In the last few years I’ve done a lot of thinking about being a mother. It’s probably what I think about MOST, actually, since having kids. My thoughts fluctuate equally between “Am I doing a good job,” “How much am I going to screw them up by doing-not-doing this-or-that,” and “where’s the instruction manual because REALLY I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING.”
Being a mom is… well, it’s rough. And wonderful, and amazing. And brutal. And rewarding and miserable and fulfilling and draining and pure bliss. It’s the only thing I’ve experienced in life that can leave me feeling as full as a hot air balloon, weightless with love, and AT THE SAME TIME as twisted and wrung out as an old, holey and shredded dishtowel. From the second you conceive until FOREVER your life is no longer your own. It becomes something totally different. Something MORE. Every day your guts feel like they gorged on a party snack mix of puberty mood swing hormones and Sominex and double-frosted kid’s birthday cake seasoned with a hearty dash of crazy and sprinkled with very loud noises.
The best way I can describe it is to imagine that you have a cute, fuzzy, warm, cuddly monkey sitting on your shoulder, playing with your ear, whispering to you and loving you. On your back. All the time.
Look how cute. SO cute, right?
[“I love monkeys. SO CUTE. I want one.”]
Yes, super cute.
Except for what I said. ON your back. ALL THE TIME.
That cute monkey will bring you immense joy. It will make you laugh. It will keep you company. Things become way, way simpler and equally way more complex. You will learn things about the world and yourself that you never even considered. The monkey will give you things to think about, it will make you a better person by requiring you to practice virtues like patience, grace, peace, and self-control. Your mind will grow because you will start to relate to this small creature and see things from its perspective. You will find that you are capable of loving and protecting something outside yourself, that you are capable of violence because there is NOTHING you won’t do to keep that monkey safe. You will find that you are willing to BE SOMEONE ELSE if that means the monkey is better because of it, no matter how hard the change will be for you.
ON YOUR BACK. ALL THE TIME.
You no longer pee alone. Or eat alone, or have the first or third or last bite of anything tasty. Or SLEEP alone, if at all, and when you do sleep there’s no guarantee you’ll get to stay that way for long. Monkeys don’t wait for you to be rested, fed, comfortable, or prepared before they need things from you. They don’t know what “wait” means, or why you get frustrated when “we are heading out the door RIGHT NOW AND NOW YOU HAVE TO POTTY?” You will be covered with every single thing that monkey decides to drop, whether it’s the food it’s eating or the poop that it creates afterward. Puke and spit and boogers. Crumbs and breakfast and “where did you get that, EW I don’t even know what that IS, spit it out.” You’ll be bonked in the head with toys, and have things shoved within a half inch of your face “HEY LOOOOOK AT THIS IT IS SO COOL WHAT IS IT I AM SO HAPPY MY LIFE IS COMPLETE THIS IS FANTASTIC.” Every stinkfit the monkey has, every hurt feeling, every expression of pure rage or blissful screeching joy will be RIGHT IN YOUR EAR. The monkey will not consider how gross it is to have its finger in YOUR mouth right after it had that same finger in its nose or mouth or butthole. The monkey will smell bad quickly and is right under your nose, so it will require constant grooming, wiping, bathing, more wiping, brushing of teeth and hair. Boy monkeys usually smell bad even after they’re clean. Fearful things will make the monkey scream, cling, and it will scratch your face off trying to get inside your embrace and then nearly pop your head off by squeezing it’s tiny arms around your neck. Joyful things means even more screaming and you get kissed and tugged on and more squeezing, and also hair pulling. When it’s angry or upset you will be beaten on, emotionally and mentally for sure and sometimes physically.
On your back. All the time.
Having a kid is like having a monkey, and it’s on your back all the time. Forever. Even when that monkey leaves you and goes off to start a life of its own you will always FEEL IT there. The emptiness it leaves behind when it goes, the memories of how it experienced this-or-that, the way it used to be so small and reliant and now it’s big and independent. It will depart physically from you, leaving behind an amazing ache of love in your chest and wrinkles and grey hairs and scars and battle wounds you earned through worry and love and trial and error. And SO MUCH ERROR.
