It started off very innocently. I was playing bubbles in the backyard with my 4-year-old. She was blowing tiny bubbles while chasing around the larger ones I was trying my best to blow. When she finally caught one of my big bubbles on her little wand, it popped.
Instead of being upset, she exclaimed, “Oh! It left new ‘bubble juice’ in my wand! Now I can blow more bubbles!” And she did. She put that little wand right up to her lips, and new bubbles swirled into the air.
Except, they weren’t exactly new… were they?
The “bubble juice” had come directly from my bubble into my daughter’s wand. And she blew it back out without even thinking about it. This, I thought, is a physical representation of the problem we were troubleshooting the week before.
You see, we had been at a playdate when I overheard from my daughter’s mouth — in the most judgmental way humanly possible — “What are you doing? No. We’re not going to do that.” I was ready to intervene and tell her that wasn’t a kind thing to say when I stopped myself. Because those words sounded very familiar.
In fact, I had said them to her about 20 minutes before when she was trying to put stickers on the window of our van.
Same sharp tone, same judgmental facial expressions, and same pious attitude.
It was like I could see my words traveling — going from my mouth, through her brain, and back out of her mouth without a single hiccup. She wasn’t the one in the wrong, I was. She was simply emulating me.
And it felt like a slap in the face.
When I became a parent, I SWORE up and down to myself that I wouldn’t, under any circumstances, let my words become a weapon that evokes shame. Yet, here I was, standing at someone else’s swingset trying to figure out how on earth we’d gotten to this place.
I had let my feelings get the best of me, and I had taken my anxiety out on her. What I should have said was, “Please don’t put the sticker on the window.” What I did was make her feel shame. Not guilt — straight-up shame. So she took her shame and projected it on someone else.
A tale as old as time.
The past year has been hard on all of us moms. Personally, my child and I have been together every single minute of every single day for the last 16 months. Our patience with each other is sometimes thin, and the truth is, during this time she has seen her mama at her best and at her worst. It’s been hard to hold on to the parenting truths I believe so fervently.
So I took her quietly aside, I gave her a hug, and I told her I was wrong for saying that to her in the car. We decided together that it wasn’t OK for her to say that to someone else, because it could make them feel bad, too. I told her I was sorry, and that mama makes mistakes, too.
My bubbles become her bubbles. How I talk to her is the way she will talk to others. The ways I show her love will become the ways she shows love. The way I talk to her will become her inner voice.