We Are Five, We Are Free

My daughter Noelle turned five yesterday. My oldest baby is five.

As I removed the classic, waxy number five candle from it’s packaging, while children gathered around plates of cupcakes, it struck me hard.

She. Is. Five.

We are five. Five years of mothering and daughtering together.


Five years of stories, kitties, curly hair and a bouncy brown eyed daughter playing upon my every imaginable emotion.

As I looked down at that candle in my palm I fought the urge to stop the party, scoop her up and never let go.

How can she be five? Telling jokes? Heading to kindergarten? Starting to make her way in the world?

Where has it all gone and for the love of mercy if I cry this much at preschool graduation, how on earth am I going to weather further milestones? I think I’ll have to bring a therapist and an oxygen mask to her high school graduation, and college? Forgetaboutit.


This weekend has been a time of celebrations, streamers, kitty masks and cupcakes.

But it has also been one of reflection for me, of inner processing and renewed resolve.

There is something that happened inside me over the last five years, this season of raising a daughter while grieving my broken, painful relationship with my own mother.

And this weekend it all came into focus for me: I have been mothering my daughter out of fear.

Fear that she will grow to hate me, fear that I will hurt her more than help her, fear that she shares all my worst flaws and that the world will hand her more than her fair share of pain and steal her joy.


Noelle and I are cut of the same cloth temperament-wise. We are extroverted, busy, bright and distractible. It’s more personality type than a diagnosis, more learning-style than disability, but here we are.

This shared temperament didn’t serve me well as a child, maybe it was my peers or the adults who had influence over my life, but I grew up a sad, lonely little girl.

I spent years of my life believing that although they said God didn’t make junk, that I was the exception to that rule.

I fought to fit in and generally failed, I grew up feeling rejected and small.

The past five years with Noelle have been spent worried that history would repeat itself, that she would feel rejected by the world and that our relationship would somehow be strained and broken.

That my life was somehow starting over again, through hers.

I don’t know if you project your worst fears and past issues on your children’s lives , but I do. It’s far more inward than outward, but I worry and wonder if all the worst things of my life are guaranteed to play out in theirs.

I worry, then I do everything in my power to give them a foothold for better.

Did I ever tell you why we named her Noelle? 

It’s because Christmas was a revolution, the baby in the manger came to offer a fresh start, a new thing, a rhythm of grace and love open to all.

Given the broken, painful homes we came from, we wanted something new, a fresh start, a revolution.

So we named her Noelle, the beginning of our revolution.

Yet these past five years haven’t felt too revolutionary, how could they when I’ve spent them mothering in fear?

This weekend as she bounced through the celebration of her life God showed me something new, something beautiful, something intrinsically true.


She is Noelle, she is His creation and she is exactly who he had in mind for her to be.

She will be loved, if not by all than by many, for she embodies his joy and creativity in her approach to life.

He will sustain her through the inevitable brokenness, just as he did me.

She is my beautiful daughter and the energy we share will flow through her to bring about good works, to bring grace to pain.

I need not fear her or what we share, rather I shall join in (finally) in celebrating what I have spent too long worrying about and projecting upon.

This is my daughter, sent to me by a wise and wonderful God on purpose, with purpose for the benefit of so many.

She is holding up to her name, she is healing brokenness through God’s work in her life.

And she has started with her Mother.


Do you project your worries on to the life of your children? How has God set you free from that?

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  • Brittany Williamson

    So, so beautiful.

  • http://www.estheremery.com/ Esther Emery

    Beautiful. My first daughter just turned five as well. And we have a different shared personality — fists up fighters — but I also am learning how to parent out of something more than fear. I love you and your words!

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Love you too, and your words. Thank you for modeling bravery and resolve in my life sweet friend.

  • http://avanomaly.blogspot.com/ Jamie

    Chills! You have been set on this writing path for so much good. The healing that can move outward in growing circles? I love to see it happening in the center. May you and your sweet daughter continue in love, the kind that scatters fear, as you each pursue your passion and purpose.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Thank you, oh thank you for these incredibly kind words. Amen to them.