I have THREE monkeys, not just one, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that being a mom is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Meeting even just the very bare minimum requirements to be a mom is really, REALLY REALLY HARD.
But then, trying to be a GOOD mom is even harder.
I’m going to go out on a limb now and talk about some things that are likely going to piss you off. I’m sorry for your emotional reaction to what I’m about to tell you, but please push through. If what I say isn’t true or doesn’t apply to you, it’ll be a gentle read. If you FEEL something when you read what I write it’s because you need to hear it.
I also want to preface what I’m about to say with this: It’s never too late. Life allows U-turns. No matter what kind of mother you had, no matter what kind of mother you ARE, no matter how badly you think you’ve done or how well you think you’re doing, there is always, always, always room for improvement. We can always do better. Correcting a mistake in judgement is always allowed. Changing our minds is always allowed, and in this case it’s so, so important.
So here we go…
I think there is a difference between “just a mom” and a “good mom.” And I think trying to be a good mom is the difference. The TRYING. Because really, we all start at different places with skill and patience. Some of us need more work than others to do a good job, but when we are WILLING TO TRY it means we want to get better. And that DESIRE to change and improve is what makes us great. Our willingness to try is what makes us successful.
One of the saddest realities to me of all time is this: not all moms TRY to be good at their job. Some moms don’t care about doing their job well. Or at all.
Some women are not good moms. Not all moms are good.
In fact, some moms are just plain bad.
[“OHMYGOODNESS, I cannot believe you just said that.”]
….Yeah, I know. It’s true though. There are bad moms everywhere. In fact, I bet that you’ve got one in mind right now, right at this moment. It’s okay, I won’t tell.
Some moms should never have been moms.
Before you get really upset and stop reading, I’m not trying to be judgey. Or bitchy. Or hateful or discounting of the efforts put forth by millions of women every day. I am just being HONEST.
There really are some women in this world that should never be or never should have BEEN mothers. There are also some women that are NOT mothers that really should be. “Being female” and “ability to reproduce” does not mean that it’s required, or that it’s a good idea. Just because we CAN do something doesn’t necessarily mean we SHOULD, and I think that applies to motherhood as well. Some people are just not cut out for it.
Unfortunately some “not cut out for it” women are ALREADY moms.
So now what.
Well, now we try to do a good job. We TRY to get better. And the best way to do that is to be honest with ourselves about what kind of people we are, where we’re at, and where we need to be headed.
William Makepeace Thackeray once said “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”
Do you have any idea how profoundly accurate that is? Just wow. HEAVY. And holy crap, NO PRESSURE or anything.
As a mother, I AM GOD to my kids. Until I or the world teaches them otherwise, I am God. I CREATED them. I feed them. I provide for them emotionally and physically. Their whole world, EVERYTHING INSIDE OF THEIR WORLD is under my control. I choose what’s best and right and real and true for them. I choose what is evil and what I need to keep them from.
How I express myself about the world around me paves the way for their paradigms. The words I use, the things I express love and hatred for, the way I talk about other people. How I talk about myself teaches them what is valuable in a human being, because when Mom-that-is-God says “I am worthless, I am gross, look how fat I am” what does that make THEM? When “Perfect God” hates herself because of the body the kids gave her, what then? When Mom-that-is-God is angry and says hateful and hurtful and angry things, those words are even more destructive when they come from “on high.” From Mom UP THERE, while the kids are DOWN HERE. Words gain momentum and force when they’re shouted down to their smaller level. Hard words from Mom-that-is-God can destroy utterly.
Regardless of what I THINK I believe to be true about myself, my kids will see REALITY. KIDS ARE THE MOST ACCURATE AND HONEST BULLSHIT FILTERS IN EXISTENCE. No matter what I SAY is true, they see the REAL TRUTH. If I’m lying to myself they will know. Maybe not consciously, but deep down they will know when what they see does not match what they hear.
