(The introduction for each of these Group 9 blogs will be the same…if you’ve already read it, feel free to skip down to Caitie’s & Liz’s stories…if not, Melissa’s & Lily’s stories can be found here)
“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”
Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.
This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion involved this night was the most intense of any yet.
Why? Because being a mom is an emotional roller-coaster that none of us are really fully prepared for. And most of the time, we’re not all talking about the tougher side of motherhood.
We’re not talking about how much anxiety it can cause.
How isolating it can often be.
We’re not talking about how sometimes being a mom fucking sucks.
How much we question every. single. step. that we take.
We talked this night about all of it. We talked about the mistakes we’ve made. We talked about where we think we may have done things right. We talked about so many things.
***The mom with the son and daughter whom she feels she’s failed. She never wanted kids anyway…is that wrong?? Is it wrong to vocalize??
***The mom who had to work full-time to support her alcoholic, drug-abusing husband, who had to leave their daughter there to care for him at these times because there seemed to be no other option. Who watched her daughter not get to experience a real childhood…did she totally screw up?? Will her daughter be okay??
***The mom who has always cared too much about others’ feelings toward her, who feels she has set a bad example for her teen daughter, especially in respect to men. Who became a victim of abuse and stayed…did she completely fail her daughter with that example, even though she finally left?? Will her daughter make the same mistakes??
***The mom who experienced tragedy and powered through, seemingly stoic. Who has always been the pillar, the strong one on the outside…should she have shared more?? Should she have cried in the open more??
***The mom who never feels like she’s enough, who has also experienced tragedy and loss you and I could not imagine experiencing. Has she been too emotional?? Is she setting the right example??
***The mom who felt like a huge failure simply from stepping into that role too young, who is always trying to live up to expectations of someone she’ll never be able to actually get approval from. Is he proud of her?? Did she work hard enough??
I promise you that you will relate to at least one of these stories.
We all seem to have these thoughts running through our heads. We compare ourselves to everyone else. There are often overwhelming feelings that the other moms are, simply, just doing it better. ‘They’re not possibly almost losing their shit as we feel like we are…they’ve got it together. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?!’
And then you sit down and talk to a few of them and there’s a big “A-HA!” moment – we’re all the same. We’re scared. We’re exhausted. We’re scraping by. We’re overwhelmed. We’re insecure. We’re desperate for some validation that we’re each doing, at least, ‘alright’.
This particular group came about because, not just do we need some solidarity as moms, but, we need some as moms raising daughters. The mother-daughter dynamic is one of the most influential (and just happens to be the one we’re talking about this time). Our daughters most often learn from us what it means to be a woman. A father can see his daughter as separate from himself, but, this can be much more difficult for a mother. In my own experience, my mothering of my daughter versus my son differs in ways I often wish it wouldn’t. Affection comes much easier with my son, especially now that my daughter is a teenager. Do I think this is because of my own relationship, or lack thereof, with my own mother growing up (more on that and the mother/daughter dynamic here)? Because of the lack of affection that went on in my own childhood home? Definitely. I often simply do not know how to show affection to my daughter. It feels so foreign. And it KILLS ME. It’s the number one thing I wish I could change in our relationship. I am her biggest cheerleader and her main advocate in all things – I will take on the world for/with her, but it’s difficult to give her a hug. WHAT?! Crazy, I know. Which is why I had my daughter (14) join us this evening as well. We could relate to so much of what was said. We needed to talk this stuff through also.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the similarities in insecurities between the mothers and daughters. I watched the pattern as all of their write-ups came through to me in the days before…and it made me cry. We pass these things on to our daughters (maybe our sons, too. probably our sons, too.) without even realizing it. It’s devastating. The recognition on each of these moms’ faces when realizing how similar their daughters’ insecurities are to theirs…it was a very shocking and enlightening moment. A teaching moment. Where maybe we didn’t realize this before…we thought we weren’t vocalizing these things…if we’re not vocalizing them, it’s okay, right?? Seems to be wrong. We, as their moms, are the number one influence on how our daughters feel about themselves. Our kids are sponges, not just of our words, but, most definitely of our actions. And, really, not all of this can be helped. We can’t just be these super shiny examples of doing everything perfectly, that’s just not realistic. But, we can be aware. This made us aware. I know it taught me to share. I already share quite a bit and try to do so at appropriate times with my daughter, regarding different experiences in life, but, it was emphasized even more to me how important it is. Being “real”, being honest, is vital.
