If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the phrase “showing versus telling” so many times you want to smack your head against a wall until you start seeing unicorns.
But it’s an important phrase, not only when sitting down to write the (hopefully great) American novel, but in life, too. More specifically, in motherhood.
For awhile I felt guilty. I’m the mother of a frighteningly beautiful, frighteningly energetic, frighteningly smart four-year-old girl who scares the living bejeebus out of me. She’s strong, she’s outgoing. She’s all the things I’m not, to be honest. Okay, scratch that. She’s already the things I’m learning to be on a daily basis. So I’ve asked myself more times than I’ve watched every episode of Friends: what can I offer her that will positively change the course of her life?
I can choose “show.”
Like my own mother, I can prove to my daughter that I can be more than one thing. I can make booboos better with a simple touch of my lips, I can cut the crusts off sandwiches like a sandwich-making ninja, I can clean the sheets, wash the clothes, wipe up the messes, fix the hair, run the bath, and run myself ragged because I love her, because I want her to be happy.
But I can also show her my own happiness and for me, that’s sitting at my desk, stringing letters into words.
I think sometimes we’re confused with images of “the perfect mother.” We think working for what we want in life is the opposite of what we should be doing as mommies. But if I did nothing but bleach the grout every afternoon, face a sweaty mess reeking of perspiration, desperation, and then told my daughter “Go out, have fun, live free, smile!,” I’d be sending her mixed messages. I’d be telling, not showing. And frankly? I’d be utterly miserable.
I remember my mother – a teacher, someone who enjoyed working with kids and felt completely fulfilled when a first grader learned to read – smiling because she loved what she did. There were pizza nights sometimes during the week. There was rushing to the car and sometimes forgetting a lunchbox. But those things didn’t matter then and don’t matter now. What matters to me is knowing my mother was happy doing what she loved. She showed me happiness by following her passions.
And now, it’s a lesson I love teaching my own daughter, and it’s a lesson my daughter loves learning.
So do yourself a favor and show, don’t tell. And watch out for that unicorn.