I opened Facebook this morning as I waited for my daughter to get ready for school. At the top of my newsfeed was a black and white photo of two of my favorite women: my sister-in-law and her adult daughter- arms embracing each other, and heads gently touching with their beautiful smiles lighting up the black and white in ways color could not capture: joy, love, strength, resilience and amazing chutzpah.
My sister-in-law is one year older than me, and we grew up together. She joined our family at the age of eighteen, and became a mom at 19. We spent a lot of time together during those early years. I had moved out and was bouncing around apartments, changing jobs, and navigating my first serious relationship.
She was the person I could confide in. She listened, encouraged me, and cheered when I got accepted into college. She even helped me look for a place to live.
My sister-in-law came to my wedding three weeks after giving birth to her daughter, and partied with us till the wee hours, despite getting up all night with a newborn. Years later I watched her hold down a demanding job and parent two teens with grace and love.
What struck me most as I gazed at this photo was the relationship she (and my brother) have with their son and daughter. The kids chose to live close to their parents after my brother accepted a job in the Florida Panhandle. Their adult children have a fantastic kinship with their parents because of these things:
– My brother and sister- in- law love their kids unconditionally and told them as often as they showed them by supporting their dreams.
– They treated their kids with honesty- telling it like it is. Their kids saw them screw-up and they didn’t hide or justify their mistakes, they owned them, made amends and move on.
– They treat their kids with the respect due to them as full fledged adults. These two will always in some way be their babies, but they have redefined their relationship roles- no longer “parenting” but respecting each of their choices and decisions without imposing their will or desires upon them.
My brother and sister-in-law have created a full life post parenthood. They have jobs they enjoy. They discovered fun hobbies, travel extensively, and found a whole group of friends of all ages. Therefore they don’t live vicariously through their children. They don’t live in the past, and in turn their kids want to be around them by choice not obligation.
The picture is also a testament to both women’s healthy self-esteem. My sister-in-law is perfectly at home in her own skin, and she passed that extreme confidence to her daughter.
This picture reminds me of why both of these women continue to inspire me, because at age 53, I’m still learning how to strut my style, and to remember that I am most powerful and beautiful when I am totally me.