I’m breaking this group up into blogs of each mother/daughter duo (or grandma/mother/daughter trio, in one case) in the order of the evening, for the sake of telling each of their stories in a less overwhelming package. The most important things that were said this evening were the things said in-between what had been written. There was so much conversation that went into much more detail. So, I will be including a bit of that with each mother/daughter story. Hopefully, this will give each woman the chance she deserves to have her experience told…as a mother…as a daughter…together.
(links to previous groups can be found at the bottom of the page)
Liz & Caitie
Caitie ~ “Being in 8th grade, at a rich private school, while on a scholarship can be very difficult. I accepted a scholarship and started attending (name omitted for privacy) school this year. This was a big change in my life that I am still struggling with today. I always feel compared to the other girls in ways of money, looks, and many more things. But one thing in particular that always gets me down is how I look. I have transformed SO much in the past two years. I have lost over 40 pounds, I have gotten contacts and my braces off, I have grown taller, I have grown more mature. Even through this transformation, I have gained confidence, but I still don’t have as much as I should. Everyday I look at myself in the mirror and say: “You aren’t good enough. You are too fat and ugly to be loved.” I think, “People should pick on you at school; you deserve it. You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.” Some days I don’t want to eat because I want to be skinny. This is not how I want to live my teenage years. I need to have better friends in my life, and find good people to surround myself with more often. I need a change.”
Caitie’s friends and family –
I’ve know you for a long time and Girl Scouts was a great time for us, and a great time for me to make a new friend. That friend was you – a quirky, fun, caring, and most definitely outgoing girl! I’ve had lots of good memories with you and I hope we can always make more! I admire your snappy attitude and your way of entertaining and interacting with people. You’re an all around nice, talented and smart girl. I hope we can stay friends and I hope you stay just the way you are.
Paige 🙂 “
“Caitlin, you’ve been my friend for many years and I’m very thankful for that. Even through our ups and downs you’ve proven to me that you’re a strong, inspiring, beautiful girl that never gives up. You’re a fighter, who will push through anything that stands in your way of your dreams and will do anything for anyone no matter what. Never be insecure about who you are. And don’t ever change to be someone else. I love you for YOU ❤ “ – Isa
“Caitlin is a smart, honest, fun, outgoing girl. I have always loved being around my best friend, but she is not really my best friend…she’s more like my SISTER! I love her so much and don’t know what my life would be like without her. It’s hard to have a long-distance friendship but if you have to, it can work out in your favor.” – Hailey
You are very funny. You have always been a good friend to me and helped me through any problems I have had. I am very happy I can count on you and you’ll be there because that is what friends are supposed to do. You are very independent and a strong person who has been through a lot but you still keep your head up and a smile on your face.
“My lovely daughter. You amaze me. I see more and more glimpses of the young adult you are growing into and it makes me so excited. I know you still are holding onto being a kid, but know you will always be my kid. You are so beautiful, so funny, so strong. I love your voice, your courage – you are a natural leader and watching you find that and practice it is amazing. I’m proud to be your mama. Your growing into your own skin, and I truly believe these next 4 years will be memorable and positive for you. Be confident to be who you ARE. You are awesome baby boo. Don’t lose sight on you. Love you kiddo.” – Liz
After I take her photo, Caitie goes onto elaborate on her insecurity:
Caitie: “I’ve had troubles in the last couple of years or so with self-harm. I told my new friend at school about it. The day of graduation there was a big sleepover that I wasn’t invited to, for all the girls in my class. That girl called me from there to ask me if I was okay because they didn’t want me to cut myself again. I could hear a bunch of girls laughing in the background…”
Me: “because she shared it with them?”
