Raising Girls part 4 or Things I’m Afraid to Tell you

May 3, 2012 |  Category:   favorite posts life me parenting rambling

This post is part of an effort organized by Ez from Creature Comforts encouraging bloggers to open up today and write something about themselves that they might not normally share with their readers (head over to her site to see a list of participating blogs). It probably won’t come as any surprise that I wholeheartedly support more of this openness and it harks back to that post earlier this week about shutting out some of this internet chatter because it’s become so unrealistic to measure ourselves against everything and everyone out there. I remember talking once with a very talented designer whose work I really admired. You know, the kind of person who seemed like creative ideas just came easily and quickly to her, only to discover when she confided in me that she was really insecure and had debilitating anxiety before design projects. Man, I could totally relate to that. But I think back to that conversation often because it reminds me that there’s always more to any carefully crafted veneer than we think we might see.

So the thing that I want to share with you today is that sometimes I have doubts about whether or not I’m being a good mom. It’s not that I think I’m a bad mom by any means, but as the girls get older and their needs get more complex, I worry that I’m not capable of handling any sort of emotional crises, should they arise. I feel like I knew how to take care of babies; their needs were a little more basic, but with girls who will soon be entering into adolescence, then preteen, then teenage years and beyond, the responsibility of raising them to be confident little ladies while acting as their centered, supportive anchor seems overwhelming right now. Sometimes I feel like it’s just an illusion to think that I can raise them right when I battle all kinds of demons like insecurity and bouts of depression myself. To dispense any sort of advice on potential problems with their peers, with school, with relationships, or with their self esteem seems incongruous when I am still trying to figure all of this out myself. I know that we don’t have to have all the answers, that it’s impossible to have all the answers. I know that as a family unit we need to figure things out as life plays along. I just don’t want to look back and feel like I failed as a parent or to feel like I’m living some sort of contradiction where I can’t follow any of the advice myself that sometimes comes out of my mouth.

This never felt more true than last week when an issue arose with one of the girls. I felt like I was in over my head, that it wasn’t something I had any answers for. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and that I hadn’t paid enough attention. In the end I think things will be ok, but I did find myself in a little panic wondering how I’d be able to handle anything big. It made me think back to when I was a kid and how my mother might have felt when she was faced with certain issues that were going on with me, all the while battling her own demons and life problems. As a kid, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on with her until much later because she was always just “mom” and not necessarily a “person”, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the duality of some of these shared childhood experiences, but from a mother’s point of view now that I’m on the other side. How would I emotionally handle, for example, if it was my daughter who was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to wear an uncomfortable, ugly plastic brace for all of her teenage years and deal with doctor appointments all the way in the Bronx to get x-rayed every month for 5+ years? I know how I felt going through that as a kid. I was angry and insecure and anxiety ridden, but I never really thought about how hard that must have been on my mother as well, and I am deathly afraid that since it is hereditary I will need to relive this all over again from the other side. My mom later told me that she cried a lot during those years, but at the time I never knew. In my eyes, she was just being my mom.

I’ve been thinking too about my short-lived, but very intense bout with an eating disorder I had when I was 18. I think for me it was a rather atypical case of anorexia as it had less to do with body dysmorphic disorder and everything to do with feeling like I was in control of something when life seemed out of control the summer I graduated from high school. From an outsider it may have seemed that I had everything going for me at that point in my life and I had attained pretty much every goal that I had set as a high school senior. But when school ended and I was faced with the daunting prospect of starting over at a new prestigious art school, I was lost and scared and all of those achievements felt empty when there were still issues I hadn’t dealt with. I was scared of failure before I even started. I needed something new to focus on. Unfortunately it channeled itself into a very unhealthy manifestation, but the challenge of seeing how far I could go without anyone noticing became far too tempting to stop. But of course my mom did eventually notice. I think back now to how desperate she must have felt, how alone and scared and in over her head. How could you not think that you failed as a parent on some level when you first realize that your kid is starving herself? I don’t think you can. My mom thinks that it was God who saved me, from all her prayers, but I don’t really believe that. It was the moment when she handed me the phone to talk to a doctor, who told me that I was at a dangerous weight (I had dropped to 89 pounds at that point. I am 5’6″ for reference) and that if I didn’t start eating I would have to be committed. It was again that threat of losing control that scared me back into eating and realizing for the first time the severity of what I was doing and that I was not only ruining my life, but also my mother’s. I gained back the 20 pounds that I lost that summer in 3 weeks.

