It’s almost Mother’s Day, the one day of the year when the whole world waxes lyrical on my exquisite mothering abilities. My husband, my kids, even Hallmark, they all tell me, “I just don’t know how you do it!” The truth is, neither do I. In fact, it doesn’t matter how many times my husband tells me I’m a great mom (and he tells me this almost daily), I don’t believe that I am.
At the end of every day, I read myself the laundry-list of my short-comings (and laundry is almost always on this list, since I loathe its demanding omnipresence in my life, and thus, choose to rebel against it):
I didn’t play with my kids enough. I didn’t make homemade play dough with my kids like I said I would. When we made cookies, I told them they couldn’t help anymore because it was making a huge mess that (who else?) I was going to have to clean up. I didn’t get the laundry done, for the sixth (ok, maybe 12th) day in a row, which means we’ll all be wearing swim suits for underwear tomorrow. Hooray. I was too tired to make a “healthy” meal for dinner, so we had evil, processed chicken nuggets, which the media reminds me daily will make my kids fat and sedentary. Definitely a mommy fail. I didn’t read to my kids today. I lost my patience with Bella when she broke the glass after I told her not to get it out. I lost my patience with Noah after he climbed up on the computer desk for the fifth time this morning. I lost my patience and then yelled (*cringe*) at Chloe when she jutted her hip out like a teenager, scowled at me, and said, “No, I won’t!”
I know that these years are going by quickly and I should appreciate them more. Every time I’m reminded of this by a middle-aged woman who’s looking in the rearview of her life at her child-raising years, I not only know it’s true, I berate myself internally for all the aforementioned laundry-list items for which I will also berate myself again tonight. But in the middle of the trying, exhausting, joyfully-fulfilling-one-minute-then-completely-demoralizing-the-next, I’m struggling just to acknowledge that I am, really, truly, a good mom.
And I know I’m not alone. I recently went back to work as a counselor, after spending several years exclusively at home with my kids. What kind of counseling do I do, you ask? I counsel moms of young kids (this is how I know God has a sense of humor). And do you know what I hear from each and every one of them, regardless of their ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, or work status? “I feel guilty all the time.”
Hearing them talk about their guilt, I can clearly see how irrational it is. When the mom who worked full-time told me she felt guilty for being away from her kids during the day, I told her I was amazed by how she filled her weekends and evenings with activities designed for spending quality time with her family, not because she felt like she should but because she loved doing those things with her kids. I pointed out to her that simply being at home full-time would in no way ensure more quality time with her children, it would just increase the quantity. With the time she had to spend with her kids, she was giving them the gift of herself, fully available to them.
When a mom told me she felt guilty every time she walked away during her two-year-old’s tantrums, I asked her if there was anything she could do for her child during the tantrums. She said, “No. I know he’s safe, and if I intervene, it will just make it worse. And if I stay in the room, it will make me crazy, and I’ll end up getting mad at him, which I don’t want to do.” So I reassured her that walking away was the best thing for her to do, that feeling overwhelmed by her son’s fit didn’t make her a bad mom, and that she was teaching him how to gain control of his own emotions by letting him work through it himself.
If I can tell other women what makes them good moms, I wondered, why can’t I give myself the same gift? Why does my “inner mom-ologue” have to be so negative? Why can’t I allow myself to let go of the list of things I didn’t do today, or the things I’m not good at as a mom, and simply celebrate the things I do well? Why can’t my laundry-list be filled with my mothering successes, rather than my perceived failures?
So this Mother’s Day, I’m giving myself a gift, probably the most profound one I’ve ever given. At the end of the day, instead of cataloguing my shortcomings, I’m going to make a mental list of what I did well as a mom. It might look something like this:
I let Noah walk when it would have been easier to push him in the stroller. I bit my tongue when Chloe talked back to me and let myself cool down before marching her to the naughty step. I sat with Bella and helped her do her homework, even though it meant that Noah made a mess while I was busy with her. I made three meals today for my family. I was there to walk Bella to and from the bus today. I took Chloe and Noah to the park today. I told Bella that she’s the most amazing animal scientist I know and I think she will change the world, one animal at a time. I told Chloe that she is the most caring, loving, harmonious while simultaneously blunt and truth-speaking person I know, and I love that about her. I reminded myself that Noah’s stubborn will to do everything I tell him not to, will one day manifest as persistence and tenacity that can’t be taught and will make him successful at whatever he sets his mind to in life. I gave my kids hugs today. I told my kids I love them today. Today, I was a good mom.
And you, too, dear mama, are a good mom. You did a lot of wonderful things for your kids today, I know you did. Remember those things, and let go of the rest. Happy Mother’s Day.