My mom set the parenting bar high. As an elementary school teacher, she has a gift with babies and small children. Beyond her endless patience, she simply understands how kids think. She anticipates frustrations and makes even the most mundane tasks seem magical to anyone under the age of ten. She genuinely adores children, and they genuinely adore her.
Even with such a stellar role model, I’m just an adequate mom. I manage all the essentials, but I’m often impatient and sometimes a little bit bored.
I was never someone who went crazy over babies. I loved my children’s babyhood with an all-consuming fierceness that surprised me, but I’m never first in line to hold someone else’s newest bundle of joy. I feel the same way about toddlers. They’re cute. They can be fun. But sometimes, I just want to hide in the shower (even from my own).
I keep telling myself I’ll hit my stride as my girls get older. I’m down for a little drama and heart-to-heart conversations. (This post might haunt me in a few years). I like hearing what my kids are thinking instead of interpreting their cries—or whines. My six-year old perceives the world in such an interesting way that I’m becoming more and more patient with her epic narratives from the cafeteria. My three-year just described vomit saying “I spit my soup”. (She hadn’t eaten any soup, yet requested it for dinner after puking…which is both ironic and gross).
Still, I’m not my mom. I’d like to be, but there are a few things about parenting that leave me feeling less than stellar.
Parenting is a high-stakes endeavor.
As someone who has always been risk averse, the extreme consequences of failing as a parent plagues me with doubt and indecision. The massive responsibility to not screw up the lives of other human beings seems like an awful lot to carry. I know my girls will make their own mistakes in life, but I hope to send them off into adulthood without any permanent damage from my imperfect mothering.
Every time I yell, I wonder if this will be a moment they rehash with their therapists in twenty years, and I hate myself a little.
Parenting is isolating.
Each parent-child relationship is unique and while we may be able to talk to our partner or other parents, the nuances of our interactions with our kids remains singular. Only I know what it’s like to mother my girls, which differs with each child. I’m blessed with supportive friends and family. Even so, I sometimes feel utterly lost. I end up criticizing myself in ways I’d never criticize another parent. And, since this all goes down in my head, no one is there to contradict me.
Parenting is frustrating.
Pretty often, I ask myself “Am I doing this all wrong?” I envy those parents who seem so at ease with their parenting choices. Maybe it’s genuine. I hope so. I hope someone out there feels 100% or 90% or even 80% confident in their parenting ability. I sure as hell don’t.
Have my kids had too much screen time today? What’s in those frozen pancakes I just fed them? Did I listen enough or was I too distracted by my phone/job/friends/blog/life?
This lack of confidence motivates me to continue learning and to act with kindness toward my kids. But, second guessing myself all the time sucks.
Parenting is imperfect.
I was a perfectionist before I had children. An A- pissed me off in school. I obsessed over every sentence in my writing to the point I never finished anything and certainly never sent it out into the world.
Once I had kids, the perfection filter flew off. I was a hot mess in more ways than one, and usually didn’t have the time to care. Then something happens—I’ll run out diapers or end up wearing a fleece pullover in June because my toddler wrecked her outfit at a party and the best I can do is tie my shirt into something that resembles a pint-size dress—and I will feel like an utter failure.
I recognize that many men and women grabble with the fear that they are only mediocre parents, constantly measuring themselves against the great parents that surround them. Some would argue that this worry alone puts them on the right path of parenthood. I really hope so.
I can honestly say, I’m not a great mom. I’m not a bad one either. I’m an adequate mom whose trying hard to be a better one. And that’s ok.
The thing is, I know a lot of great moms (and dads). I wonder if they know they’re great. Or are they just taking it each day at a time, trying not to screw up as best they can?
I’m not sure my own mother would accept the “great” label. The woman did feed me Spaghetti-O’s regularly and tried to send me off to school during Hurricane Hugo. We laugh about this stuff now, but I wonder if she felt a pang of guilt as she scooped those slimy noodles out of the can after a long day at work. I know she checked the school closing reports obsessively after that grade-school hurricane gaff. Still, she was and is a fantastic mom.
I have decent parental skills. I know how to change a diaper in the dark—when I have one—and soothe a child with only my voice, my arms, and the ability to appear calm despite the “Holy crap, did that just happen!?!” stream of consciousness pounding through my brain. I’m an awesome book reader and story teller. It’s one quality I picked up from my mother. For the length of a book, I feel like the mom my girls deserve. But I’m still terribly impatient. I have a short fuse. I’m sometimes just plain DONE. I give in to snack requests for Nutella and turn on a Caillou, despite the better mom in my head tisking at the unwholesomeness of both.
So to the other parents out there who feel just “adequate”, it’s ok. Chances are you’re not as bad as you think you are. Some moments you’ll be setting the bar high for your own kids. Other moments, you’ll wish to forget and pray your kids do the same. I just hope that when all the moments of childhood have passed, my girls will have more great than bad memories. At the very least, I hope they will be able to laugh at the bone-head things I did from time to time.