I’m A Mom Who Takes Center Stage In My Own Life
Writer and Co-Founder of Go Girls! Camp Allison Kenny says she became a better mother once she learned to put herself first.
I became a mom after directing Go Girls! Camp for a decade. I was a rockstar auntie to seven nieces and two nephews. I’d lead parenting workshops for years. Of course I was prepared to become a parent!
I had no idea.
I had no idea the level of terror that would take over as I welcomed my courageous and fierce six-year-old daughter into her new home. A good friend imagined my process of becoming a mother as being pregnant, in labor and parenting a six-year-old all at the exact same moment. Indeed, this is what adopting an older child from foster care was like for me.
I bent over backward trying to meet my new daughter’s needs. With all my heart, I wanted her to feel safe and loved. So I hustled. I took her to occupational therapy, to gymnastics, to the eye doctor, to every specialist I could find. I read books. I played on the floor. I volunteered at her school.
What was under all that hustle?
My fear that she wouldn’t attach to us. My fear that she’d be hurt or scared or lonely or feel unwanted. I had so much fear that it started to affect my health. Soon, I knew, it would begin to undermine my relationship with my daughter. It was time to remember all those incredible skills I’d taught parents for years. I needed to claim my confidence and trust the process.
As a guide, I used the Go Girls! Culture Code I’d developed to educate, inspire and activate girls and women. In it, we teach the 700 girls who participate in our programs each year that being a Go Girl means they get to…
- Say yes
- Give & take
- Make mistakes
- Feel their feelings
- Take center stage
If these teachings worked so well to support their confidence and development, why not mine?
I decided to SAY YES to being a mom. This meant remembering it was okay to do challenging things, like learning to parent a little girl I was meeting for the first time. I could take on this new adventure by starting to have more fun. I began playing more with my daughter and letting her make me laugh. I added a weekly “date night” – for me and for any friend who would take me out to dinner or for a walk.
After months and months of relaxing into this new role a little more, I realized I had logged about 10,000 hours as a mom. Didn’t this make me an expert on my own kid? Yes. It was time to project confidence and start to believe I could handle whatever came up.
I practiced GIVE & TAKE. I already gave my time, attention, love and practical support to my family. I had to practice taking in the good. At the end of the night, my wife and I would tuck our daughter in, then share the best moments of our day. We’d tell sweet stories and relive any moment of joy, connection or love we’d had as a family. This gratitude practice was fuel to stay grounded and keep going.
The hardest thing for me was learning I could be human and MAKE MISTAKES as a mom. The stakes seemed so high. If I lost my temper, would it damage her self-esteem or our relationship? Normal human mistakes on my part were enough to get my worst fears going. I noticed my daughter had the same challenge – we were both really hard on ourselves!
Since my little girl and her two mamas would never be perfect, we focused on learning from our mistakes. Whenever one of us snapped, behaved rudely or did something hurtful, we’d ask for a do-over. This gave us the chance to go back and re-do any moment to practice a wiser choice. This was powerful (and sometimes funny!) way to keep the focus on repairing a hard moment rather than beating myself up.
Of course, life always throws curveballs our way. As new parents, my wife and I would get overwhelmed, exhausted, lonely, terrified and some days angrier than we knew was possible. Finding ways to FEEL OUR FEELINGS without taking them out on our daughter was key. So, we talk about feelings in our house a lot.
We make it normal to use our words and practice self-care like cuddling up with our dogs, going on walks, putting lavender oil on our feet or finding space apart from one another. I teach my little girl that when I take good care of my feelings, I am happier and can be a better mama to her.
TAKE CENTER STAGE is my favorite point of our Culture Code. As a parent, this is where I get to really show up for my own life knowing my daughter is watching. I get to soak up all the love and connection of my family through our holiday traditions, vacations and everyday moments. I braid her hair or wrap her up in a towel as she gets out of the bath. At bedtime, I sing her the songs my mother sang to me.
Then, I get to kiss my daughter good-bye and take a personal retreat in the redwoods, run out to a theater rehearsal or march in a protest. She gets to see me be an artist, run my business and do all the things that make me feel powerful, happy and brave.
I want her to see me shine.
She’ll know that she can, too.
Allison Kenny is the co-founder of Spotlight:Girls, a multi-media platform and summer camp that activates, educates and inspires girls and women to take center stage in their lives and communities. Based in Oakland, CA, Spotlight: Girls is a certified B-Corp, and recent winner of The Pitch by SheKnows Media.