  • http://simply-rea.blogspot.com Rea


    Do I project my worries? Oh wow, yes. I have a very strained relationship with my mother and I worry almost daily that my children will grow up to never speak with me again. And I worry that I’m failing them in some essential way so that they’ll have all the same baggage I did. Especially since my youngest (9) is Just Like Me.

    And then I see the things that tell me I’m doing ok. I see my oldest conquer his ‘Choice Run’ in gym (I don’t know why they call it choice when they HAVE to run x minutes to get the grade) because I encouraged him over and over and over that he could do it, to give it his best. Conversations I never remember having with my mother. Even when the 9 year old is telling me I am the meanest, dumbest mom ever I let myself see the freedom and safety he feels in voicing feelings that I would never have dared to voice. And I’m letting God shape our relationship ever so slowly, and I’m trusting that it will be beautiful.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      I am sure (which seems odd to say not knowing you in person) that with your tender heart and your intentional parenting that you are building something that they will want to build upon.

  • Kelly W

    Thoughtful and provoking Leanne, learning to love ourselves is the best gift we can offer to our children. Brene Brown explains this well in “The Gifts of Imperfection”. As a mother of 3 young adults, I’m still learning to glimpse what God sees in me… My kids clarify that vision – because they are beautiful while being (normally) messed up too. We all fall short, yet are loved entirely.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      The way we learn about God, ourselves and our children all at the same time is a profound gift isn’t it? I have gifts of imperfection and need to get to it, I am terrific at buying books and letting them sit.

      Normally messed up is probably a great parenting goal 😉

      • Kelly W

        Read the book Leanne (in between house repair!)… seriously the best book on self-worth I’ve ever read (five times). And good luck renovating.

  • Annette

    My daughter is finishing pre-k this week, and I’m a mess too. Sad that she’s growing up and wishing I could do everything again and better this time. Trying not to dwell on that and look forward to how I can do better in the future (realizing that I will make mistakes again, of course).

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      I feel much the same way Annette, like I want a do-over, I’m not sure there is anyone who feels like they nailed it, we learn as we go and then the next child is different and we learn the rhythms of parenting grace all over again.

  • pastordt

    Oh, Leanne. This is just so, so gorgeous. Thank you, thank you. And you have been given such wisdom – take it, run with it, live into it, believe it. Yes, of course, we all project things in our mothering. BUT when we become aware of it, we can change it. And that’s what you’re doing right.now. You are so very wise and insightful for one so young, believe me when I tell you this. Perhaps the terrible tragedies you have endured have given some of this wisdom to you – and I know that’s never, ever a trade-off.

    It’s taken me many years to realize that I mothered my middle daughter out of fear – not recognizing that she is so much like me and fighting against who she was way too often. I made so many mistakes. So many. But I loved her deeply, deeply. And God gave us the gift of living together after she should have been out on her own and those two years gave me so much goodness. I watched in awe as she grew deeper and deeper into knowledge of herself, as she met the right man, as she moved into a profession that would give her a livable life. Now she is raising three boys, the eldest of whom turned 16 last month, and she is doing it SO, SO much better than I did. God is in the redemption business, my dear. And you are being redeemed, minute by minute. Thank you so much for this grace-filled piece.

  • Natalie Hart

    What a deep and good realization for this little milestone birthday — my mothering birthday wish for you is more freedom. My projecting fears have more to do with the knowledge that there is so much going on inside my teenagers that they aren’t telling me, just like I had so many things going on that I didn’t even think about telling my parents. The only thing I can do about that is ask (usually when we’re driving somewhere) and create an culture of openness. I’m trying to parent without shame. I do want to point out that, although parenting in fear is a lousy way to feel, you’ve made good decisions for her, based on your experiences and your fears, like the school you’ve chosen for her next year. So it’s not all bad…

  • Julie Davis

    Yes! I have one daughter (age 10) and three boys and I find myself projecting my fears onto her life more than the boys’. There’s this extra pressure I feel to make this relationship flourish, especially because of my story as a child. But then I realize, it’s not fair to her to idealize our relationship or put pressure on her in any way. So, by God’s grace, I step back and remember that it’s Him who wrote my story and Him who’s writing hers and He’s good. Not safe, but good. Pressing forward to rest in that promise. Thanks for posting.