Some people parent while living with long-term illness, some battle depression, some work three jobs, some worry if they can make the rent or mortgage, some watch their kids being bullied, some get to take three vacations a year and some don't leave their town for months. Some are mothering or fathering children alone by choice. Some have six mouths to feed by choice. Some just can't stop thinking about adding one more to the brood, but it's not happening. Some have incurred thousands in debt just in order to get one child.
Once a child enters your life, no matter your circumstances, a whole new world of joy and pain is opened to you.
I am lucky. I am raising my kids in a best-case scenario. I have a steady income with a partner who can emotionally support me though most of the day-to-day grind falls to me. I am not worried about my ability to fill the fridge or send in the latest round of activity fees because I can afford to let my kids choose activities. I keep them updated on shots and dental visits and while the rest of the world is running from sugar, I have tuned them out in order to get my son out of bed each morning with creamy coffee laced with arsenic. I may or may not pay for it later, but it's my choice.
One thing I've noticed, in the mom-world in particular, is that we always seem to gage ourselves. My kids are now 11 and 13 and mothers with toddlers will look at me longingly as if to say, "Oh you are so lucky they can dress themselves." And I look back at them and think, "Isn't it nice that crayons and art supplies sing a siren's song to your little one's hands and body odor (unless it's a dirty diaper or wet pajamas from bedwetting) isn't making you grimace? How wonderful that your little sweetpeas are completely at home inside their perfect bodies? They do not care at all how others see them." What these parents don't yet know is that seemingly overnight puberty will change this joie de vivre . I keep this to myself because somethings have to be seen to be believed.
Each age and stage of a child's life brings joy and pain. I have noticed that as soon as you leave one stage, you forget the one prior so focused on getting through this next stage. I used to wonder how my mom didn't remember the stages. I know now. She didn't necessarily want to. I was not a good parent to little kids. It was hard for me. I didn't sleep much, the real crux of why I didn't like it, and when I stumble upon talk of those early stages, I have to tune out because I don't really want to look back. But here is another thing. When you are in a stage, it feels like YOU are the ONLY one who has ever done this. News: not true. We have all been there and we have all survived. If there is one thing I know, we all make it through the sleepless and frustrating bootcamp of early parenthood. It doesn't make it easier and it doesn't make it more fun, but the evidence suggests that those hard sleepless nights will pass and you will find yourself catching enough zs' to prepare yourself for a different sort of battle.
Another thing I know is that what we give focus to is what we become. To admit that it's hard is one thing. To focus on it is what it becomes.
There have been times when I have been so stuck in the mom story I was living that I did not understand I was also writing it. I could change how I looked at my story. In order to save my sanity, I had to tune out and bear down on the work to be done, my work, no one elses, and do what felt right and true and good for my family within my own power. Sometimes what is within my power doesn't always align with what is in someone else's power in any given moment. I am grateful for the Katy Smith's of the world- leading the charge for those disadvantaged children and parents- the truly powerless of our ilk. They need the leg up we often forget we have.
When the going gets rough in our world, we do have choices to make. Sometimes we don't up feeling good about our choices and yet there is more essential choice we can make: forgive yourself and move on.
This has been a revelation to me in so many aspects of my life; health, relationships, parenting, even buying the freaking groceries. Never before has the grocery store felt so much like a landmine of rights and wrongs. And yet it is not just the grocery store. It is the screen time and the choice of schools and the test scores and the choices of activities that will best prepare your child for his or her future. This social media world we partake of has provided so many of us with voices and a chance to weigh in/judge all that we do. I think moms are particularly susceptible to feeling judged and needing to defend their choices. I fear we are failing to adhere to some basic principles of parenting and simply living: following your gut and forgive yourself when you mess up.
Children are not projects and parents are not getting tested to see how well they achieved. You do not win and lose based on how you navigate each day. In fact, if you are reading this, it's pretty likely things are great for you. It means you are not picking rocks in a field with a 90 degree sun bearing down on your uncovered head with your kid strapped to your front or back. It means you have a minute or two of sweet freedom and the choice to use it as you see fit.
Your "best" and my "best" are so wildly different. That we live in a place where this freedom exists
Sleep deficits can make us crazy and angry and dull our reflexes and sharpen our tempers. So too can all the ways in which feel the need to validate our choices, script our frustrations, and air the fact that it is so hard. I know it is. I really do. When you have kids, you give up that ticket to ride on "easy" street. To have kids means you will be gutted a thousand times over. That, sadly, is the truth.
I just want us to forgive ourselves for our mishaps, to listen sincerely to each other, and to create a narrative full of support and loud cheering when needed instead of the constant comparathon.
Recenly Big Man and I reached an impasse about something and I was reminded of something he told me earlier in our marriage when I was getting sucked into being right about who-knows-what. He let me rant and then he said, "Hey, we are on the same team."
Did you hear this? We are on the same team. I think we forget that sometimes.
WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM!
It doesn't matter your circumstances. If you have a kid or care for a kid you are on our team!
It's a little bit less lonely knowing there are millions of others who will also fail and have to forgive themselves and then keep going all in the name of love for our children.
That is the kind of mom story I want to live, the one I want to write, the one I want to read. A story that is hard, yes, but also real and true and full of forgiveness and empathy. Let's write it on our own and then let's write it together, as a team.