I’m not a perfect Mom. Most of the time I think I am able to be present to my kids, their needs, and join with them. However, some moments I completely mess it up. As a Social Worker, I feel like there is added pressure on me. I’m sure teachers feel this. And childcare workers. Maybe doctors or nurses or psychologists… like since we have certain knowledge, and even skill set, we’re supposed to have this parenting thing down.
And there are probably lots of times when all of that experience is helpful.
This piece is not about those times.
This is about those times when I show up in all my humanness. There are days that I’m tired. There are moments when I am surprised. When I get overwhelmed by whatever is in front of me, and my knowledge, skills, and experiences are not showing up. When I am just a mom. Who makes a mistake.
We all know these moments. Sometimes we can sense it in the middle, that however it is going down, is really not how we want it to, hope for it to, or need it to happen. And there it is. Sometimes we’re able to see it and switch gears fast enough. Other times, not so much. For the most part, I think I’ve got the next part down in a way that works for me and my family.
As quickly as I can separate from the moment- whenever things are as safe as possible- then I take a timeout. I regroup. I come back, and I own whatever just happened. Because I’m the adult. If I yelled, or was hurtfully sarcastic (more often than yelling), then I apologize for that unkind behaviour to my children. I express that I was frustrated (like 100% of the time when that happens), that we need to cooperate with each other, the rule is still the rule, and I will be better at enforcing it next time without yelling or misusing sarcasm. I show up as the parent, and I apologize as the parent. The lines are still clear. I’m not bowing down to small children. However, I am respecting them and our relationship.
And for the most part, I do better the next time. Lots of the times. You know, until I don’t (again), which I will. I don’t like that it happens. I know that because I’m human, I’ll never get it exactly right, but at least I feel like I got the next step and am humble enough to use it.
Once in a while, and usually when around other parents who I care about their opinion of me, for whatever reason, I find myself using praise or shame to control my children. These are actually the moments that cause me the most internal struggle. It’s disrespectful to my kids and to our relationship. I’m not proud of my end of things. And I don’t know how to repair it. I don’t know how to put words on whatever occurred. They’re little- we don’t have the language to describe that and how it’s uncomfortable and unfair. Those are big ideas. That can even be hard to talk about with grown up people.
It’s also harder to come back around to it because the situation occurred alongside others. Others whom I’m obviously uncomfortable with in some way, again, for whatever reason. And oftentimes we don’t get a chance to be just us again until a while after the unfortunate part. Circling back doesn’t always make sense.
There are a few moments over the past few years, where these moments seem to be suspended in time. Whenever the “not good enough Mom” thoughts flood it is usually in reference to these moments. Or other significant events. Moments that were filled with mom-guilt. Like when my babies didn’t gain weight while exclusively breast fed. When people ask about how my kids sleep through the nights (they don’t alone yet). Or when I admit that I didn't love parenting two toddlers- when people talk about how cool that stage is- I’m just like “yeah, no. not at all for me.” I have a lot of Mom-guilt in admitting that I didn’t love parenting during toddlerhood. And that I’m relieved to be through that stage- not that this stage is easier- it’s just different. I also have a lot of Mom-guilt in admitting that I’m not always confident in parenting- guilt about guilt.
Having been around lots of kids throughout my life as an older cousin, babysitter, nanny, counsellor etc, for the most part- I feel like I’ve got behaviour management strategies. With my own kids, though, it’s different. Especially in regards to perceived judgment and Mom-guilt. Those are brand new. Came with the umbilical cord and belly button. Pretty sure. No one told me that even if you’ve got confidence, you’re going to feel that, and it can feel way worse than the circumstances surrounding whatever brings it out.
One time where I felt it big time, and I actually wouldn’t change anything about how I was Moming in that moment, was at daycare. I was picking up my son and he was about three at the time, and he had a full on toddler meltdown before we could get from his classroom to his sister’s. Like screaming on the floor. Melt down. It was awful. I totally saw him as a tired, hungry, over stimulated, frustrated little man who was overcome and completely swept up. I saw him. And I was with him. I had boundaries around it- and was keeping him and others safe and us relatively out of the way- and was waiting for that big wave to pass. I was keeping my cool, staying present to him. And another mom walked a little one his age out, past us, and was like “Don’t you ever do that.” And the little one was like, “No mama.”
That was a hard moment. I’m not sure if that little one ever does get overcome like my boy. I know my daughter never has, not like that. My daughter has had her moments, but my husband and I always laugh, because she looks behind her before throwing herself on the floor and she calms from these moments quickly (she has her other moments though). She doesn’t get caught up in the wave the same as our son. These moments happen fast for him. He used to get totally taken out by them. If you haven’t parented a kid like this, you may not know what I mean, and that’s okay. With maturity, he has found ways to anchor himself, keep safe, and be swept up. He’s five and a half. We’re all working on ways for him to get swept up less often, less completely, however I believe that it is part of his nature. He is a full-on kid and has this amazing energy and intensity. We can’t celebrate the joy, wonder and creativity he feels and brings to our lives, and then deny the other emotions that happen in the same big way. They all exist together.
But for a split second in that moment at daycare, I wondered if I had it wrong with my boy. That there was something else I should be doing, because this was uncomfortable for us, and also for folks witnessing it. Obviously other parents have it figured out? Then I realized, that if I didn’t have the opportunity to parent this boy, I wouldn’t get it. Because my daughter, she doesn’t get swept up. Few of the kids I ever cared for got swept up like my son. I know my son is not the only one who experiences this kind of meltdown. However, if it is not in your experience, it is hard to understand. It’s easy to assume things. And these are not the only moments that are difficult in parenting and it doesn’t mean that this type is more complicated. Every parent-child relationship has it’s trials. I don’t want to discount other’s experiences- or say that kids like mine are harder to parent- not at all. It’s just that certain trials look differently, and the strategies are different, and how everything shows up is different. However, experiencing parenting trials in public exposes the parent to more judgment, and the cascade of emotions that go along with that. Right or wrong. Just does, and I’ve heard from lots of others that this is common.
Mom-guilt is real. Sometimes based in real judgements, and other times in perceived ones. They’re equally hard. Sometimes it is completely related to failing my own expectations. Sometimes in definable, easy to spot mistakes. Sometimes in circumstances and chance. Making amends with kids is totally possible, sometimes. And other times, it’s tricky… There are certain things I berate myself for, that others may not even see as a problem. There are things that some may find wrong with how I do things, that I don’t seek to change. Repairing my own moming confidence can be the hardest challenge when it’s taken a hit.
Most of the time, moming is the role I find the most comfortable in my life. I love connecting with my kids, nurturing, and exploring the world. I always wanted to be a mom, and am so delighted that I am blessed to have this family. We are usually the annoyingly happy family. It’s pretty cool. And this is still a thing for me, for us.
I imagine I’m not the only relatively confident, competent, Mom who experiences these thoughts and these feelings. I think this is another area that there are not many conversations happening… I would love to connect with folks and chat more about these ideas.