I may experience moments of desperation like these with my daughters – or I may not. It remains to be seen. Sometimes I feel like my life with them has really just started, that we have a long road ahead that doesn’t just stop when they move out of the house. Although some days I may not feel it, I have to trust that I’ll know what to do when the time comes. I also hope that I have the courage like my mother to let go of my kids like she did when I left home freshman year. She hated those years I traveled around the country in a car and hung out with what she probably thought was the “wrong crowd” and was out of touch for months not knowing where or what I was doing. But she didn’t stop me, and while it was exasperating during those years when I thought she just “doesn’t understand”, I hope she understands now that those were the years that really did save me.

I’m thinking about all of this now, particularly that really hard summer because it has so much to do with preserving and keeping up that perfect veneer. I couldn’t sustain that in high school. I tried and I cracked, so I certainly make no attempts to depict any sort of perfect life now. While sharing your life so openly is not comfortable for everyone, I applaud all the bloggers who are participating in Things I’m Afraid To Tell You today. I think we could use a little more realness. Let me end by saying one more thing I’m afraid to tell you. It isn’t easy pressing that publish button on posts like these. I wouldn’t publish something that I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing by any means, but it still isn’t easy. As much as I don’t want to admit it to myself, I still care what other people think. Probably more than I should.

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  • Annie From Seattle May 4, 2012 at 1:00 am


  • mb May 4, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Thanks for this. I’ve read some of the other bloggers posts and I find this really inspiring~

    I just wanted to let you know that I never get a feeling of falseness or veneer from your blog. You write so eloquently and openly about what I think are universal concerns, and that is why I keep coming back. I think so many of us as mothers second guess ourselves.

    Somehow I think that bad week(s) that everyone seemed to have early has turned into something good~ for me too.

  • mb May 4, 2012 at 4:35 am

    (Yikes- I’m not even sure that last sentence made any sense at all…I won’t even try to rephrase!)

  • Cristina May 4, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Hi Jenna, I can totally relate to what you write. Being a mother of two: a boy of 11 and a girl of 4, I find raising my little girl far easier than the boy, who is now a preadolescent. Sometimes I really feel I don’t have a clue of what he’s thinking and what I could say to guide him well. Also, There wasn’t much communication in my family when I was a kid, and I’ve always thought many problems derived from that, so I’ve always taught my boy to speak freely and…well he does use that priviledge!! So, we have a lot of talking and getting angry and almost slamming doors and I must admit I punctually wonder at those moments: am I getting this right? Am I complety wrong? Luckily, I’ve doing a personal analysis ever since one year and a half, in order to sort childhood stuff and my therapist always points out that this beahaviour is not a bad sign: I’ve taught my son to speak his mind, he does. It’s not pleasant, but it’s sain. It also means that, far all he’s mad at me sometimes, he knows he can “allow” himself to be true and to criticize us, that I might respond and get mad in return, but that..It’s not the end of the world; we’re communicating, it’s not deathly, we will all be just as well, or better let’s hope, afterwards. For someone like me, who was raised never to say unplolite things etc. it’s a huge lesson. Therefore, I feel I’m in a journey with him, and with my daughter in a few years, that I’ve chosen, but which leads on unknow grounds, where each step is questioning. So, it feels good to know that I’m not alone, that there are so many other parents out there who try their best and sometimes understand they were wrong, so try again differently and so on and so on..
    And cheers to you and the blogmates for this initiative. I’ve never had this feeling reading your post, as I always find you pretty honest, but one can sometimes get the feeling that bloggers are describing just a tiny portion of their lives as if it was the whole of it.

  • Rhianne May 4, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Wow, this is an amazing post. As I’m getting older and my parents start expecting me and my sister to have children, I’ve thought about all the things I hated and how I’d have to go through it again with my children but being ‘the Mum’ and I am always filled with an awe for my Mum and how she put up with me and all the things I must have made difficult for her.

    I’m honestly a little in awe of you too – I think that the fact you do think about these things is a good thing. Being a parent terrifies me but I would much prefer to over think and then know that I’m doing the best that I can in the long run rather than to blunder in head first and mess it all up, if that makes sense.