My standard of beauty will be greatly impacting on theirs. My daughter will see the liberties I take with and the modesty I demand from my body and use that as a foundation for her own. My sons will see my deep-down-truthful virtues and expect those from the girls they pursue. How I demand to be treated by the man I love and how well I am respected by him displays to my kids what a relationship is “supposed to look like,” even if that’s NOT what it’s supposed to look like.
EVERY SINGLE THING WE DO as mothers is under constant, daily, minute-by-minute observation and scrutiny by our kids, and they don’t miss much. They see and notice and imprint on their tiny brains things that our dulled-by-time-and-experience senses don’t even register. EVERYTHING MATTERS. Every word, every thought, every action, every belief, every behavior.
We are God to our kids when we are Mom, but not forever. At some point that power is relinquished, either willingly or not. At some point the kids take over their life and their will and their decisions, and I am not GOD anymore, I’m just MOM.
What we do as mothers up to the point where we are no longer in control is hugely important. Our kids childhoods are a temporary part of our adult lives, a long chapter, “book four in a series of seven” that we write for ourselves, but TO OUR KIDS THEIR CHILDHOOD IS PERMANENT. We are writing “book one” in THEIR series, and the words and pictures and marks in the margins we create in that book cannot be unwritten by them later. What WE do as mothers inside of that book is HUGE.
I’ve heard a lot of times the saying “We do the best we can with what we have.” That our PARENTS did the best they could with what they had. At first I agreed with that statement, but the more I think about it the more it pisses me off. I suppose that’s true for some people in some situations some of the time, but I don’t think it’s true EVERY time. Or even MOST of the time. In fact, I think most of the time people don’t do their best. I think people “just do.” They just go, just survive. I think that the average life is made up of at least 85% “JUST.” Not BEST. “She did the best she could with what she had” only works when the person in question is ALWAYS doing their best, and that’s just never the truth. NO ONE always does that. Ever.
To me, saying “you’re doing the best you can with what you have” is somehow abdicating. On some level it means “it’s okay that you did a shitty job.” That it’s not your FAULT that you did a bad job.
I think that the second you conceive a baby, you don’t GET to be without fault. When you’re the parent, everything is your fault.
…this is the part that is really going to start pissing you off.
No matter how much baggage you have, no matter how tough things are for you as a parent, FIX IT. Figure it out. Get done what needs to get done, because it’s no longer about you. It’s about this small person that looks up to you with stars in their eyes until you prove to them that you’re not worth that kind of gaze.
A child can make a relationship difficult, but a mother can break it into a billion pieces. And it’s YOUR JOB as a mother to make that work. The child is just a child. YOU are the adult, you are the voice of reason and maturity. It is YOUR JOB to make this work well for all involved people.
AND THEY ARE PEOPLE. Those tiny faces that you see as an extension of yourself ARE NOT YOU, nor are they cute little monkeys. They are PEOPLE. FULL BLOWN, full personality, independent entities. Mini versions of the adults they will soon become. Raising my own kids has taught me a lot about “who we are,” and that WE ARE WHO WE ARE starting from inside the womb. My kids are the same people out of my body as the ones I felt moving around INSIDE. They are the same people now as they will be in thirty years. Life will change them, some, and they will develop and grow and mature and experience will harden them off, but essentially they will be the same. Norah will always be confident and outgoing and friendly and want to be in charge. Wulfgar will always be emotional and sensitive and empathetic and introverted. Mace will always be loud and brash and impulsive and active. Their EXPRESSION of these traits will change, but the traits will remain the same.
