Letter to my daughters about motherhood

I was scanning a Facebook post this morning. The topic from one of my favorite FB pages, “Mommy has a Potty Mouth” was highlighting some of the epic messes kids can make. Baby powder. Desitin. Poo. Inevitably, as with any post like this, someone makes the statement that kids could not POSSIBLY make messes like this unless they were not being WATCHED. Shame on you Mommy! Shame on you!

This got me to thinking about motherhood in general. First of all, nobody can tell you the RIGHT way to do it. The fact is, there is no “right way”. (This is of course and absolutely excluding abuse and neglect. That’s not what I’m talking about here because let’s face it, we all know there is a LINE.)

As I was saying, there is no “right way.” There is your way, and your way tends to coincide with the personalities and temperaments of your children. And you will dissect, criticize and obsess over “your way” from the time your baby is born. You will worry that you are doing it WRONG. You will have people constantly judging you and telling you that you are doing it WRONG. You will feel heartbroken as you search your past and every example you can come up with in your mind, looking for some HINT that you are doing it RIGHT and you won’t find one. Your kids will embarrass you in public and strangers will give you the “look.” Your kids will embarrass you in front of your mother/mother-in-law/great-aunt/friends and they will give you the “look” and maybe provide you with the most uninvited, condescending “advice” about child-rearing that will shame you in ways you never knew possible. You will cry on the days you know you were to harsh. You will feel guilty on the days you know you were too lenient. There will be days when you are utterly and completely exhausted and you will lay your child down for a nap and collapse on your couch because you feel safe in knowing your beloved little one is sleeping peacefully in her crib, and a short time later, go check on your little darling to find her, the crib, and every possible surface covered in shit because while you felt secure knowing your baby was safely asleep, she crapped her pants, removed her diaper, and decided to PLAY instead. You will sigh a huge sigh and get to work cleaning up the mess, all the while wondering where on earth you went wrong – just one of the hundreds of messes and hundreds of times you will question your own ability to mother. You will wonder if you’re loving your children enough. You will wonder if you are smothering them with love. You will work and feel guilty for every moment you are away from your children. You will be home and feel guilty because you’re thinking about work. You will read article after article from “experts” who tell you that this way or that way is the BEST way. The problem is, the “BEST” way depends wholly on the particular experts point of view and belief system. In other words, you’ll find a whole lot of opinions, but no consensus. Culture will tell you you’re doing it wrong. Commercials will tell you you’re doing it wrong. You will tell yourself “I’m doing it wrong.” And you will cry many, many tears of confusion while packing a lunch with organic applesauce, an organic grass-fed beef sandwich on organic whole-wheat bread with organic mayo and organic cheese, an organic juice box and organic pretzels because your child is complaining that she wants HOT LUNCH at school like her friends!

You will compare yourself to other mothers. Some will have the patience of a saint. You won’t, so you will shame yourself. Some will have children who behave like angels at the doctor’s office while your child spins around like a tornado, leaving nothing but destruction in his wake. You will get the “look” from the office receptionist, glance at the child quietly reading next to his mother, and shame yourself. Then you will glance over at the child with the snotty nose and dirty coat, and see his mother ignoring him as she reads the People she picked up from the magazine table, and shame her. You will realize something in that moment, and that something is that shaming other mothers makes you feel better…tragic, but true.

You will do your best, and realize that your best will never do thanks to the cacophony of voices around you affirming that belief. But every morning you will wake up and start another day as mom, and you will clean snotty noses and brush hair and help tie shoes and drop children off at school or activities, or make doctor’s appointments or speak with teachers, or argue (AGAIN) with the six-year-old about why she MUST wear boots because there is snow on the ground while she argues with you about how she hates wearing boots…and you will give all the love you can possibly give and try your hardest to meet the standards you set for yourself. Gold-medal standards, believe me you will have them. You will go through the day and judge yourself more harshly than a Russian Olympic ice skating judge judges the American sweetheart…deducting one-tenth of a point because you yelled after asking the 12-year-old to pick up his dirty socks off the family room floor for the 15th time that day, or a full point because you said “no, you may not have that candy bar” to your 3-year-old in the check out lane at the local Kroger and she went into a full on meltdown.

You will never meet your own gold medal standards and you will surely never meet the standards of others. But you will keep trying. God knows you will keep trying and praying and stumbling through. One day your kid might tell you you’re the best mommy in the whole world. Another day, you might hear “I wish I had a different mommy” as she stomps up to her room because you said she can’t do this or that or the other and she vehemently disagrees with you. When she cries, you will hold her and wish you could take the pain away…when she laughs, you will feel like all is right in the world. Tomorrow, you will do it all again. And the day after…and the day after…  And that, in a nutshell, is motherhood.