    You’ve given me a lot to think about and thank you so much for sharing – we all care about what people think, especially our peers, but I don’t think you perhaps need to worry as much as you do x

  • amy May 4, 2012 at 7:24 am

    you are so very brave!!! thank you so much for sharing your amazing story – i am very sure you will be just fine if your girls come across difficult times! you ARE a great mother!!! xx

  • wendy May 4, 2012 at 7:31 am

    jenna, thank you for sharing. i always appreciate reading your posts because they are so honest and refreshing. we’re all human and life is never just one way or another. xoxo.

  • Tamara May 4, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Thanks for sharing, Jenna! I enjoy reading your blog so much more than most others. You don’t just show us beautiful pictures but write honestly about real life. It’s inspiring and encouraging!

  • tina May 4, 2012 at 8:20 am

    Jenna, As a parent I have those same thoughts (and many more) all the time, every day, since my son was born three years ago. Sometimes, it is exhausting. I worry, and worry and then I worry a little more about the future. To be honest with you, most of the time I feel like I am the only one, so reading your post is just such a big relieve not just because of the post itself but also because of all the great messages from other parents you got back. Thanks for sharing this and thank you for teaching us/ME to be brave and just open up about our fears as a parents, that makes us more real, more humans. Thanks to all these ladies as well it makes me feel like we are all connected in this quest: being the best parent possible. I really admire your honesty, that is one amazing quality you have. xo

  • RebeccaNYC May 4, 2012 at 8:23 am

    I guess one key to success with our children is spending time on our own needs.

    One of my good friends has a child with a dreadful disease that is turning her muscle mass into bone (FOP). She works very hard to make sure her own head is in a good place, and spends time on her own interests. Some might think this is selfish, that every waking moment must be spent caring for her daughters needs, but she sees it differently…its sort of like when they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.

    Excellent post, as always.

  • Susan May 4, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Thank you for being so brave & transparent Jenna, as always. I shared my concerns about becoming a mother on mine, and so it seems the fear about being a good mom never ceases, huh?! Understandable, for those os us who are so introspective and self aware. xo

  • MCC May 4, 2012 at 11:10 am

    So honest. Yet again, you articulate concerns that I think everyone of us shares…. some of us just less able to find the words.

    The post is timely too since I’m 31 and just this week have been going through a very serious medical scare. We’ve always been fortunate and have had very good health in our family. With my most recent news, my mother just didn’t know how to cope. She withdrew, thinking that she was doing the right thing and giving my husband and I space, when really — even as a 31 year old independent adult I desperately, for the first time in years, ….wanted my mom. I was hurt by her lack of compassion but ended up having a long talk with her about it (openness can be awkward and not my family’s specialty) but I’m so glad we talked… It made me realize, she’s a mom but she’s not super-woman. She misjudged. She doesn’t know all the answers… She’s 65 and this was her first real time having to mother a “child” with a serious diagnosis. It’s new ground for her too.

    I honestly believe that the key to families is forgiveness. Nobody is perfect – not the parents, nor the child. Luckily, most of us have parents who love us and their intentions are to only do what’s best for us. Is this always perfect, no. Do they make mistakes or bad judgements, yes. Will we make mistakes with our own children too, yes. But none of us are perfect. We can try to improve and just love our kids…

    It’s easy to overanalyze, especially with girls. But I think generations and generations have struggled with the same dilemma. You seem like an unbelievably great mom. Sure, you know your own insecurities but your girls just see you as mom – the person who loves them unconditionally and wants only the best. They feel that more than you even know.

    Sorry for my long-windedness and this being a bit incoherent. I just think that you’re right – being a mom is a job that never does end and like anything else, there are cycles. Some years are easier, some moments might be insanely difficult and impossible to prepare for. But none of us know our own strength until we’re faced with a moment where we need it…. I’ve found peace in that.

    You’re doing a great job.

  • Jenna May 4, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Hi everyone. I want to thank you all again, for taking the time to comment and share your stories. I have read each comment and plant to read them again as they have been so helpful. Thank you all! I am so very appreciative of you.

  • kim May 4, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Thank you Jenna for sharing such intimate thoughts/events with your readers. I think for women, developing an eating disorder is so easy, fast, and dangerous, it’s unbelievable. I, myself, dealt with a similar situation last year. But with the help of some very observant friends, I was able to overcome it. I’m so glad you are in a better place now and I think you’re a great mother and designer 🙂

  • Jen May 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I just continue to be glad that life dishes it out in little increments. Even the big and scary news of learning at my daughter’s 18 month well-visit, that my genes passed down scoliosis to my sweet daughter, with a curve worst than our family had seen in two generations.

