You probably know the story of Achilles – the mythological Greek warrior and hero of the Trojan war. Achilles was invincible except for one weakness: his heel. Even after winning countless battles, all it took to kill the mighty Achilles was a single arrow in his vulnerable spot.
I think moms often have our own versions of the Achilles’ heel. Those little issues that get under your skin, even if they don’t seem to bother anyone else. The things we’re most sensitive about, worry the most about, spend the most time defending to ourselves or justifying to others.
I’m sure we’ve all got at least one Achilles’ heel. I think most of us have two or three or more.
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Often our parenting Achilles’ heel goes back to way before we had kids: to our young adult life, or teen years, or childhood, and whichever issues and baggage we’ve carried forward. And sometimes it’s hard to identify our weak spots, because we don’t always see them reflected in the other parents we know.
For example, it’s never bothered me much when my children get angry or lash out at me. I think that’s because I grew up with fairly no-nonsense parents and always felt secure in their love. A mom with another background or different baggage from her own childhood might have a completely different reaction.
I’ve spent some time thinking about my own personal Achilles’ heels over the last few weeks. One that I settled on was the idea of being thought irresponsible. I was a pretty flaky teenager, and then there was the whole getting-pregnant-and-dropping-out-of-college thing, which led to several years of chaotic living as my husband and I tried to learn how to be adults and parents at the same time.
Now that we’re well into our 30s, stable, raising relatively normal children, and we’ve carved out career paths and a middle-class existence for ourselves, that flaky self-image has faded. Except when something comes up that picks at that old insecurity. That’s when my personal Achilles’ heel starts aching, calling attention to my weaknesses and eroding my self-confidence.
Here’s an example: my daughter Clara.
Her teeth, to be exact. If you’ve been reading this blog long, you’ve seen Clara before. What you may never have noticed, probably because I tend to choose photos that don’t show them, is that her top two teeth are seriously decayed.
When her top teeth came in – she was three or four months old; all my kids have been early teethers – I could tell right away that they weren’t quite right. Instead of shiny, white and strong they were sort of grayish and soft-looking. As the months went on they started eroding away, and we brought her in for her first dentist appointment when she was about nine months old.
Since then she’s visited a pediatric dentist regularly, and while I don’t remember the technical term for what’s wrong, he essentially told us that the enamel didn’t develop right in the affected teeth. Whether it was a hiccup in her development, some illness of mine in pregnancy, or perhaps the fact that she was on medication for the first six months of her life due to a suspected seizure? We’ll probably never know, though my second-youngest son’s teeth also weren’t great, so I’m thinking there’s a genetic force at play.
As the rest of her teeth are healthy, and X-rays have shown her adult teeth are fine, too, our dentist feels confident taking a wait-and-see approach. So we have opted against pulling or capping her teeth…for now. And I feel good about that decision. Mostly.
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But oh, how it pokes at my Achilles’ heel when people, especially people who don’t know us, see her messed-up little teeth! I want to hold up a sign as I walk around with her, saying “UNDER A DENTIST’S CARE, SWEAR TO GOD.” Or inject anecdotes about dentists and tooth-brushing into every conversation with a new person, just so they’ll get the picture: I really do take care of my kids’ oral health needs! I brush their teeth regularly! I am not irresponsible!
The thing is, no matter how enlightened I become, I can’t run away from my past. My upbringing and my mistakes and foibles are as much a part of me as my freckles and freakishly-long second toes. I can’t escape my issues (or, as I like to call them, iss-yoos.) Neither can you.
But we don’t need to run away from them. The secret to carving out a happy, functional parenting life is recognizing our Achilles’ heels so that when they start getting to us, negatively coloring our experiences, making us doubt ourselves…we can say “Ah, yes! I know why I feel this way!” Then we can see past the tricks our minds play on us, and feel good and strong and confident about the choices we make for ourselves and our kids.
Perhaps having such a physical reminder of my Achilles’ heel is an opportunity to remember that parenting and life are messy, and that things may not always be what they seem. That “responsible” is a relative term, anyway. And a reminder not to let my insecurity pressure me into making decisions about my daughter’s care that I wouldn’t otherwise make, or to keep me from being out there and open out of fear of being judged.
Which is why I’ve shared all this with you just now. None of us are perfect, and we all have insecurities. I’m thinking I’d rather have mine right out in the open.
And from now on, I’m also sharing more of those open-mouthed smiles. Bad teeth or no, Clara’s grin is too cute to hide away.
What’s your parenting Achilles’ heel? Do any specific circumstances or events trigger it?