Recently, a good friend confessed to me that every night after her children go to sleep she replays all of her parenting mistakes from the day like a movie in her head. I’m sure there are times when she reminisces about how fun it was to get ice cream cones together, or that one great conversation they had about what happens when frogs die. But for the most part for my friend, those thoughts are few and far between. Much more frequently she sits in her quiet house and thinks about all the times she failed that day to be the kind of mom she had hoped to be.
And boy, can I relate. I’ve been there too. My oldest son battles mental illness due to near starvation as a newborn, and sometimes I can’t help but think he deserves a much better mother than the one he got. Maybe a mom who has a degree in psychology, or is a professional counselor, or maybe just some kind of saint with endless patience. But instead he got me, and I make big mistakes, almost daily. I yell at him and his brother when I’m stressed, I dole out ridiculous consequences when I don’t know what to do, sometimes I just shut down completely so I don’t have to deal with any of it. And there was a time not too long ago that I too, like my friend, would sit up after he went to bed at night and mentally beat myself up over all the ways I hadn’t gotten it right. But it never, ever made me feel any better and it certainly never helped me do any better.
Over time, I’ve changed. It wasn’t overnight and I don’t even know when it happened, but along the way I’ve gotten gentler on myself. I’ve come to dwell more on the simple truth that I’m doing a good job with something that is really hard. Parenting is hard. We all have different circumstances that make particular aspects of it harder for us than for others, but one thing is for sure: parenting is hard emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, and socially. I once heard someone say that if you find yourself spending time worrying that you’re not a perfect parent, then you’re probably a pretty great one. The desire to be better is an indicator that you’re trying.
If I were asked, I would be able to rattle off all of my parenting weaknesses in seconds. But if I were asked to name my strengths as a mother, I would have to think about it a bit longer. I’m probably not unique here; it may be true of all of us. But for me, and for my friend, and maybe for you too, sometimes we have to just force ourselves to make that list. I already know all the ways I fail, but what is it that makes me a good mother? Well, I work hard to educate myself on parenting and try to implement what I learn. I’m good at reading to my kids every day. I hold them and kiss them and hug them so many times a day I lose count. So sure, I fail, but I succeed too. And my days of mentally rewinding my failures are mostly behind me. Because that load of guilt is just too heavy to lug around, and a heavy load around my neck makes playing on the floor with my kids a lot harder to do.