    I wore that same ugly and barbaric plastic + metal brace throughout my entire pre- and teen years. It’s amazing the perspective that I have with her as a result, and the powerful healing it is bringing to our family could in no other way be orchestrated. My father lost his kid brother due to surgery complications [for scoliosis] as a teenager. I’ve never seen him so compassionately devoted to a person as he is to my daughter. He is her biggest fighter.

    Thanks for putting this post out there.

  • Heather May 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Jenna – Thanks for being so honest. I love looking at blogs, but sometimes I find myself feeling so overwhelmed by how it looks as if everyone’s life is so perfect and flawless. Posts like these bring it back to reality and also inspire me to be more honest and sincere in how I present myself. Also, I’m totally scared of having a girl for those reasons too!

  • Amanda May 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I have been thinking a lot lately about how damaging I think the online blog/facebook culture is, especially to women, because of how carefully people construct their images. It is so easy to feel inferior. I really appreciate blogs like yours that are not just veneer. I always find something worth thinking about here.

  • mette / ungt blod May 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Jenna, your blog always help keep the internet real! Your honesty and observations are always so spot on, so thank you for keeping it real 🙂

    I wrote some of my thoughts on the whole reality vs. blog issue too. It is something that is often on my mind

  • Jennelle May 4, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I hope you’re not yet tired of hearing this, but thank you so much for sharing! Much of what you have talked about here I certainly relate to (eating disorder, bouts with depression etc).

    As far as parenting goes, my biggest challenge is raising my 3 and 5 year old to be self-confident and happy individuals. Especially when those are things I still struggle with as an adult. I googled around and I found this: http://healthcompareguide.com/617/15-ways-to-raise-confident-happy-children/ – maybe it will be useful to someone.

  • Mrs. Kinne May 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Thank you for being willing to put this out there. Also, my husband and I found out that we are having a baby girl, and it is nice to know that my insecurities and fears are shared.

  • Amber @ Backwards Life May 5, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Thank you for sharing! Your daughters are lucky to have a mother who is so in touch with her own childhood and teen frustrations. You remember how hard it was. I think you’ll be tuned in to your girls’ emotions more so because of that.

    I hope I learned from my own history as well for my daughters.

  • Robin May 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Jenna, I’ve been reading your blog just over a year. As an overly reserved person, I of course never had the guts to comment, but this particular post pushed me out of my hesitation. Your writing is so honest and beautiful. Thank you for sharing these deep, vulnerable thoughts and concerns. They resonate with the rest of us more than you know.

  • Alex May 6, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Jenna, I read your blog every day because I have always found it to be honest. It is one of the reasons I find it so enjoyable. I am so amazed by all of the things you have shared on the blog, about being a mother, about money (and being the breadwinner), about your apartment and your life in NYC. It is always inspirational and inspires me to be more real with people. Thank you.

  • Karen May 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Haters are gonna hate, but don’t worry about them. A lot of people, including myself, really enjoy your posts and think you’re wonderful. 😉

  • Summer May 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    I always think you post honestly here! Thank you for sharing. The reasons you have listed is why I don’t want to be a parent (so scary!). Especially regarding girls….while I am a heterosexual, relatively well-adjusted female, I think being a woman is, well, the worst thing that can happen to a person. All the pressure!!!!

  • Vivenne May 8, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Thank you so much for being totally honest. As a mother I feel those burdening worries too. And like you I sometimes suffer from insecurity and depression. And I can be painfully hard on myself. It all sounds so heavy! I often times think “Am I alone in these thoughts? Everyone else looks so perfect.” Of course I can’t be the only one. Thank you for reaffirming that.

  • Kim May 10, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Jenna, thank you so much for this. I don’t have children, but my sister has 4 young daughters. I always enjoy reading your posts about raising your girls. I’m so glad you decided to participate in this. You & Ez inspired me to write & publish my own “Things I’m Afraid To Tell You”. Thank you!


  • simply stork May 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    oh how lovely to leave this post for your daughters…they will one day learn from this honesty…wonderful job mom


  • Zoe May 28, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I really admire you and the way you share yourself on this blog.

  • Julia May 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I’m (only) 21 but (somehow) a lot of this resonates with me…

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