People ask me to write about parenting and marriage. This makes me chuckle because I feel like …. well, a.) their bar is pretty low at that point, and b.) the older I and my kids get, and the longer I’ve been married, the more I realize I don’t know much.
When my kids were young and I a young mom, I really did love it, and I felt like I had things to share. Teach. Maybe I did, but looking back I realize it was more like …. a beggar showing other beggars where to find bread, as opposed my actually knowing jack. Furthermore, a lot of what I (thought I) knew, or believed at the time, turned out to be incorrect. Oh, so incorrect.
My kids are all three young adults now, and I’m at a place in my journey as a mom where I am reflecting back on what I did, and did not, do. The rearview mirror can be a bit like a corn maze painted with molasses, I find …..
I have a number of amazing young women in my life who are in the early years of parenting, and it’s a funny place to find myself – remembering 100% what it was like and as if it was yesterday (on many levels, wishing it was), but at a point when I am standing on the other side of decisions and choices I made when my kids were the ages theirs are now. I see all of the ideology I held and the influences on my life in those years, and I see how it has played out or is playing out in my kids’ lives – for better or worse.
There is so much I find myself wanting to share with moms currently raising kids, and so much I see pressing them on all sides.
Moms have always had odds stacked against them. We have our own organic angst – Am I good enough? What if I get this wrong? What is the best thing to do here? What if they hate me? What will they be in therapy for when they’re 30? We’ve collectively always had a variety of “judge and jury” in friends and family (and strangers), we’ve had fictional moms on TV and books written by professionals to help us feel inadequate and unworthy. Comparison has, no doubt, always participated in stealing some measure of joy. And this generation of moms has the added vortex of social media, the mounting challenge of shifting social constructs, and navigating the related implications. While the moms of this brave new world do have the benefit of more information, research and support at their fingertips in a way generations prior did not, I often observe the downside of that same resource to be significant. Not only can you not win, but you can count on being inundated with reminders of it many times a day, as well as the open criticism and harsh judgments of complete and total strangers. Scrolling and clicking is a minefield.
You, mom raising kids in today’s world, don’t necessarily need another voice telling you the latest research on this technique or that developmental stage. There’s tons of that with a single Google search. I’m not here to be another version of personally removed information (or noise, as it sometimes is). I’m here to be a support and encourage, and to that end, I think maybe what you do need is more voices telling you that you’re doing okay, and that you have permission to not be perfect and not know all the answers.
Spoiler alert: You are not going to ever know all of the right answers in parenting your kids, and you are also going to get a host of things wrong.
And that’s okay.
Here are a few thoughts for moms raising kids today:
(Not in any particular order)
1.) YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB! Come back here forty times a day if you need to in order to see it in writing.
2.) You do not have to be a perfect mom. Only a good enough mom. And you’ll be very relieved at what falls under “Good Enough” – including things like resorting to fast food on hurried nights (at least they’re fed) and skipping bath time because you need to shut the day down for everyone’s sake. Hey, not many years ago, kids bathed once a week and each kid in a large family used the same bath water as the one(s) before them. One or even a couple of missed baths in a week is not going to change the earth’s trajectory nor keep your child out of Harvard. They get their hands washed several times a day, their mouths get wiped at some point (on purpose by you or out of reflex by them and their sleeves), and remnants of outdoor play and birthday cake isn’t likely to kill anyone (though you might if you don’t just go ahead and put them to bed ………..)
3.) You are the right mom for your child/children. Period. As such, you are also the one who is the best authority on them, and your main obligation is to them and no one else. You do not owe anyone an explanation for why you are buying your daughter pink or getting your son’s hair buzzed. Or vice versa. You do not need to give anyone a report on the healthy foods they love nor an explanation for the soda they drank (and spilled). People are always going to criticize and judge you because human beings are not happy unless shouting “Crucify” about someone, so just go ahead and do you. Do what is best for your children, and your family. The judges won’t actually be helping you raise your children, so don’t give them a say in how you do it.
4.) Stop posting pictures and apologizing for (which is just drawing attention to, anyway) the “mess” in the background – laundry on the couch or toys on the floor or dishes in the sink, or chocolate syrup on their faces and shirts. If the people you’re posting for judge you by such things, they maybe shouldn’t be granted access to whatever moment you wanted to highlight by sharing the picture. And more than that, messes keep – moments don’t. So, good for you for being in the moment you captured, enough to notice it and to snap a pic/video. Stop apologizing for being human and not having it all together. The person who has it all together is likely paying people to help them, or on the brink of permanent residence in the nuthouse.