Caitie: “Yeah, I trusted her with my big secrets and she told everyone. That was really hard for me…I’ve always wanted to be friends with her…one day she shared with me that she used to try to be mean to me to get me to not hang out with her anymore. It was really hard to hear – whenever she would say something mean to me or make fun of me in front of people to try to be funny or make herself look cool, I would just try to not let it get to me because I was afraid of being alone…I try to tell myself, “Why would you want these people as friends? They don’t deserve your friendship.” But, it’s hard to love yourself.”
We go on to discuss how she ended up in this situation at this private school…
Caitie: “We moved here at a time when so much was going on…my grandpa died, my dog died, my parents were getting divorced…everything happened at once, so we moved up here and I knew nobody.”
She and her mom, Liz, go on to speak about the difference in environment. How friendships came easily to Caitie in her former school, but, now that she was starting over, it was much more difficult. How hard it is to insert yourself into a new school where these kids have all grown up together, where they already have a tight bond and an already established clique. Most have been raised together since they were about three years old. They also are, for the most part, used to a different standard of living.
Caitie goes on to explain: “The worst part is that I think they didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong…When I was a kid, I didn’t really get to have a childhood because my dad did a lot of stuff that was bad and I had to take care of him and stuff and wasn’t able to be a kid. So, now I’m going through the bullying stuff and not having the same experiences as other kids is really hard. I try not to show that kind of stuff because I have different problems than they do. They complain about not getting enough money, not getting as much as they want for allowance, and I’m over here having serious trouble with my family…they don’t understand. And all of my good friends are in Vancouver.”
We go on to discuss how that likely isn’t the case – it’s not that these other kids have perfect lives, it’s just that maybe they’ve been raised to live under this guise of perfection. Hiding the real problems that may be happening at home. Smoke and mirrors. Not everything is always as it appears.
I’ll go into more on all of this after Liz’s story, as Liz and Caitie’s stories are obviously intertwined…
Liz – “Insecure. Fear. Unloved. Alone. Unworthy. Judged. Not good enough. Needy. Spoiled. Questioning. Question my motives, question my instincts, question my abilities. Not a lack of confidence, but a doubt. A small seed of doubt. Haunting doubt. Shadow of a doubt. Doubt about my choices, my strength, my abilities, my motives. My negative shadow of self-doubt. How can I trust even myself? Fixer. People pleaser – I have sacrificed my own self to fill the doubt and that didn’t work.
Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of ME. My desires, my hopes, my values, my instincts, all put aside for others for so long. Lost sight of ME – now I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Who am I and what am I about? What IS my path? Forgotten. Question everything. Am I ok? Am I a good mom? Am I worth loving? Am I someone I would want to be around? How do I create the strong, confident, balanced woman I want to be? Where do I go from here? There is a blind faith for me to be on this path. I can’t see the end of the path – but I have to trust I am finally on the RIGHT path. My reward will to be able to see someone in the mirror that I respect, someone I would want to be by my side. Someone to be proud of. I want to belong in my own skin. I want to define – shine light on – my path. Without the doubt. The doubt can stay behind.”
Liz’s friends and family –
“Elizabeth is extremely kind and giving. In some ways almost to a fault. But nevertheless it is today and what she is doing for her family now. I believe she is a forward-looking and competitive person, making today and tomorrow the best of days. She understands support and the priority of family and the responsibility of providing a nurturing and giving environment to a daughter.
She has an artistic sense and the ability see a job and produce a creative outcome. Also the organizational ability to multitask, all of theses attributes are characteristic of her parental influence.
Lastly she is a beautiful woman, who is kind and loving.” – Jack
“I love how positive she is and how smart she is…she is the total package in my life. She has been through hell and back and has made it out to a better life and continues to strive for more out of life…she isn’t narrow-viewed or close-minded and all of this in this day and age is rare.” – Adam
“Liz is a tremendously loyal, compassionate woman who is able to organize and take charge of items that require decisive leadership. Always willing and able to put in some elbow grease.
