Here's something that I don’t readily admit: I make a lot of mistakes with my children. I lose my cool, I bribe, I second-guess myself, and I clean my house while they watch TV.
I know my children well. I know when either of them needs a cuddle. I know that they don't like to be hassled and asked questions right when they wake up. I know my daughter will cry if the lights are too bright first thing in the morning; I know my son will be upset if we are out of his favorite granola bars. With nearly seven years of mothering under my belt, I know what my kids want without words; I understand their idiosyncrasies and habits like no one else. I know which cry means what, and I empathize with and I feel their pain. But with other things, I sometimes feel like I’m still groping in the dark.
I’m a perfectionist, and I tend to expect a lot of my kids. I expect that my son won’t forget his eyeglasses at school yet again. I expect that he’ll stop doing something after I’ve asked him to stop ten times. I expect my daughter’s appetite will be the same every day, and worry when it isn’t. I expect that this time, she will eat her yogurt without spilling it on the table, without getting up at least a dozen times.
I expect even more of myself. I expect that, as it often does, life will remind me that my kids are just kids. I expect that I will find a balance between child rearing, housework, and marriage (some days I do, some days I don’t). I expect I will stop wasting time, hiding in silly tasks to avoid thinking about the big things.
I expect I will learn to control my temper.
The one thing I have the most trouble with on a regular basis is my temper. It’s awful and it’s the hardest thing for me to admit or talk about. My anger comes on in a flash, goes on like a switch, and is gone just as quickly. Unfortunately, what’s transpired in the interim is harder to get rid of. It goes against everything I try to do with my children in terms of parenting and disciplining them gently.
I wish so much that I could learn to breathe, refocus, and not be angry, for good. My anger is hard to let go of because it makes me feel strong and in control (the irony is not lost on me here—when I’m angry, I am absolutely not in control—my anger is). It’s my security blanket, the one thing I know I can go back to at any time and feel like myself. I grapple with it every single day of my life and am working so hard to let it go.
Most days are great. But some days are bad, and as many excuses as I make for allowing myself to react in anger (I’m pregnant, I’m sick, I didn’t get any sleep, my kids are being difficult, etc), the only person that can make this better is me. I don’t run from it. I talk to my kids about it and I don’t hide my struggle with it. I’m lucky and grateful that my family is loving and forgiving.
Time and time again, my children teach me invaluable lessons. They trust me, and so they believe whatever I tell them. My son knows that I will always be at school to pick him up; my daughter knows I will always be outside the bedroom door whenever she calls out “Mommy.” I have been “one of those mothers,” with “one of those children,” everywhere—the supermarket, the doctor’s office, the playground. No matter how dirty the floor is, no matter how loudly I’ve yelled at them, my babies hug me, and kiss me, and say, “I love you.” They are always happy to see me, and always want more of me.
At night, before I settle in, I go into my kids’ room. If my son’s head is off the pillow, I move it back; if my daughter’s leg is hanging off the side of the bed, I ease it onto the mattress. I fix his blankets, tuck her in, and whisper sweet words into their ears. I stroke their soft hair and little hands, still so much smaller than my own. I marvel at their even breathing, their peaceful, warm, sleeping little bodies.
I have to accept the mother I am: imperfect, sometimes impatient, a yeller. Even though those negatives are what stick out in my mind during my worst moments of self-evaluation and criticism, I mother with so much more than that. I love, I cherish, and I agonize. I worry, I nurture, and I appreciate. I give thanks for and am in awe of my children every day. Late at night in the dark I think of all the things I could have done differently and all the things I did that I wish I hadn’t.
I’ve realized something: like life, parenting is a journey, and a work in progress. I’m going to make mistakes—many of them. I will feel a tremendous amount of guilt every time—there is no doubt about that. I feel a sense of hope that I’ll know better with each kid.
Then one of my kids looks at me, looks into my eyes as intently as I look into hers, and I know that she adores me, just the way I am. You could say it’s because she has no choice, but I say that maybe she loves me with my flaws. Maybe my imperfections are teaching my kids more than perfection ever could. Maybe watching me make mistakes and learning from them will teach my children tolerance and acceptance, and maybe they will allow themselves to make mistakes, and learn from them too.
I’m not the mother than always speaks softly. I’m not the mother that doesn’t get angry, get moody, get disappointed. I’m not the mother whose children don’t scream, whose children eat all their vegetables, whose children always listen. But I am the mother who is loved by a precious little boy and girl. And that is the best mother I can hope to be.