The Robot, The Superhero & The Person

Motherhood Stages

I had an enlightening conversation with my eldest child. It gave me a small insight into the parent/child relationship through the different stages. I’ve talked about parenting stages before, because it’s important for me to know where I’m at in the journey so I can adjust my expectations accordingly.

It was a Friday night and I felt weary at the end of a school week.  One of the kids had a sporting event on in the evening, so the kids and I went to watch.  This scenario isn’t unusual, however the younger kids really didn’t want to be there this time and managing everyone was particularly draining.  Again, nothing hugely unusual there; it was one of those times when frankly, things didn’t go smoothly.  My patience was thin, everything and everyone seemed loud and I just wanted to climb in a warm hole to be still and quiet for 5 minutes.

In the midst managing expectations and settling everyone (read: stopping the two youngest from bickering) my eldest started to tell me something.

“Can you just not talk to me right now?!” I said in desperation.  I felt like I would explode if everyone (in the entire world) DIDN’T LEAVE ME ALONE FOR A SECOND!

“I need you to wait until I settle myself down. I can’t process what you’re saying properly, and I need a minute to sit here and not talk.” I took a deep prayful-like breath, willing silence to fall and calm with it.

Sometimes I feel like writing a sign for my forehead that says I’M A PERSON TOO!  Do you know those intense times when the you feel the world collapsing around you; when parenting is overwhelming, ever present while darts of weariness weaken resolve and shatter harmony? What I find about these times is they can escalate from all la-de-da into absolute chaos in mere moments!


One thing I’ve learned about with having older kids, is they notice.  They know when you’re not doing great, if you verbalise it or not.  So without burdening her (I hope) or shutting her down, I’m become very frank with my eldest daughter — making sure she knows it’s not about her…but rather where I’m at.  I guess in a way, I’m opening myself up to her as our relationship matures and transitions from adult/child to adult/young woman.  In turn, she is also frank with me. We have developed a cue through words when we feel out of kilter in our relationship. Either one of us says, let’s get back on the same page. We verbalise it, and we act on it.

Back to the loud sporting event…

After a little while, she said, “Mum, you seem like you’re in a better place now, can I talk now?”

You know, in that moment I felt loved and respected. My daughter’s consideration brought another measure of calm over me.  I felt admiration too. She didn’t respond to that conversation with a pout saying, well I won’t talk to you anymore then. Neither did she assume I didn’t have time for her but just accepted what I said as what I meant: I wasn’t in a great place for that second and I needed a moment to get back to where I could function again.

That was that: we talked about stuff, and everyone got through the night (surprisingly) well in the end.  It wasn’t until the next day that I had this interesting conversation with my daughter.

We were in the car (where many great conversations happen). It was just the two of us.  I can’t remember where we were going but I took the opportunity to debrief after that moment from the night before. I wanted to make sure she knew it wasn’t her that caused the problem. I wanted to reinforce that I was just having a moment, and to essentially thank her for the way she responded.

I said, “I’m sorry I was so snappy the night before when I said I couldn’t talk. I was overwhelmed at the time and–“

“Oh yeah mum, I know. It’s fine.” she interrupted nonchalantly.

Then she continued, and I was fascinated by her words.

“You know, when I was very little, it was like you were a robot, always there to do things for me.

Then when I got older, you were like a superhero — amazing — and didn’t need anything.

And now, I’ve come to know you as a person.”

Can I tell you how beautiful that is?  How beautiful all of it is?

I was hit by the motherhood journey in those few sentences.

The Robot

I wrote about the sacrifices of early parenting:”Sometimes you feel like a machine, always providing for the needs of other and cease to exist as an individual person.” I said in the post. 

The Superhero

It’s in the moment I discovered little feet in my high heel shoes. It’s when you are Mum with a  capital M.  It’s in creating a meaningful life with our kids.  Yet in many ways, you are not seen by the kids as having needs of your own.  You are there. You are invincible. No matter what.

The Person

Imperfect. Fallible. Real. They start to see through you. They know more. They see more. They understand more.  This can be unnerving (even a bit scary in a way) but I find this stage most rewarding because I like being known as a person, not as robot or a superhero, but as I am.  There’s deep love in that.  

But you know what?  You can’t rush the stages. There are fundamental building blocks that must be laid and built on.

The robot is important: satisfying and nurturing the needs of another (somehow) tirelessly. It’s the foundation of unconditional love.

The superhero is important: fostering respect through action, facilitating dreams through enablement; presenting a force of strength through the continuance of unconditional love.  It’s the net that catches; it’s the wall that holds; it’s the arms that surround.

The person is important: becoming fully known and recognised for who you are.  Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with a person in trust.  This is relationship at its best.

I can tell you, it’s the most rewarding thing to see the fruition of blocks built over years and years, come out in a real and true relationship. One of the hardest things about parenting is the deep rewards happen long (very long) after the investment is made…through many joys and struggles.

I glanced across to my daughter in the car passenger seat. Nothing more needed to be said. I felt a renewed sense of connection with this small human that came from my body. I felt a confidence in accepting who I am in the eyes of all my children (while still — always — retaining a sense of myself), whether that be the robot or the superhero or the person…knowing it’s all part of the journey.  Knowing each step plays an important part in connection, in relationship, in love.

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  • Reply
    July 23, 2014 at 8:23 am

    What a beautiful post! This gives me fresh motivation as I am deep in the robot phase with my youngest and superhero stage with my eldest! Thank you!

  • Reply
    July 24, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Thank you Kelly for sharing this. Beautiful. And encouraging.

  • Reply
    July 25, 2014 at 6:53 am

    I love this. And I, too, am enjoying developing a relationship with my teens that has it’s own unique signature. Your girl is precious!

  • Reply
    July 27, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    I love this!! I don’t feel like I ever got to that place of seeing my mother as her own person until well into adulthood for a whole lot of different reasons. I think this is a great example of the amazing relationship that you have with your kids and of how much of a wonderful job you are doing as a mother!

  • Reply
    Shelley O'Sullivan
    August 9, 2014 at 7:00 am

    This is just beautiful. I love reading your posts. They are so down to earth, real and let’s you know that you’re not alone. Thank you for writing this blog.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    September 18, 2014 at 10:46 am

    It’s amazing the insight our kids have. My 15 year old daughter wrote me THE most amazing letter the other day. A letter a mother of a 15 year old daughter you’d only dream of getting but wouldn’t. I was in a bad place. She knew and gave me that amazing gift which was exactly what I needed and it’s a gift money could never buy and I’ll treasure it forever. Our kids can be difficult at times but at those special times, you know you’ve done SOMETHING right ????

  • Reply
    September 18, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Beautiful words as usual Kelly… I’m well entrenched in the robot stage at the moment!
    I get a person moment every now and then with Miss 4, who is very astute and reads emotions well – when I’m really struggling she will often come and give me a hug and a “Are you okay Mum?” It makes coming out of those moments that much easier!

  • Reply
    September 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for continuing to be ‘real’ in sharing your parenting experiences. This is beautiful for many reasons and brought tears to my eyes. Your daughter is a reflection of you and you should both be proud of that 🙂

  • Reply
    September 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, I am in robot phase with two children but I also have a serious back issue which recently has made me bedridden for four days. My 3 year old has been so in tune with my needs and has sat on my bed at every moment she can playing and talking with me to without making any demands understanding how it is and enjoying our time together. It has been a bit more difficult for my son who is only 1 and just sees the robot as not working so can’t rely on it anymore and has not paid me much attention and my husband has been building up a relationship with him as my carer.
    I love seeing the relationships develop and how kids start to understand emotion.

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