I spent YEARS of my life hating myself and feeling bad for the person I am because I thought I needed to change some base parts of my personality. That I was WRONG, or broken. Or that I started out perfectly great, but because of how I felt or what I thought I was messing things up. “You’d be better if you’d stop being yourself.” I was made to believe that the parts of me that my parents didn’t like were self-imposed software issues that needed debugging, when in actuality I was MADE this way. HARDWIRED. At age five I was bossy and liked to be in control and in charge. I was an extroverted-introvert, a giver, a truth teller, and put reality above tact most of the time. I AM STILL THAT WAY. No amount of guilt has changed that, it’s just made me GUILTY.
No more. Not for me. No more apologies for how I am on the inside or how I feel. And NO demands for my kids or apologies from them for being who they are. THEY ARE PEOPLE, not just kids, and they need to be allowed to BE WHO THEY ARE. YES they will need some training to express themselves productively and respectfully, but that’s a different lesson and it’s a lesson that’s MY JOB to teach.
Let your kids be who they are. Don’t let your own insecurities you feel about the people they are dictate how you treat them. If your kid is a person you don’t understand, LEARN. If they do things in a way you wouldn’t do them, LET GO and let them. Encourage their individuality. Let them be different from you, even when it’s scary. AND IT WILL BE SCARY. We fear what we don’t understand, and we want to react to that fear with irritation and resentment and distance. DON’T. It’s not their fault that they’re different from you, but IT IS YOUR JOB to make that difference okay. And if that difference gets in the way of your relationship with your child, it’s YOUR fault.
If you think you are wise or mature you’re not, and if you don’t have wisdom or maturity don’t have kids. If you already have kids but don’t have wisdom, GET SOME. FIND it. Demand from yourself excellence. DEMAND FROM YOURSELF the same things you demand from your kids.
When you’re a mom you don’t get to stop trying. You have an obligation to the person you created to do your very best for them, by doing your very best for yourself. There should be some requirement to consistently self improve. Exercise. Meditate. Breathe. Take two minutes to turn yourself outside-in and just SIT. Think. Even if that two minutes is spent inside the bathroom peeing with the door shut while they bang to come in, REFLECT. Evaluate. Ask yourself how you can be better. Find a way TODAY, RIGHT NOW, to make your kids lives one step brighter and more hopeful. Think of one thing you did today that was good, even if the house is trashed and “the one thing” was closing the shower curtain to prevent mildew. High five yourself for eating a meal before it was stone cold, or eating at all.
The amount of grace you are able to give your kids is directly related to the amount of grace you are willing to give yourself. RELAX. Let go. Accept that YOU. WILL. make mistakes. LOTS of them. Over and over. So will they. Love yourself through your mistakes in the same way you love them through theirs, and vice versa.
Baggage that isn’t dealt with is passed on to kids. EVERY TIME. It’s my job as a mom to work through my shit, to find self-awareness deep enough that I clean out the back closets of my Cathedral and leave nothing left for them to inherit. WORK THROUGH YOUR OWN SHIT so your kids don’t have to do it for you. I cannot tell you how many mothers I know that put their own trash on their kids doorsteps and unintentionally require their kids to help them sort through their mess. IT IS NOT YOUR KID’S JOB TO FIX YOUR LIFE. That is YOUR job. People that have kids because they think it will “complete them” are prime offenders of this concept. A child should exist for their OWN life, not for yours.
Being a good mom means you put your kids first, every time. EVERY. TIME. It means you no longer have the luxury of “what’s best for me,” because being a good parent means it doesn’t always work that way. It means no more boozing with your buddies, no more bar hopping until 2.00 am. It means you take a job you’re not excited about to pay for new toddler-size shoes and to be home for dinner and bedtime. It means that you cut your VERY EXPENSIVE visit to Disneyland short because the little one hits meltdown-mode halfway through. It means you only get half the groceries you really needed because there was an unexpected diaper blowout, or someone wet their pants, or there was a five-alarm tempter tantrum because you picked the wrong cereal to put in the cart. It means that you don’t get to date that hot guy from work because he doesn’t get along with your kids, or you get rid of the dog you’ve had FOREVER because he growled at the baby.
