I was 29-years-old the last time I sat on my grandmother’s lap. My grandmom was always soft and warm. My cousins, aunts and I never missed a chance to snuggle up to her regardless of how old we were. She would laugh and playfully swat us away, but eventually she’d succumb and squeeze us tight against her in the best hug ever. The affection that I received from her was the most that I got from any family member.
She taught me how to love.
When I was little, I lived with my grandmom and pop-pop off and on for several years. My young parents had divorced and were figuring out their lives. Trying to take care of me at the same time proved to be too much for them.
My grandmom and I had a lot in common. We talked all the time, and there were never any secrets between us. I knew that I could come to her with any problem and she would have an answer. Many times, as I sorted through my feelings of abandonment, I would just sit on her lap and cry. She would rock me, pray over me, and sing until I fell asleep still holding on to her.
I never had the years of having a mother dote on me. I never felt like my mom was my best friend in the world. I didn’t feel like I could tell her anything, or feel comfortable going up to her and giving her a big hug. Later, when my father remarried and I moved in with him, I still didn’t have that caring, loving parental figure. My stepmother and I had our own challenges, although we had somewhat similar backgrounds. We probably butted heads so much because we were so alike. Regardless, we weren’t close when I was growing up.
My mom didn’t know how to love me.
My dad didn’t know how to love me.
My stepmother didn’t know how to love me.
I was unloveable.
Or so I thought.
But my grandmother.
She took me shopping for back to school clothes. She always made sure I had something delicious to eat when I came home from school. I could run my mouth telling her every single detail about my day, and she would listen intently, asking questions and showing genuine interest.
I didn’t have a mom to be an example to me of how to raise a daughter up to feel loved and honored. Those moments with my grandmother, though? They’re what I tap into when I need to mother beyond my means. When I’m not sure what my reaction to a situation should be, or when I’m tired and maybe don’t want to talk. I reach into my memory bank and recall how my grandmom rarely yelled at me, and how when she did it was because it was necessary. I remember how she was never too much in a rush to stop and show me how to separate an egg when she was making a cake, or the proper way to mop the floors.
There are other ways that I’m mothering well beyond my means. Ayva’s love language is physical touch. I didn’t grow up with that, at all, and it still makes me uncomfortable. I LOVE hugs. Can’t live without snuggles. Growing up without it being a constant in my life, though, I can go longer than most people without physical affection. Giving Ayva kisses and hugs, or to massage her shoulders, or even playfully poke her is a stretch for me. I love her, I tell her I love her, but she needs touch. Thinking about how much my grandmother’s hugs soothed and lifted me, I am intentional about giving Ayva what she needs daily.
Some days the lack of nurture seeds that were planted in me are glaringly obvious. I look around at other moms and wonder, “Should I be doing that? Is Ayva missing out? Am I loving her hard enough? “. It’s especially challenging to find the balance between showing love and overindulging because I didn’t grow up with enough affection to gauge.
I’m figuring it all out.
As I continue to mother beyond my means, and work to find my own mom stride, I appreciate that Ayva is more self-assured than I was at age 8. I know it has a lot to do with me being an anchor for her. It has a ton to do with her feeling loved and supported. She can thrive because she has a mom who is there for her.
I’ve started to share tiny pieces of my childhood with Ayva. I don’t want her to feel guilty if she misbehaves or (as many kids her age do) forgets to show gratitude. She needs to know that sometimes things are hard for me, but I’m pushing through because she deserves it. I want her to understand that I love her so much that I’m willing to do the work to be the mom to her that I didn’t have.