5.) If I could give you a pass from one thing it’d be from worrying about getting it wrong. You will get some of it wrong – that’s a promise. But kids are resilient, sincere apologies can be as good a teacher as getting it right in the first place, and you will be blown away at how much LOVE covers. I get that part of loving them is wanting to do your best for them. I am saying try not to escalate doing your best over simply loving well. Loving well will help inform what “best” looks like.
Know what’s more important than convincing them to eat avocado and them getting a 4.0 in kindergarten (or ever)? Modeling love to them – giving it, and receiving it. It’s a tall order, and a work in process – just like them, just like you – but it’s of utmost importance.
Love is patient, and love is kind. It’s not rude, it’s not self-centered, it doesn’t hold their mistakes against them. It sets and maintains healthy boundaries…..
(Honestly, just working at the patience and kindness will give you enough to chew on their entire childhood. I’ve heard from a friend.)
6.) Your children are not an extension of you. Them not being perfect doesn’t mean you’re failing them; you are a Good Enough mom doing the best you know how. When they misbehave in public (WHEN, not if), don’t let the guiding impulse be how it’s making you look. When they make choices that are upsetting, different than what you hoped or not in their best interest – and they will – check your issues at the door and resist the temptation to make it about you. (Your fault, your reputation….) Part of loving well is giving choices and the latitude to make them. Guidance informs better choices, while control forfeits autonomy (and, by extension, the ability to make good choices independently). Guide your children, and know that even the best of kids with the best of parents will (do) make choices sometimes that are counter to how they’re taught. It’s okay. You’re still a Good Enough mom.
7.) Kids are human beings. They deserve to be treated with dignity, and taught mercy. Don’t talk to your kids in a way you wouldn’t talk to a guest in your home. Kids need to be shown what love is. What respect is. And you don’t get to just demand respect, by the way – you also need to be respectful. It’ll be okay if they take cupcakes you bought at a discount grocery store and that aren’t organic to school; this has zero bearing on their character. Your job is to set them up for their best chance in life, not to fulfill anyone else’s expectations on your parenting (or anything else). And their “best chance” has little to do with the trappings of their childhood and everything to do with their character. You don’t expect vegetables to emerge from your garden that you did not plant seeds for, so don’t expect character traits from your child that you do not plant and tend to. Likewise, sowing and reaping requires a lot of diligence, and a lot of patience. Consistency. Intention. This includes being consistent and intentional about your own behavior and reactions/responses – it is not only about focusing on theirs. Love looks at (and adjusts) its own behavior.
8.) There is no Perfect mom. There are millions of moms just doing the best we know how. Your best is good enough, and you will keep learning and growing.
9 through infinity.) You are doing a good job.
10.) You deserve and need support, and it’s okay to ask for it. It’s okay to come right out and say “I am afraid I will/I am failing my kids and I could use some help.” Most of us totally get that, so the reassurances will come in like a flood when you share the fear. You will open the door to anecdotes that make you feel a lot better, especially those from parents you admire about kids or parents you think are perfect. There’s little quite as refreshing as the swapping of Bad Mom stories (as in outing ourselves for the times we did a full-on Linda Blair over something minor, or when a child had to go to the ER because of the application of Krazy Glue in hard-to-reach places ……..)
11.) You are learning, just like your child is. It’s okay to not know it all, and not get it all right.
My kids can offer a textbook on what I did not do well, and they know they are loved. They have laughed a lot in life and continue to. They have a lot of good memories, and they are solid human beings making good choices. Some of that is good parenting, and some is honestly despite the lack of it. Most of my fears have been unfounded, and love really does cover a multitude of misses.
You don’t get a do-over on raising your kids, so choose wisely. If it won’t naturally matter in five years (character, life plan, etc.), be careful how much you make it matter now. Try not to take yourself so seriously. It will matter in five years how much you have enjoyed them, been present for them, been consistent with them, ignored them, discouraged them, berated them, created positive memories, shown compassion and consistency …….
The best thing I have ever heard at a funeral, hands down, was “Most of you are here because Janice made you feel worthwhile,” and it was as true as the day is long. #lifegoals
Consider now how you want to be remembered by your children when they’re older. That will help inform how you relate to them now. Trust yourself. Trust your love for them. Trust the process. Trust their resilience. Trust love. Be brave.
And tell yourself every single day: You are a Good Enough mom.