Unique, and appreciates diversity- non-judgmental.” – Eric
“Oh, my beautiful, amazing, and talented Lizzy…. The strongest woman I know. And I’m blessed to have you as my best friend. I admire your drive- when you set your mind to it- watch out world! The love and support you give, not just to your family and friends, but also to the people you don’t know. You are one of the few people I know who will drop whatever they are doing to help another. I love how you get emotional about some things… Even the ones we don’t agree on!” – Kay
“Liz always surprises with her talents, strengths, interests and passions. She, like her dad, can get intensely involved in a project, never fearing that it is something she’s never done before or that maybe it might be too hard. She has drive and ambition in abundance.
Liz has both inner and outer beauty and a style all her own, never a copycat. She is a fiercely loyal mom and has a heart of gold.” – Dianne
After taking her photo, I asked Liz if she cared to elaborate on her insecurity anymore…
Liz: “Um, this (the group) has just come at a really good time. I’m glad this is here.”
Caitie speaks to her mom: “When you say you have self-doubt and you doubt you’re able to be loved or be a good mom, that just blows my mind. Through my dad being an alcoholic and a drug addict and not being there for us…through going through divorce and being alone, you’ve always been there for me and you put a smile on your face and you just figure out how to put your stuff aside and not care for yourself. You care for me and grandma and everybody else – you put us first before you and sometimes you forget to take care of yourself. How could you think that you aren’t a good mom? I don’t understand why you would think that about yourself. It makes me feel bad that you feel that way.”
Liz, to Caitie: “I’m sorry. It tears me up that you …I worked so hard to get you into that school because I thought you needed some structure and needed a smaller place to thrive…”
Caitie: “I’ve always felt that because I didn’t have a good experience there…that I failed you because you worked so hard to get me in, like it was all for nothing…”
Liz: “but then I feel like I failed YOU because I put you in a place that tore you apart socially…and getting you out of that situation with your dad, I feel guilty that I didn’t do that soon enough – you missed your childhood – because I didn’t have enough guts to get us out. That haunts me. I carry that with me because I wasn’t strong enough.”
Caitie goes on to talk about how Liz had no choice. How she had to work because they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to survive. How it wasn’t her mom’s fault. How she did what she had to do.
I think that was the overwhelming feeling. Especially for us moms.
We really felt for Liz here.
To hear your kid tell you that it’s okay that you made the difficult choices that you made…that even though it may have been extremely tough on them in some ways, they’re okay.
They’re okay because you enabled them to survive.
And YOU survived.
You may not have done everything perfectly along the way, but, you worked with the situation you had. You may wish you could have changed a million things, but, you can’t go back. You can’t fix it all, but, what you’ve strived to fix has been worth it.
At this point, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. We all had experienced a bit of emotional exhaustion through all of this heavy conversation…and we were only four stories in!
What mom (dad, too, I’m sure) can’t relate to the feelings of guilt? At least on some scale.
Here was Liz looking at her life – feeling guilty that Caitie had been in and out of hospitals with her father when he overdosed, that Caitie had to be the one to care for him at home, as he was in no position to be caring for his family at that time. Feeling guilty that she had to be out of the home on business trips, that she had to take time away from home in order to provide for her family. Feeling guilty that she couldn’t just get her daughter out of that situation. Feeling guilty for not leaving. And then, when she did leave, feeling guilty for not leaving sooner. After that, she provides what she thinks will be a more comfortable life for Caitie and ends up feeling guilty for the way Caitie is treated in this new environment straight out of the ‘Mean Girls’ movie. Suffice it to say, she probably even felt guilty for admitting in this group that she felt guilty for all of this. Aaaaaaa!
This was all obviously incredibly intense. But, seeing the communication, seeing the honesty that was being put forth in this group…it was beautiful. Mothers and daughters were having conversations that maybe they’re not accustomed to having. Conversations that, however hard they may be to have, were obviously necessary. It was important for the daughters here to see the honesty. They’ve seen their moms always put up the strong front. A tough exterior – one that can handle it all.
