I shared the following quote on Facebook recently:
“Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.” — Joan Ryan
Awesome quote, right? I found it so convicting. It’s so easy to become frustrated with our children because they do not behave like we thought they would, sleep like we thought they would, eat like we thought they would. It can become difficult to continue to offer our children grace.
But sometimes I think it is just as hard, if not more difficult, to offer ourselves grace as parents. Holy moly. I’d like to offer the following spin on the aforementioned quote:
“Motherhood is about celebrating the MOTHER you are, not the mother you thought you would be. It’s about understanding that you are exactly the mother you are supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, you just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.” — Halley Kim
Let me just say this: I am not the mother I thought I would be. It continues to be a complex and jarring realization. I thought I would always be loving (I’m not). I thought I wouldn’t get sick of my child (I do). I thought I would be selfless (no comment). Basically I thought I would stop being human and just be awesome all the time. Like Jesus.
But sure enough, I am still human. Still selfish. Still capable of really screwing it up and costing my son thousands of dollars in therapy. I hate that. I hate that I can, and will, and perhaps already have inadvertently introduced pain into my child’s story. And yet…all I can do is the best I can do. All I can offer is fierce love through the vessel of human imperfection.
I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to tell you all a bunch of truths about my parenting style. You might extol me or curse me for these things; I’m not sure. But I’m tired of pretending to be mainstream “enough” with certain people and crunchy “enough” with others. Pro “this and this” at the playground, and anti “such and such” at the pediatrician’s office. No thank you. I’m ready to let it all hang out. All of my humanness. Let’s see what happens.
I’ve mentioned this before but never this frankly: I really hate co-sleeping. I mean I really, really hate it. It drives me nuts. I’m so glad that it allows countless parents to get more rest while still attending to their children’s needs at night. I really am. But it does not help me in the slightest. Sleeping with Gabe in my bed means that my nipples will be sucked on for hours at a time. It means that my arms will go numb from not being able to adjust my position satisfactorily. It means I will get so much less sleep than if the squirmy worm is in his own crib in his own room (even if I do have to get out of bed when he wakes up). And I don’t care what those co-sleeping groupie T-shirts say, it does mess with my sex life. (Maybe I’m boring, but the kitchen floor never appealed to me. You have no idea how infrequently I sweep).
Honestly I’m tired of being a mother at the end of the day. I just want some space and time that away from my child. To not be needed, for just a little while. (Please, God).
Do I ever bring Gabe into our bed? Yes I do. When he’s sick or having a particularly bad night and simply refusing to sleep in his crib. When I take too many hits of that hypnotizing drug wafting out of his scalp cells and think it will actually be different than last time. It certainly is so sweet when he FINALLY falls asleep between us, Mama and Dada on either side. It is. And I do it when I feel my baby needs a little extra cuddling for whatever reason. But it’s not something I particularly enjoy, sorry. (Half the time, after an hour of nursing that does NOT lead to sleeping, I take him right back to his room, deposit him in the crib, and think good riddance).
This is the opposite of how I anticipated feeling about co-sleeping. We didn’t even buy a crib (aka baby jail, so I thought when I was childless and a lot more judgmental). It worked fine having him in our bed AT FIRST. Like the first two months. But everything is rosy at first. The heavens part when they sneeze for Pete’s sake. But eventually reality comes knocking — generally after you’ve been thoroughly awake-trained by your baby — and suddenly not everything is quite so adorable. (Don’t you sort of want to go back in time and tell your parent-of-a-newborn self that you better buckle up and get ready for a bumpy ride? Because newborn sleep is actually the GOOD sleep, and because mobile babies and toddlers cause mass chaos?)
How else have I differed from the mother I expected to be? How about medicine. I have given Gabe Tylenol when he has been in pain because I’m a nurse and that’s how I roll (Tylenol haters freak out!). I have also NOT given him Tylenol when he flirted with a 104F fever because he wasn’t miserable and I believe fever is the fastest route to wellness (Tylenol lovers freak out!). I don’t think a little is going to kill his liver when given on occasion for pain, and in the same breath, I do think a little might keep him sick with a virus longer than I’d like.
Confession: I have never cleaned Gabe’s toys. I mean ever. Unless they fall in the mud, or on a filthy floor at a fast food joint, or they have poop or vomit or something indisputably gross on them. But just washing them after a routine’s day use? Nope. Never done that. I just can’t be bothered. (And guess what; he’s almost never sick).
