I love being Katie’s mom.

But there have been times where I have felt so weak that it was as if she was more of a mom to me at times than I was to her.

Luckily I didn’t stay there. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that as Katie changed so too did the tools in my tool box. She taught me about humility, the true meaning of love, the value of living a creative life, that true discipline doesn’t mean being a screaming idiot, and leading by example matters more than anything I say.

With that said, anyone who knows me well knows that I am brutally honest about my child’s successes and failures, and my own shortcomings and successes as her mother.  I’ve found strength in loving her “as is” and not as I would have her be. There’s a place of humility there that has defined my parenting style that I don’t think I really owned 100 percent until she was five years old. I was really upset with her dad one morning when I told him that I was so frustrated with him. So she hopped up on my lap, pulled my face to hers, and schooled me about what to do if I was frustrated with something.

“Momma, do you know what Blue says about being frustrated, ‘You’ve got to stop and breathe and think,” she said.

Those were humbling times and I told myself that my daughter was one smart cookie who deserved to have a better mom. So I followed her advice. But being Katie’s mom also came with heart-break during those really difficult teenage years. I won’t go into details because it’s just not necessary to rehash things. I’m just grateful that the two of us are through that. But as my fear for her safety grew, any somewhat rational parenting skills I owned flew out the window. I was lucky to have a support system of teachers, the faith community, my fiancé, and my own parents to help steer me through that.

I remember asking my mom and dad: “How did you survive having three girls?”

“Who says we did,” he said half-joking.

But he reminded me to keep my boundaries and expectations consistent and firm. And it took a lot of courage to do that.

People told me that this phase would pass and it did. I often felt inadequate. But I also realized that in those moments of weakness, that’s where the most powerful lessons were learned and I am grateful for them. The reason: that’s where I learned to ask for help, not stay stuck in my fear, and not shield her from consequences. And when I wasn’t perfect at setting good boundaries, I learned to forgive myself and vowed to set better expectations for myself in setting those boundaries.

Now she is a college student at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside and looking forward to graduating next year with a degree in environmental science. She spends most of her time working two to three jobs, going to school, and spending time with her boyfriend. There are fleeting moments when she will call me and say… let’s go hang out. I love those calls. But I also know she’ll be leaving the nest soon and I wonder how far away she’ll fly away. Sometimes she’s leaving Racine for good. Sometimes she’s staying.

But I find myself trying to think of things I haven’t taught her yet and the best I could come up with is that she has three general obligations to her being my child:

  1. Be kind to yourself and others.
  2. Live a creative life and not a destructive one in the community you live.
  3. Go find a problem out in the world and fix it.

I remind her that she needs to learn how to fail as much as she needs to learn how to succeed, that if she does fail at something she needs to ask herself how important is it, and if it is important then there is work to be done.

I’m seeing that in her… she’s learning about the importance of protecting our water, helping with the environmental science club in school, and teaching the community about it through her volunteer work. These are certainly things that I would never have thought were even possible for her five or six years ago.

I am realizing how much of an amazing person she is and I have to say she is still teaching me things… I think that’s what I love most about being her mom.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.