Honestly, that feels like what we’re doing as moms at least 75% of the time, doesn’t it? We’ve got our strong shells and our kids often don’t see the cracks. They don’t see the tears behind closed doors. They don’t see us awake at night questioning countless parenting decisions we’ve made. The things we could have said differently, the extra bit of patience we wish we could have had, the hug we wish we could’ve slowed down and given them as opposed to the snapping at them that we did instead…and on and on and on.
There was such a comfort in this group. To have our kids see the raw bits of us – the reality of being a mother.
To hear from them that, no matter how you may question yourself, no matter how often you do this, your kids see a you that you don’t.
They see the stronger version of you.
They don’t see that this may be a bit of a facade you are protecting them with.
They see you in ways you don’t even realize.
The fragility that you may feel is enveloped in a love that presents itself as a strong, safe refuge for them.
That’s the mom you are.
***on a side note, I must include some information about a situation that happened in relation to Caitie when the photos from this night went up on Facebook. I had previously warned the ladies in this group that people can often be quick to make assumptions about what they’ve written when it’s compartmentalized into such a small space as a word or so on a chalkboard. I’m so glad I warned them of this, as that’s exactly what happened the very next day. One of Caitie’s former teachers contacted her and told her, and I quote: “Your post is humiliating garbage,” “You should take it down. People who really care about you will not give any attention to it.”
Caitie went on to attempt to explain this project to her, letting her know that her and Liz were extremely happy with the evening and what it did for them. Her teacher went on to basically say that Facebook isn’t the place for this.
I disagree. The point of this project is to encourage LESS judgment, MORE relating. Definitely MORE compassion. The reason it is posted on Facebook is because, well, Facebook is where the people are. And Facebook is what has encouraged this project along. It is because these raw and honest stories are shared with you, the public, that people take a minute to think a little deeper. To pause before judgment. To show love and empathy. To evaluate relationships. I get messages all the time in this regard. What I don’t get are messages saying what this teacher did…that this sort of thing is “humiliating garbage.”
Caitie was also told, “You are a child. Your mother needs to take you to the museum, a movie, ice cream. You do not need more drama and adult stuff.”
Hey, guess what? Caitie’s not a child. She’s a teenager. A young adult. She just entered high school. She is faced with very real, very adult issues every day. She was faced with these adult issues as a child. Now that she has the capacity to process these things, they should just be avoided? She should go have some ice cream? See a movie? Play with a Barbie too, maybe? No. She’s not three. THIS. IS. LIFE. We’d do well to acknowledge that and guide her through it. Not stifle conversation.
I let Caitie know that I would love for this teacher to contact me and that maybe I could dispel whatever was making her so “concerned” about Caitie’s involvement in this project (though, the fact that Liz, HER MOTHER, deemed it something they should do should have been enough). Her response was that she would not be contacting me, that she ‘respects her own credentials’ and that I am ‘a freaking photographer. Not even a psychologist. WOW.’
Yep. I am a photographer. Even a freaking photographer. Not a psychologist. Not a psychiatrist. Not a therapist. Not even a counselor. But, here’s the thing…I’ve never attested to be any of those. I do this project because it facilitates conversation. This is something anyone can do. I don’t give out answers. I encourage discussion. That is all. Not that I needed to answer to that…anyone who’s been in a group can attest to what it is that goes on.
Let’s keep this stuff positive.
Encourage each other. Promote discussion. Be there. Be loving.
This project is here to benefit others. And that’s the general response. I hope you find that to be the case in at least some form.
Much love, Alana***
…look out soon for the next story: Jennifer & Gwendolyn. A story about looking for approval, about wanting to be liked, about dealing with abuse…
Please comment and share your thoughts and experiences, if you feel so inclined.
the reason behind the start of this project can be found here: If you don’t have anything nice to say…
previous groups can be found here: