Sometimes I’m quite certain I must be the world’s worst mother.
This feeling usually pops up when I see social media posts. You know the kind — the inspirational ones with some words written in a lovely font against a backdrop of flowers or a tranquil lake or a rainbow. Or a beautiful smiling child.
The message will often be something about staring blissfully at a sleeping child, not wanting to put him or her down but instead just cradling your beautiful miracle and soaking it all in. Or urging time to slow down because kids just grow up too fast, stressing the importance of soaking up every single moment.
I absolutely love my kids more than anything else in the world, but can we please get real for a minute?
I’m sure I spent some time when my children were babies cradling them and “soaking it all in.” But more often than not, when the babies were asleep, so was I. Either that or I was taking advantage of a few brief moments to do one of the many, many things that were piling up around the house.
My favorite thing to do when the babies were asleep was get in a quick shower in an attempt (probably in vain) not to look so much like a sleep-deprived mom with spit-up on her clothes.
My three kids aren’t babies anymore, but with the huge age disparities between them (they range in age from almost 23 to almost 10), sometimes I’m pretty sure it’s been almost 23 years since I’ve even been able to step foot in a bathroom without somebody knocking on the door within seconds with some type of crisis that requires my immediate attention.
There’s a snippet of the TV show “Family Guy” that perfectly encapsulates motherhood, in which Stewie repeatedly calls for his mom Lois. “Mom, mom, ma, mom, mommy, mommy, momma. . .” When Lois finally responds with an exasperated, “What?” Stewie says “Hi,” and runs away.
Yeah, that’s reality.
My kids are loud. Like they literally never stop talking unless they’re asleep, and even then, they’ve been heard to utter ridiculous nonsense about moose stealing their socks (true story).
My kids have said inappropriate, or untrue, things on a regular basis. One of them told a teacher we were related to President Obama. One told a teacher we had a toddler in the hospital with a broken back and I was pregnant again with twins (both total lies).
One said to me when I was pregnant, “I get why your belly’s getting so big but what about the rest of you?” Given my highly pregnant and emotional condition at the time, it’s a miracle that child survived.
They will all argue with me, or anyone else, about absolutely anything and everything.
Me: “I told you to stop running.” Child 1: “I’m not running. I’m skipping.”
Me: “I thought I told you it was time for bed.” Child 2: “I am in bed. You didn’t say I had to go to sleep.”
To say that nearly every single day includes some type of exasperated sigh on my part isn’t an exaggeration.
But there are other times when I think I must be doing something right.
Like a recent day when I was working and somebody approached me to ask if I was “Sheila the newspaper lady,” to which, with quite a bit of trepidation, I responded in the affirmative. She said she knew and worked with my son and wanted to tell me what a great young man he is.
I’ve had instances with all three when I’ve been so full of pride and awe at them and their abilities that I have actually cried. Those are the moments I think most parents can relate to — when you see your kids make these giant strides in development all of a sudden, when they take dramatic leaps in maturity and you feel as though you just watched them grow up right before your eyes.
Two of those instances with my younger kids have occurred this summer, when I sat with tears streaming down my face as I watched them grow a little bit older, wiser, brighter and stronger — and a little bit further away from me. I readily admit that I personally had little to do with these moments other than giving them the freedom to pursue them and letting other amazing folks step in and be their guides.
Sometimes they say something so spot on I have to stop and almost catch my breath. I’m currently reading a short book entitled, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a. . .” (insert profanity there). My child’s comment on that? “Mom, that doesn’t sound very subtle at all.”
A few months ago, one of them said to me, with a sigh, “Mom, one of these days the right thing and the fun thing will be the same thing.” That one stopped me dead in my tracks.
They may be loud and at times defiant, but they’re also kind, smart and they know how to think for themselves. I suppose I can’t complain too much about them being loud and defiant; with me for a mother, what else did I expect? (My own mom reminds me of this regularly when I do start to complain.)
The truth about parenting is that there are a whole lot of books on the subject or inspirational memes on social media, and a seemingly endless supply of advice, but when it comes right down to it, we’re all totally on our own, just trying to figure it out. Sometimes we feel like we hit it out of the parenting park and other days we’re not even sure where that park is.
Everybody can complain about their parents for something. Too strict or too lenient, too affectionate or too distant, too involved or too hands-off. It’s really an impossible balancing act that we just try to keep from tilting dangerously to one side.
So, to all the moms out there who want to stare lovingly at their children as they sleep, and to all the moms out there who just want to take a shower in peace — or who resort to pretending to be occupied in the bathroom but are really just enjoying 30 seconds of something even approaching silence (which I have never, ever, ever done) — here’s to you.
Maybe we’re all the world’s best mother and the world’s worst mother and everything in between, just making it all up as we go along. And maybe that’s quite all right.