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She said I was her role model. She had dreadlocks to her waist, small round wire glasses, wore funky clothes, and sported a long fabric tail at all times. She was about 21, a liberal college student, participating in a 3-month educational programme in my community. She was the epitome of cool, funky, liberal, liberated, evolved, privileged youth. One of the ones we middle-aged observers assume, or hope, will save the world, or at least play a role in re-directing it. I remember thinking, about her whole cohort, that they were as emotionally evolved at 22 as I was in my late thirties. I felt sad for my slowness, my painful emotional evolution. I felt inspired by the possibilities they represented.

I was deeply touched, surprised, and awed when she said I was her role model. If I thought about it, I could see what she meant. She knew I was project manager of a plan to make my community more energy self-sufficient. She’d watched me teach a session in her college program. She’d watched me give a presentation on the energy project before a couple of hundred people, a mixed audience of community members and participants in a conference for green business people. She knew I volunteered in the community vegetable garden three mornings per week. She watched me clear up after community meals once a week, dance the 5 Rhythms. She watched me and several friends perform Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, to a packed theatre of 400. Maybe that was the year my triathlon team (all women) came third (to two teams of men).

Seen through her eyes, I could see myself as multi-talented, confident, competent, professional. Expressive. Responsible, community minded, walking my talk. Wow! For a few moments, as I took this in, I felt pretty good about myself. Thank you, Tailed One. Your words have been an important gift to me.

Why do I not see myself with her eyes? With what eyes do I see myself? I see through the eyes of lack: lack of goals and follow-through, lack of achievement, lack of confidence. I see myself through the eyes of my own and others’ unachieved expectations of me. I could comment at length on the relationship between my self-confidence and societal views of the role of mother, but that’s another post.

My role has changed now, and I wonder what kind of role model I am, and to whom. I’m a mother. I’m no longer a professional in the same way. My peers are other mothers of small children. Parenting, and running my small household, take a large amount of my time, energy and attention. I rarely participate in community events, and when I do, I’m not with the movers and shakers — I’m deep in conversation with a girlfriend or juggling attempts at conversation with attending to the demands and safety of my daughter. I’m also older, a ‘woman of a certain age.’ I’ve put on some weight. I’m aware of having stepped into the role of sensible mum. I don’t even want to be a cool, fashionista, fun-loving mum, I don’t have it in me. I’m resisting the frumpiest of clothes even as I eye their comfortable elastic waistbands and practical machine washability. There’s a relief and a comfort in stepping into a ‘mother’ role that I would do well to question, to the extent that it reflects a copping out – or reflects an unconscious belief that much real power, or that of it that is accessible to me, lies in the hands of middle-aged mothers.

And as a mother, what do I want to model for my daughter and her friends, about what it is to be a woman? I’m not going to answer that question. It’s too painful, I fall far too far short of my own expectations about what I should be modelling.

I want to celebrate the positive things I do offer my daughter and her friends.

She knows I love books. She knows reading is a delectable pleasure, a daily delight and an illicit treat (reading at the table if no-one else is there; reading in the bathroom).
She knows I use the library and the internet to find out things I don’t know.
She knows I need a rest sometimes and that I take time away from the family to recharge and to write.
She knows I’m on top of the household – I know where things are, ensure the place is clean and tidy, put food in the fridge and on the table, make clean clothes generally available.
She’s seen me hold down a regular job that, while it didn’t use all my professional capacities, was for a worthwhile organisation.
She’s seen me take responsibility for the daily care of pets.
She’s seen me go out of my way to support friends.
She’s seen me set and enforce clear boundaries. She’s seen me say what I mean and mean what I say.
She hears me with the other mothers, talking of feelings and relationships, our own and others’ trials and joys.
She’s watched me learn to stand up for her at the playground.
She’s seen me come through a very painful break-up not only intact but with a new level of maturity.
She sees that I follow some sort of personal hygiene routine, that I am careful in my choice of clothes.
She sees me read ingredients and put things back on supermarket shelves when the ingredients are not healthy.
She helps me cook and clear up meals.
She is attentive and caring to babies. She is solicitous when anyone is hurt. She likes animals and has a healthy respect for them.
She’s physical, she loves trampolines and dancing and running and cycling, and she’s cautious, like me. She knows her limits and generally stays within them.
She’s seen me try my best, and while we both judge my efforts to be sorely lacking, I can only hope that she does see me trying my hardest.

What I wish most for her is that she has the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual resources to be the best version of herself she can be, and to do her best. Isn’t that all we can ask of people?

Is there a gap between others’ pictures of you and your picture of yourself?

What do you model for others?

Who are your role models?