Mirror Moments: How Children Teach Us About Ourselves
When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband and I often had conversations about all the things we wanted to teach him. Never did I consider how much he would teach me about myself. My first mirror moment is forever imprinted in my mind. My eldest was 3 and he was sitting at the table working on some kind of project. I recall him coloring with magic markers, but it could have been something else. I was a few feet away next to the kitchen island wearing my spotless Williams-Sonoma apron, working on a lattice-top pie crust with a decorative braid around the edge. Suddenly he burst into tears and cried, “It’s not perfect!” He threw his head down onto his folded arms and continued to sob.
I stood in silence with my mouth agape. Where did he learn that? Certainly, I had never said that word before.
I tried to comfort him and point out that he worked hard on his drawing and it was well done. He didn’t budge and when I glanced up all I could see was that pie…gleaming with an egg white wash, made from scratch out of the finest ingredients, truly magazine worthy. It was, gulp, perfect. My own personal perfect hell had spilled out onto my happy, sweet boy. I looked at him again. This time the mirror was blinding. It was a pivotal moment. Life changing. Self-awareness to the fullest degree.
I walked over to the pie. All I saw was anxiety, negative self-talk, judgement. It was hideous. I pulled off the braid and all the delicate lattice work and smooshed it into a ball and tossed it into the trash. I grabbed flour and brown sugar from the cupboard and softened a stick of butter in the microwave. I threw it all into a bowl and sat down next to my son and asked him if he wanted to help make the crust. He looked up at me surprised, “You want me to help you cook?” We used our hands to mix the squishy butter with the dry ingredients and then we stood on a bench and pretended like the crumbles were raindrops falling from the sky. The first time the crumbles fell outside the pie dish he gazed at me questioningly. I smiled and we began to turn the rain into a thunderstorm.
Some areas of the pie had no crumbles, others had mountains. Old me would have smoothed out the top in a perfectly even distribution. New me had no desire to do it. None. When I pulled it out of the oven and set it on the counter, I lifted him up so he could sit next to it. He looked down at it full of pride with a grin from ear to ear and said, “We made a pie, mommy. It looks SO good!”
Just think… I almost missed that moment.
Our children reflect mirror moments all the time. They are often subtle, hard to pick up on. Positive ones are a bit easier. We like to feel good about ourselves and point out when our child shares a pleasant personality trait. Parenting is often thankless hard work and we revel in reaping the rewards of all the little back-patting moments.
Areas of ourselves that we still need to work on sting when we realize our child has internalized them as their own. We become disillusioned with our ability to ‘hide’ our ugly quirks and insecurities. But, if you are brave enough, humble enough, accepting of change…those moments can be a powerful motivator for self-improvement. I will always be grateful to my son. My precious, sensitive son who is now six. He released me from the tight binds of perfectionism and we both have been living happily imperfect ever since.
I would love to hear your mirror moment stories.