A few years ago, with tears literally dripping onto my keyboard, I made a list titled: “Good Things I’ve Done.” A pretty lame title, I’ll admit, but it was the best I could muster. My desperate attempts at a self-esteem boost were precipitated by a less-than-stellar parenting performance. Let’s rewind…
I was flying solo, again, while my businessman-husband hopscotched the globe (clearly pre-COVID). This particular day we had made it to a park, gone on a family walk, and even arrived at Sunday School on time (and in reasonably clean attire). But at supper, when my son’s toy lightsaber caught my daughter’s arm and her bowl of chili made a perfect arc to the floor, I ended up on the couch in the fetal position. Kidney beans and tomato sauce sent me to my knees and kept me there – literally and figuratively.
I want parenting – motherhood – to look and feel effortless. I want my children to see a mother in control – poised, unflappable. Not in a staged, artificially perfect way, but a quiet confidence that says: I’ve got this. But oh how often I feel like I don’t “have this.”
One year on Mother’s Day I read an article by a prominent speaker who spoke of how he could never remember seeing his mother flustered. She was cheerful, kept a spotless house, always seemed happy. Oh, and did I mention her husband traveled all the time too? Oy-yoy-yoy. I can only hope he writes with selective memory. Note to self: this is not the type of article I should be reading on Mother’s Day (see pictures below for further reference).
Maybe this only happens to me but have you ever been reading a parenting book, thought about your many (many, many, many) weaknesses as a parent, and then come across a line that says something to the effect: if you’re reading this book, chances are you’re already a good parent? It reminds me of an extra help class my Organic Chemistry professor offered when I was in university.
Organic Chemistry is a notoriously difficult subject. It’s hard for me to believe now but, back in the day, I knew all the stages of glycolysis. I could sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair in a crowded gymnasium with 500 other students, read the final exam command to demonstrate the stages of the citric acid cycle and start drawing the mechanism: acetyl CoA (two carbon molecule) joins with oxaloacetate (4 carbon molecule) to form citrate (6 carbon molecule). Next citrate is converted to isocitrate which is oxidized to alpha-ketoglutarate, releasing carbon dioxide. You get the drift; and, yes, I Googled it this time.
But before Google was a verb and when I had to learn it myself, I made sure to arrive early to get a prime seat (front row, naturally) at the help session. I needn’t have worried – there was only one other person in attendance. I was struggling tremendously with the material despite being a strong student. Alarm bells started clanging and within seconds I’d convinced myself everyone else understood the material. My mental spiral began; before the professor had even arrived I was already packing my bags for home – failure was, surely, imminent. That evening my professor told me something I’ve never forgotten. She said, “The reason you two are the only ones here is because you’re the only two who understand the material enough to ask questions.” I’m not sure that was completely accurate – perhaps a class full of 19-year-olds could think of more exciting places to be at 8 PM on a Friday night – but I think there was an interesting element of truth to her words. I felt lost, but I could identify what I did and didn’t understand, allowing me to ask quasi-articulate questions. I put my head down and worked; I asked questions the rest of the term and I clicked and popped my molecular set 1000 times until I could do mechanisms in my sleep. And then I aced the exam.
I have to hope parenting will be a case of history repeating itself. Deep down I know it won’t; there are no gold stars and A+’s doled out for mothering. But I diligently show up to class – I read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Siblings Without Rivalry. When they were babies I read: The No-Cry-Sleep Solution, Happiest Baby on the Block, The Baby Whisperer, and even the hotly debated Babywise. I go to help sessions – coffee mornings with moms where we ask “What would you do?” “How should I handle this?” and start text chains with my Mom or my sisters, wise women who have gone before me.
There are days I’m convinced I’m one bad test away from flunking out; I look around and assume that everyone else has this parenting thing all figured out (they don’t). My kids are sassy. There are fights over vegetables and bedtimes that escalate to disproportionate levels. There are personality conflicts and frustrating behavioural patterns. There is spilled milk and spilled chili. Kidney beans and tomato sauce may very well send me to my knees again.
But I’m learning to better communicate with my kids. I’ll name my emotion(s): fear, frustration, sadness. I’m learning to put things in perspective – mole hills can look like mountains, but they aren’t really. And every day I try to tell them “You are a joy and a blessing,” because they are and parenting them is, but it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I took Organic Chemistry, so that’s saying something).
Some days are going to look like this:
And other days are going to look like this (which happen to be 3 out of 4 Mother’s Days; the missing Mother’s Day my husband was away for work, or we likely would have photographic evidence of tears. It’s too ironic for me to be making this up. Note the same general outfit on two separate Mother’s Days because that’s the way I roll.
I’m learning to accept that a day can be tough for no apparent reason. It’s okay to struggle. Parenting is hard. I will raise my voice. I will cry. I will make mistakes; say no when I should say yes, spend more time looking at a screen than in my children’s faces. But isn’t it nice to remember that tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it yet? Well said, Anne Shirley, well said.
So I’ll bake cookies, and read books, and roast s’mores and crawl into bed next to them to scratch their backs and hear about their day. Every week there is some new hurdle; a behaviour that needs work, an anxiety that needs calming, a physical ailment that needs tending. I’ll be doling out Bandaids – mental and physical – for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. It’s my job; I’m a student of my children and I’m in school for the long haul.
So if I make parenting look hard – it’s because it is. Worth it? Absolutely. But hard. If I make it look easy, you’d better see an eye doctor…