Mother, May I?

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

My titles are many: attorney, counselor, advocate. I am also someone’s daughter, sister, friend and wife. But the title that has taught me the most and challenged me to constantly step-up to be a better person, is that of mother. The lessons I learn as “mother” seem to always have far deeper implications than at first glance and in fact, they inform my entire life.

I was recently reminded of how much I have learned and how much more I have to go one pandemic afternoon when my daughter and I sat down to paint our nails. Remembering how often she begged to paint my nails as a little 6-year old girl, I asked if she wanted to paint my nails.

“No, thanks . . .  I remember when I was like 6, and I always wanted paint your nails. And one time I asked if I could and you said ‘no’.”


“Yeah, you said no because you didn’t want it to look like a 6-year-old painted your nails,” she laughed.

This is true and I remember and regret saying it. For the record, she painted my nails plenty of times, but for some reason, on that particular day, I didn’t want her to do it. Like most things in life I have been given a second chance both to sit with my daughter and to reflect on why it was so important for me to let her paint my nails.

What she was asking as a little girl was not, “Mommy, do I have the nail painting skills to be worth of the brush to Cherry Crush red?” No, she was asking, “Can I try and probably do a pretty bad paint job with you? You see, I need to try, and fail, in a safe place so that I can learn to do it properly when I am older.”

I didn’t realize this was her message until I started seeing this over and over again in my practice. Parents, who like me, worried about trusting their children with small decisions that could be used to build up to real responsibility. You see, it’s like compounding interest, it’s a cumulative thing. We give small tasks. We demonstrate how to cope with setbacks by supporting our kids but also by coping with our own setbacks in a constructive way. We do our children no favors by protecting them from messy nail polish jobs. The lesson is in what to do when nail polish gets all over your thumb, when you accidentally smudge it while it’s still wet and how paint your tiny pinky nail,

There’s a popular phrase right now, “you will succeed or you will learn.” It embraces the growth mindset that took the education community by storm a decade or so ago and was first introduced to the mainstream public by Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

It’s been 6 years, and I regret not letting my daughter paint my nails every time she asked. Now, as an accomplished nail polish painter, she no longer asks to paint my nails. Why would she? It’s a skill she has already mastered.

The topics are now about managing money, friendships and social media. Every day, I practice to keep my ears and my heart open so I can be available to say, “yes, of course.”