but a person’s worth doesn’t budge.
5. Respect for God, for herself, for nature and for her elders.
6. How to make choices and be prepared for the consequences, whatever they are, without blaming other people or beating up too badly on herself if things don’t go as planned.
7. The importance of taking care of herself — physically with checkups and prevention, yes, but also with a holistic approach to her self-care: Mental, spiritual and emotional.
8. How to forgive herself and other people, because the burden of resentment and unchecked anger will make her miserable and unpleasant.
9. The dreams that she didn’t realize. Not everything we aspire to is going to come to pass and there is mourning for those losses, just like anything else. But learning how to regroup and move on is essential.
10. How to save money, handle credit, pay bills on time and appreciate everything you have, even if it’s not always enough.
11. The fact that morals and manners may not be flashy or sexy, but they are the dividing factor between people with home training and people other folks can’t wait to leave.
12. How to be prepared for the –isms: racism, sexism, classism. Because at least one of them is always going to be a factor, in some way or another.
13. The qualities to look for in a man worth marrying, and the difference between a boo thang and a husband.
14. The importance of family and friends that are like family, because you’re only going to have a limited number of people who are down for you no matter what.