The voice you use to speak to your children becomes their inner voice. It will echo through eternity inside of their minds and they will pass your voice down to their children and their children’s children after that. REMEMBER that no matter how hard things are for you as a parent, YOUR PART is temporary. Remember that for your child it is PERMANENT.
Attitude reflects leadership. if you have an asshole kid, you’re probably an asshole. If you have a kid that won’t obey, it’s your fault for not following through with your threats. If you have a kid that’s off the charts emotional, it’s because you haven’t taught them to cope. If you want to demand from your kids that they get better all the time, YOU NEED TO GET BETTER ALL THE TIME. No matter what you say they will SEE AND LEARN FROM WHAT YOU DO. The people they will become is a direct result of the person you are. If you want better kids, be a better person.
I once had a friend that told me “I’ll start telling my kid “no” when he’s old enough to understand.” NO WAY. They understand about ten times more than they are able to express, and they are able to express a lot more than you think. I started teaching my daughter to sign at six months. By seven months she was signing back. She couldn’t speak, but she spoke. THEY KNOW. They UNDERSTAND. They are not adorable little morons, they are intelligent sponges with the capacity to learn one hundred times faster than a normal adult. They learn more in their first two years than we learn all the rest of our lives put together. USE that. Teach them things with purpose and intention, don’t waste that time by assuming that they are not capable of learning.
Understand that your kid’s life IS NOT ABOUT YOU. Understand that everything you put into your kids is put FORWARD, and everything THEY do is put forward. Nothing they do should go BACK. They are not obligated to repay to you what you put out toward them, and to expect that from them is selfish and unfair and WRONG. If you don’t want them to take what you give, DON’T GIVE IT. If you feel resentment or irritation that “that kid has taken so much,” GET OVER IT. Let it go. It’s done, AND IT WAS YOUR JOB. You’re SUPPOSED to give them everything you can and keep only the leftovers for yourself. That’s what it means to be a good mom. They start out as a LITERAL parasitic entity inside of your body, sucking your energy and nutrients and using your very breath and blood to live, and they will KEEP doing that until they are adults. It’s your JOB. Keep trying to find a way to do this with a joyful heart.
SEE your kids. REALLY SEE THEM, don’t just look around to be sure they’re there and not getting into shit. Don’t look TOWARD them when they talk. Look AT them. And listen. Open up your heart and HEAR WHAT THEY SAY. In the beginning the things they say will be small. Tiny. Seemingly insignificant. But to THEM the things they say are HUGE. At that age they ARE big things. A mom who can be trusted with small things can be trusted with big things, and THEY WILL REMEMBER that you listened. And when the problems turn from “I can’t find my favorite animal to sleep with and I’m upset” to “I want to sleep with that boy and I’m upset,” the chances of them talking to you about the second problem will depend greatly on how well you listened to the first.
Being a GOOD MOM means you connect. You don’t just live NEXT to this little person, you live WITH THEM. And they live IN you. And you live in them. You don’t live THROUGH them, because their path is theirs and not yours. But you live a life together that’s so involved and intertwined that the line between your heart and theirs is blurred and unclear. YES it’s work. And YES it’s hard, and yes it takes a lot of time and effort. Being that close is scary because it’s completely vulnerable and requires total abandon. You have to let go. You have to open up and let go and give in. YES IT HURTS MORE TO BE THAT CLOSE, but OHMYGOODNESS… if you want to catch a glimpse of Heaven while you’re on this earth, live inside the heart of a child. It is miraculous. And it’s RIGHT. And beautiful and wonderful and humbling and LIFE CHANGING. If you are willing and able to connect that closely to your kids, DO IT. If you aren’t there yet, TRY. NEVER STOP TRYING.
The willingness to try is what makes you a GOOD mom.
At the very darkest and worst times of your kid’s life, BE THERE. Shut your mouth, open your arms, and just BE. Be the refuge they need. Don’t make it about you or how much you failed. Don’t make it about what you could have done differently as a parent, or how you didn’t even see it coming. Don’t make it about their mistake or poor judgement or stupid choice, don’t try to tell them “well you should have” or “you could have done that different.” JUST BE.
