This is my 18th year of motherhood. Imani was born in August of ‘95. From the moment her existence waxed real to me, so did my performance anxiety. It was imperative that I was at my best for her. When she turned into three, through the additions of her sisters, Jasmine and Talia, perfection became my daily mantra.
“Be great. Just be great.”
“Operate in excellence.”
“I cannot fail them.”
“They deserve my best. Give it. Every day.”
“Failure is not an option.”
These statements were my drivers; tattooed on my brain, forcing me to push myself, and others, to what I deemed to be an acceptable level of greatness; albeit unreal at times.
I refused to let my girls see me stumble; I could not let them see me fall.
When Imani was hospitalized, later passing away, my emotion remained buried. It had to be, or so I believed. My performance anxiety created a mask. I kept the tears my soul desperately needed to cry at bay while I plastered on a smile and found words of comfort for whoever needed them most.
As time continued on, trials continued to come. My marriage dissolved, I faced health challenges, lost jobs…friends…lovers. And still I refused to let them see me sweat. I couldn’t break character. I was on stage. I reminded myself that they were always watching, and needed to have my best example. I was their first portrayal of a woman, wife, mother. If I didn’t get it right, I would surely set them up to fail.
But who can live, or thrive, always on - feeling like they are always on? Who can perform well with a continuous expectation of perfection? Was that a healthy example to create for them? Did I want them to believe that strong women didn’t cry or get emotional or feel defeated? Why did I consider stumbling to be synonymous with failure? What sort of people was I attempting to mold and shape them into?! What sort of role model was I?!
I was humbled. And all at once, they fell. And so did I. The tears that I refused to allow down my cheeks at Imani’s bedside and graveside were finally given permission to fall. The despair and uncertainty that kept me up nights during my 18 months of unemployment was revealed. The disappointment, hurt, and regret over my failed attempts at marriage and love rushed to the surface. My displeasure with my weight and self-image, as well as the insecurity it created in me bubbled to the surface.
And I let my children see. I thought that the chinks in my armor would make them think less of me. I thought that they wouldn’t feel I was a good mom or that they wouldn’t understand…
They surprised me.
The breathed a sigh of relief. And they embraced me. And, instead of being marred by my many mistakes, I shone even brighter in their eyes.
They told me that they couldn’t ask for a better mom. They expressed how proud they are of me, how much I inspire them. They told me how much it means to them to know that I’m not perfect, that I don’t expect them to be perfect either. My imperfections didn’t make me ugly in their eyes; they enhanced my beauty.
You see, my performance anxiety was of my own creation. In permitting them to see me stumble, I actually taught them courage, resilience.
Not every detail of my journey was made known to them, yet the things that I was transparent about offered them comfort. Every day they witness me striving to present life, myself, and them with the best version of me though I have countless reasons to want to quit. My resolve encourages them. Now when they want to throw in the towel, they can reflect on my example and go harder with the assurance that their diligence and good faith will be rewarded. My love for them is apparent and appreciated.
They continue to teach me the true meaning of love. Every day, when the hair comes down, makeup, shoes, and suit comes off - they still love me! Just as I am. They make every grueling work day worth it. Every sacrifice becomes the very least that I can do.
That performance anxiety has faded. With God at the helm and love in my heart, I just live each day with rich appreciation. And my girls…I teach them to do the same. I don’t just provide for them & rattle off a litany of life lessons and rules for them to adhere to. I love them. I nurture our relationship. I listen when they speak. I value them. I invest in them. I spend time with them. We celebrate each other’s successes. We work to help strengthen each other’s flaws. We’re family.
I’m not on stage. I’m not a performer. I’m a mom. I don’t have to be perfect. I just need to love them with all that I have and while I still rely on my mantras, I’ve added one more:
“The failure isn’t in falling and allowing your struggle to be seen. Failure is falling and refusing to get up.”