My Daughter Is Not My Pride and Joy
How I’m working to parent beyond ego and expectation
“Did you know my Shanna is making straight A’s again this year? And that she made captain of the cross-country team and the speech team? She’s my pride and joy.”
Growing up, my mother never missed an opportunity to brag about my accomplishments to relatives, coworkers, and grocery store clerks. My accomplishments were her accomplishments. She would preen herself on my achievements while I stood by feeling like a show pony.
Sometimes, I let her boasting feed my ego. Other times, I felt awkward and ashamed. “Is this all I am to her?” I’d wonder to myself.
I thought my mom would let go of this habit once I entered adulthood.
Early last year, I went to a mixer at her retirement community, and she introduced me as “the daughter who went to Carnegie Mellon.” I graduated over a decade ago. Obviously, not much has changed. As my sister says, “Mom lives through us.”
My mother is the rebellious daughter of a well-educated and well-respected Mauritian family. Her sisters went to medical school and nursing school, respectively; my mom married an American and left Mauritius to live in the U.S. with only an unaccredited secretarial certificate to her name.
She struggled for many years to find a job in the deeply white, small-town Midwest and worked for 28 years at a hotel that was still only paying her $9.00 an hour by the time she retired. Despite her searing intellect (she has a deep knowledge of European history and English and French literature and speaks several languages fluently and a half-dozen conversationally), she rarely talks about her own achievements.
I try to keep this perspective in mind whenever I feel resentment toward her. Under the pressure of racking up awards and degrees and titles to satisfy her unquenchable thirst for my success, I lost myself for most of my teens and all of my twenties. I pursued flashy careers, like consulting, that I was ill-suited for. In my thirties, I burned out, and my career stalled out. I began finding myself and distancing myself from her. I took a $25,000 pay cut to work in education. I realized I could no longer live a…