With a look of absolute horror in her rich, mahogany-colored eyes, my 13-year-old daughter Lauren stared at me, mouth wide open.
“You’re not going looking like that, are you?”
The year was 1998, and my precious baby girl was not happy. Apparently, she deemed my look inappropriate for her confirmation at St. Simon Parish.
Turning back to the mirror, I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. My hair was styled to perfection and my makeup understated. My dangling earrings definitely made a fashion statement but weren’t over the top, and my sleeveless sheath dress hit just above the knee. Not too short, not too long. I thought I looked amazing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, fearful of the answer.
“Your outfit is orange! Why can’t you dress like all the other mothers?” she shouted. “You look like a Spice Girl.”
While my children occasionally had labels for me, including “annoying,” “embarrassing” and “dumb,” “tasteless” was never one of them. Still not understanding the problem, as I’d worn the dress several times before, I decided to put up a fight: “Lauren, this is fine.”
“No it’s not, Mom! It’ll clash in the pictures with our red gowns,” she said.
Because of my inability to handle criticism well, I looked at my child and internalized once again that I’d failed as a mother. Dejected, I returned to my closet for a different choice.
Like many parents of my generation, for the past 32 years I’ve been surrounded by four self-designated faultfinders when it came to my appearance, my views, even my emotions. But because I raised them to be independent thinkers, I’ve tried to be open to their words of advice, despite the fact that I’m often left wondering how I ever made it in the world before they were born.
Parenting has never been an easy task, partially because we want to be the ones in charge and ultimately right. I know with my own parents, while they were hands-on and loving, they weren’t always receptive to my point of view if it didn’t coincide with theirs. I was forever the child and they the parents, even at the age of 60.
But as my kids began to grow and evolve through their higher education, I realized how incredibly wise this Gen Y and Millennium Generation is. They’re not labeled the “smartest generation” for nothing. Deciding to stop pulling the shade over my fragile emotions as a defense mechanism, I chose to start listening. It wasn’t long before I came to understand that their comments were coming from a place of love. They weren’t attacking me as a person, but providing new thought to some of my bad habits or occasional twisted ways of thinking.
Learning to be open to criticism has never been easy. I find it leaves me vulnerable, as I’m forced to deal with my oversensitive ego. But when I do allow the feedback to penetrate, it’s as if I’m able to look through a telescopic lens to parts of my life I once neglected or subconsciously refused to investigate.
So, kids, bring it on. I may not always agree with you, and I may temporarily get weepy (old ghosts have a way of resurfacing when you least suspect it), but you’re helping this old dog to continually learn to open new doors. I know I survived long before you were born, but now I thrive.
Oh, and, by the way, Lauren, I may have never told you, but you were right. The blue dress was a much better choice for those pictures.