Posted in:Good Mother

I think children can usually tell when a parent says, “You can come and talk to me about anything”—and doesn’t really mean it. I remember, as a kid, how many subjects were just off-limits in my family. So, for me, an essential part of being the kind of mother I want to be is just building a relationship, day by day, interaction by interaction, that my children believe is strong enough to handle anything and everything they might bring to the table.

And they bring such different things. You don’t ever have to wonder what my five-year-old is thinking, because it’s all just out there. Unfiltered. Here is my mind. My gift to the world. My almost-three-year-old is different. She’s quieter, quirkier, and often it takes a lot more work to figure out what’s on her mind.

Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to have faith in myself as a parent, especially the parent of two such wildly different (and yet still remarkably similar) children. It actually helps, at those times, to close my eyes and call up images: an open door. A security blanket. Or a corner where my kids might go to hide. These can all be symbols of parenting. What kids want changes day to day; what they need to say to us changes moment to moment. And whatever my kids need, I want to be it.

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Nicole Soojung Callahan’s essays have appeared in The New York Times Motherlode blog, Slate, TheAtlantic.comand other publications. She lives with her family outside of Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter: @nicolecallahan

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