This post is a challenging one for me to write. Even though I am accustomed to wearing my heart on my sleeve in terms of what I share here, there are occasionally topics that I shy away from, for fear of being judged.
But I decided to write this one after talking to two close family relatives, who both happened to express the same sentiment to me:
“I feel/felt like a bad mom.”
The reasons that they each shared were different, but the pain and doubt was the same. They both felt that, in that moment, they weren’t doing a “good enough” job as mother to their children.
I often share the lighter, funnier side of parenting here. But after reflecting on this idea, I’ll share my horrifying experience today.
After dropping my kids off to school today, #6 and I were in the basement. I was folding laundry, and he was playing with his toys. He told me that he was going to get his blanket from his room upstairs. No problem, right? Sure. He’ll be 3 years old in two weeks, so a quick jaunt upstairs seemed reasonable.
So he headed upstairs to get his blanket, and I continued to fold laundry as the washing machine churned.
Within three minutes, just as I realized that #6 was being suspiciously quiet, I heard him cry. But it was faint. I was afraid he’d hurt himself, so I tore up the stairs… to find the front door open…
…and #6 on the WRONG side of it. As in,
Cue instant heart attack…
In the three minutes -yes, exactly THREE- that I had continued to fold laundry, #6 had managed to unlock our front door and creep out of the house, undetected. He had attempted to open the car door -as per his attempted explanation- and then in trying to get back into the house, could not open the screen door. Hence the crying.
Crying, which was no match for my own hysterics.
It was a cavalcade of mixed emotions.
Relief that he was SAFE. And UNHURT.
A rush of adrenalized fear: the fear that he could have gotten hit by a car. Or taken by a stranger. Or wandered too far to be found.
Followed by: guilt.
MASSIVE, ALL-ENCOMPASSING GUILT.
Why didn’t I hear the door alarm (because as “good parents”, yes, of course we have one. And locks on every gate, too)? Why did I assume that I could trust him to go upstairs and NOT get into trouble? Why didn’t I realize that it would only be a matter of time before he tried to successfully open the door lock? Why didn’t I just go upstairs with him to get his blanket? Why hadn’t I folded one less towel?
The “I should have known”s.
The “I’m a HORRIBLE mom!”s
The “what will my neighbors THINK???”s.
The “people will think I’m a lazy, irresponsible mom”s.
The “I’m the WORST MOM EVER. I HATE MYSELF”s.
Now obviously, the story had a happy ending. My son was perfectly safe, and The Captain is installing a chain lock at the door top this very evening.
But the feelings lingered. The feelings of guilt. The feelings of worthlessness. The feelings of inadequacy. The internal mantra continued,
“I’m a BAD MOM.“
It’s hard to even put out there, knowing there could be judgement. But I’m telling the story, because after thinking about my conversation with both of my relatives that voiced similar feelings towards themselves, I recognized the irony.
When I encouraged both of them, I meant what I said. I talked about how as moms, we’re human. We lose our temper. We forget things. We make mistakes. But there is no playbook for parenting, so all we can do is love our children and do the very best we can.
If only… if only I could apply my “words of wisdom” to MYSELF.
And that’s the point. It’s our love -the intense, indescribably primal love that we have for our children that compels to keep our expectations of ourselves so unbelievably high. Think about it: for who else would you gladly endure sleep deprivation for? Or endure being vomited upon, only to continue feeling sorry for the ill spewer as you forsake your own vomit-spattered shirt while cleaning said child?
We want to give our children the very best of everything, including ourselves. And when we fall short of that expectation -and we DO, because we’re imperfect human beings- we can often be far more critical of ourselves and our actions than anyone else would be.
While I’m obviously a work in progress, it was important to me to share this idea. We’re bombarded by news stories that often depict the very worst and sordid tales of parents that neglect, abuse, of even kill their children. And to us, those are “bad” parents. But it’s interesting how quickly we can describe ourselves with the very same terminology for ourselves in the moments that we fall short of loving our child(ren) the way we always want to.
My humble advice: Be gentle with yourself. Chances are, if you’re worrying about whether or not you’re a good parent, you already are a damn good one. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings and your mistakes, and learn from them.
And get a chain lock for your front door.
Note: This post was featured on BlogHer.com and ScaryMommy.com
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