Our children must appear perfect in the eyes of those we presume to be looking. Any flaw of grade, of performance reflects darkly on the mother. Always she. Isolated and alone is the modern mother hovering over her child’s every breath as if to dictate their inhale and exhale and capture it on film and image for posting for public approval. Angle the bow just so. Hold the trophy up and show off your perfect white straight teeth. Push, persevere, excel, child for failure is not acceptable.

I was bubble wrap for my daughter and just as quick to rip it off and push her to stand in the current of life, letting it sweep her up in its chaos of schooling, socializing, loudness, and unpredictability. I was also there to pull her out when we’d both had enough. Then I’d squirrel us way in our nest of home away from the judging eyes.

To have a child with exceptional needs, a brain that is wired differently, leaves a mother to wrestle the demon of guilt for always. For always she thinks she should have done more, could do more. That this diagnosis is somehow reversible, tamable, but in fact you learn it is an unwelcome monstrous guest that is never going to leave. No shining trophies, no accolades of her greatness, no perfect anything for those anticipating that outcome. Yet, she is brilliant in a world that forces us into a box when so many of us are another shape all together, and thank god for that. Those who are all together more brave and chaotic, and messy, and so very unconventional and yet, isn’t that where invention is birthed from?

A child needs space to fall down and bleed with no band-aid. A child needs to know you trust them as they navigate the world with first steps and first attempts. A child needs access to nature so they can feel dirt, taste wind, kiss flowers, and climb trees with no one documenting any of it to prove your worth as a mother. Just love them and hold them but remember to push your child to walk on their own into the current of life and walk away trusting they will find their way home. The rise of anxiety in children and teens is systemic of too much hovering and not enough space, of demands and expectations that are too intense. Let your child have their own journey in their own perfectly imperfect way that works great just for the shape they fit in best.

And moms, and dads too, you do more for your children by giving them the tools of compassion, patience, integrity, and good values to go into the world without you knowing your love and trust will sustain them both when they screw up and when they excel. I often say, my child is of me but she is not me, and that is my way of recognizing her individuality, her own humanness born of me but not me. Now 20 years old, people ask what she is doing and my answer is simple, “She’s figuring herself out.”