Because it’ll happen. They’ll NEED you. AND you’ll want to fix it. Or place blame, or try to tell them that if they would have done what you said it would’ve all worked out. Don’t. Just SHUSH and sit and hand over tissues and let your shirt soak up the tears. Hold them until they dry up. Hold them until it stops hurting.
THEN, when they’re emptied out and the hurt is dulled enough to be a hollow echoing ache, then you can talk.
TALK, but don’t TELL. ASK. Ask questions. Ask them to share. Ask them what they need. Or talk to them about all the extraordinary and beautiful things that they are, about what they have taught you, all the things about them that make them your wonderful everything.
When they are hurting and they ask you “what’s wrong with me, why did this happen, why do you love me, I need to know why I’m lovable,” don’t say anything that will not inspire. Tell them why they are wonderful. Tell them how they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that everything they are is because it was meant to be that way. That they have PURPOSE. And talent. And gifts and blessings, and that the very air they breathe is blessed to have been that close to their heart.
Give unconditionally, and without regret. Do everything you can to care for that tiny person you created in the way you should have been cared for.
There’s a lot of redemption in that.
You will make mistakes. You will lose your temper. You will wonder more than one time “WHY AM I DOING THIS,” and “I should never have had kids,” and “MAN my life would be so different if I only had myself to worry about.” That’s normal. KEEP TRYING though. TRY to be a good mom, because simply the desire to improve and the act of trying means you’ll always be better than you were the day before.
Your kids deserve that. YOU deserve that.
They say that behind every successful man is a supportive woman. I would say that behind every well rounded and successful PERSON is a supportive and loving mother. LADIES. DO YOU NOT SEE THE POWER YOU HOLD by being a loving mom. It really is like playing God. And with that great power comes great responsibility.
I write this post for a lot of reasons. I write because people have asked me to give advice on motherhood and although I REALLY truly don’t know what I’m doing, this is what works for me. I feel that I’ve learned a lot through trial and so-much-error, and if I can speak up and share maybe someone won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made. I think it’s absolutely RETARDED that the most important job we ever, ever do and the one we’re judged for the most, “CREATING PEOPLE,” we’re expected to do without any help, without training, and we should JUST KNOW. That’s bullshit. We DON’T know, and if someone can speak up and give us some insight into ourselves and being a parent we should listen.
I write it for me because I have a lot of mom issues I need to work out. I write about this because I know a lot of people, myself included, that are struggling with weight, body image issues, self-hatred, self-loathing, depression, anxiety, and poor self-esteem, and I can see plain as day the connection between those things they struggle with EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY and the shortcomings of their mothers. Somewhere along the line you were not told enough how wonderful you are, or you were not loved in the way you needed.
Mostly I write because this is my hope for myself, that at the end of this chapter in MY life, when I turn over to the world three grown and functional people, they will look back on their time under my wing with affection and security and warmth. Or maybe they will NEVER look back, because there will be nothing I’ve done or didn’t do that holds them down. I want them to love me because I’m their mom, but I want them to respect me for the person I am. I want to be a mentor, someone they can look up to even when they’re older and experienced.
At some point my kids are going to realize that I’m mortal. That I’m not GOD, I’m just me. They’ll realize that I’m a normal person like everyone else, full of crookedness and brokenness and baggage and errors, and that I really had no idea what the hell I was doing. They will realize that I am just a girl that got pregnant and had a baby and that I had to figure out the rest as I went along.
Then. THEN I want them to see me for who I really am, and before the stars fade completely from their eyes I want to be someone worthy of their gaze. I want them to be proud of me for ME. Not just because I was their mom.
Keep trying. Keep improving. Love your babies in the way you can, in the way ONLY YOU can. Understand that no matter what happens in your child’s life you are the only one that will ever be “Mom.”
And THAT… well, that’s just amazing.