“And don’t forget you didn’t finish the laundry,” I yell defiantly.
I watch the slim profile of my daughter stomp up the stairs, her dark ponytail swinging side to side. I can hear her breathing through her nose, in and out, in and out, like a bull about to charge. I watch as she turns the corner, out of my view. I brace myself, waiting for the door to slam, yet thankfully I hear a quiet click of metal on the wooden frame.
I stand still, one hand clutching the railing, the other clenched so tightly I can feel my unshaped nails indenting my palm. I can feel the tension in my right shoulder-blade. I slowly release the bite I have on my lower lip, my weak attempt at trying to keep my rage locked up inside.
Today’s argument with my tween daughter is no different from the ones we have almost daily lately. It could be about finishing her homework or putting her dishes away or completing her chores. Sometimes it’s about her attitude with her sisters or her tone with me or her inability to finish anything she starts. My lectures seem to be on a continuous loop with no end in sight.
Each morning I wake with new resolve to be a better mother, one who does not nag so much or finds innovative ways to motivate my kids.
But somewhere during the day, I watch as my daughter refuses to follow our house rules, chooses to ignore what needs to be done.
Sometimes we let her fail and succumb the consequences of her forgetfulness. Sometimes we help her organize her day. Sometimes I remember that everyone needs a little help now and again.
And sometimes we seem to make progress, only to go two steps back the next day.
“Be more laid back,” I tell myself. “Not everything is a big deal or a teachable moment.”
But as she gets closer to adulthood each and every day, I worry. Will she learn the skills she needs to succeed? Will she live a life to her potential or will she merely get through a day?
I am startled as I see her small body appear on the stairs again, stomping down step by step, avoiding my eyes. She holds a white laundry basket in her hand, and I bite my tongue as I watch it bump into the spindles on my staircase.
Her shoulder bumps into mine as she struggles to turn the corner, and the metaphor is not lost on me.
My relationship with my daughter is like an unfinished chore. Something you don’t want to deal with, but you know needs attention. I want her to be finished, now, so the petty arguments and fights can be done, and we can move on to the good stuff.
But what I often forget is children are meant to be unfinished. Children are meant to continue improving and learning and finding their way.
What sometimes feels like a chore instead should be approached like sculpting a masterpiece, letting the clay form, where it is supposed to, under my hands. I will try to slow down the process, knowing this beautiful piece of art doesn’t need to be finished just yet.
I have to fight the urge to “fix” my daughter, fight the desire to change who she is. I have to fight the pressure to teach her everything I want her to know before she leaps into the world on her own.
Because children are meant to be unfinished.
But her laundry, well, that still needs to get done.
This post originally appeared on Playdates on Fridays. It has been reprinted with permission.