I’m sure someone is reeling about my mention of fast food. Honestly, I largely detest the stuff and we don’t eat it often. But I do have a Chick-Fil-A weakness. I mean, I know it’s all loaded with MSG, but damn those milkshakes are heavenly. Sometimes you’ve just gotta have one. And sometimes you’re there with your kid and you break down and give him a few fries cause he’s just so stinking cute. (At least we do). Am I a mother who prefers organic and local foods? Who has part of a grass-fed cow in her freezer? Who uses coconut oil for EVERYTHING? Who drives her husband nuts with a constant stream of “Can we buy gelatin?” “Can we buy raw milk?” “Can we buy lotion made from tallow and essential oils for Gabe’s eczema?” Yup. I sure am. But none of that stuff is cheap. And we just can’t have it all right now. And sometimes those cow billboards win out and I order a #5 with a sweet tea (if not a chocolate milkshake).
While we’re talking about milkshakes: I’m trying to cut out dairy because Gabe’s eczema may be aggravated by it and he is still nursing so this affects my diet too. I’ve cheated a couple times. Mostly on accident but once or twice on purpose — bah! I’m really trying to be good but it’s HARD. (Gotta tighten down and do it right though otherwise this entire undertaking is pointless).
Oh, here’s another thing I never thought I’d do: I bought ear plugs. So I can not listen to Gabe crying when NOTHING ELSE IS WORKING and I’m about to go off the deep end. Or when I refuse to nurse him AGAIN after just an hour of sleeping because it’s insane and I am quickly becoming unglued. So I put it ear plugs and watch the lights flash on the monitor and take deep breaths (or drink wine) while I wait a bit and see if I can win a quick round. Major mom score if I do!
But just in case you weren’t assured of my complicated and idiosyncratic nature , I also often pull out those ear plugs and put down that wine and go nurse him again anyway. Because varied sleep training efforts have stopped working or failed miserably from the start, and because what is the point of ripping your heart open again and again. (And because I always end up wondering if he pooped, or if his diaper leaked, or if he’s over-heated, or…)
It’s a lot. All of it. I review my mothering resume and I feel both pride and shame. Wins and losses. I see the beauty in who I am as a mother, and I see many “areas for improvement” as well. I’m learning as I go; being humbled on a daily basis. As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you’ll do better.” I like that quote, and I remind myself of it frequently. But I’m thinking more and more that my biggest problem is not that I don’t have it all figured out, but that I’m far too hard on myself. So my new quote love is this:
Easier said than done. But here are three things that are currently helping me choose grace for myself and celebrate the unique mother I am:
1) Something my mother told me that helps when I’m blue about not being the mom I thought I would be (and therefore, I wrongly think, not a good mom): No one in this world loves Gabe more than I do. There is not a soul on this green earth who cares about my baby more than I do. My decisions, right or wrong (and who’s to say, really?), are rooted in love. I remain human, and never perfect, but ultimately I act out of love on my child’s behalf.
2) Something my counselor told me that helped me see value in my “failings”: There is a psychological concept that was developed in the 1950’s which has come to be known as “the good enough mother.” It states that it’s actually optimal for children to not have perfect parents but to have good parents. Because a LITTLE stress in their lives helps them grow when Mom can’t fix everything. Who knew.
“The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.” — Donald Winnicott, pediatrician & pyschoanalyst
3) Something my friend told me recently that helps me let go of control: Gabe is not truly, ultimately, mine. He is a gift from above, at least that’s how I see it. He is “on loan” to me from God, but he belongs foremost to his Creator, as we all do. The really cool part is this: God saw no one better fit to raise this sweet baby than me…and wow is that humbling. Is there any greater compliment?
Gabe is full of surprises I did not expect and challenges I could not foresee. Halley the Mother is different than I envisioned. She’s strong, she’s enduring, and she’s passionate. But she has very real limits and she’s not at her best when those limits are breached. She does require some sleep to function. She likes to be home with her son most of the week, but she loves to get out of the house with only a purse as well. Sometimes she is a pushover, other times she holds her ground. At times she is angry, resentful, even explosive. She needs a lot of help — thank God for great daddies! She has many triumphs and some regrets. She laughs often and she cries a lot too. She is a good enough mother…and she thanks God that He can handle the rest.
PS: My parenting confessions are just that: mine. These truths are subjective. May you feel the freedom to identify and embrace your own.