I made a promise to my daughter the day she was born.
As I gazed into my baby girl’s eyes for the very first time, I silently assured her:
I’m going to meet your every need.
In that sacred moment, it felt right to make such a vow. She was so tiny, and I was overwhelmed by a protective instinct so strong, I felt like a combination of Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk.
But if I could go back twenty-seven years and whisper a few words to my new mom self, here’s what I’d say:
No you won’t.
You won’t even come close.
We went home from the hospital the day after Annemarie was born, and oh, how I tried to honor my promise: I’m going to meet your every need.
When she was bored, I tried to be Fun Mom.
When she was sad, I tried to be Nurturing Mom.
When she broke things, I tried to be Fix-It-Fast Mom.
When she couldn’t find things, I tried to be Organized Mom.
If she needed it, I tried hard to be it.
I did a wonderful job of meeting her every need.
But then she turned two days old, and everything went haywire.
The second day after we got home from the hospital, Annemarie was fussy. I fed her. I burped her. I changed her.
I tried singing to her, but that only seemed to make her cry harder.
Finally, exhausted, I handed her over to my mother, expecting (and secretly hoping) that there would be no change.
But the transformation was both instantaneous and dramatic.
Not only did Annemarie stop crying, but as her Nana began to sing, she started to smile.
“It’s just gas,” I said, stunned and a little hurt that my child had calmed right down with someone other than me.
Now, I would love to tell you that this was the moment I recognized that my promise I’m going to meet your every need was unrealistic, foolish, and impossible to fulfill.
Unfortunately, I took it as a challenge.
And I determined to try all the harder to be the one to meet my daughter’s every need.
For the next quarter-of-a-century, I muddled through motherhood, constantly overwhelmed by self-inflicted feelings of colossal failure.
Flash forward 25 years to Annemarie’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Solo Exhibition. She’s drawn large portraits of the twenty key people in her life, each one titled with a single word that defines their connection to her.
I quickly scan the gallery walls for my portrait so I can see what label she gave me. But before I can find mine, I see Aunt Karen’s:
It takes all my willpower not to run to the restroom and burst into tears.
I didn’t get Nurturer.
Which means I didn’t meet my daughter’s need for nurturing.
I tried, by golly, I tried.
But I didn’t even come close.
I’m just not made out of nurturing stuff.
I’m made out of …
I find my portrait and read my label.
… evidently, I’m made out of Writer stuff.
Whatever that even means.
Clearly, Aunt Karen succeeded where I failed.
But what if that’s okay?
The unexpected thought crashes my pity party.
What if she didn’t need me to meet her every need?
I look at my daughter, laughing with guests who are here for her grand opening. She’s all grown up into someone I am so proud to know, let alone share genes with.
What if she just needed me to be me?
I look at the titles of the other portraits:
Mentor … Philosopher … Listener … Challenger …
And suddenly, I am overwhelmed with gratitude toward Aunt Karen and and all the other people who have poured into to my daughter’s life, meeting needs that I never could.
The truth begins to settle into my heart:
She really didn’t need me to meet her every need.
Accepting the Truth
So if you’re a mom who feels like she’s constantly falling short? letting her kids down? never even coming close to meeting all their needs?
Lean in close, and let me whisper this truth to you:
They don’t need you to meet their every need.
They just need you to be you.
Cheri Gregory is a teacher, speaker, author, and Certified Personality Trainer. Her passion is helping women break free from destructive expectations. She writes and speaks from the conviction that “how to” works best in partnership with “heart, too.” Cheri is the co-author, with Kathi Lipp, of The Cure for the “Perfect” Life and Overwhelmed.
Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, her opposite personality, for twenty-eight years and is “Mom” to Annemarie (25) and Jonathon (23), also opposite personalities.
Cheri blogs about perfectionism, people-pleasing, highly sensitive people, and hope at www.cherigregory.com.