Over Thanksgiving, my 23-year-old sister came home from her fancy schmancy job in fashion and perched at my kitchen counter eating potato soup.
“You know, Chaunie, I love your kids and all, but I’m just not sure I would want to do the work of having them,” she said, pondering her future in between comforting bites of mashed carbohydrates. I laughed because despite the fact that I had actually been pregnant with my second kid at her age, I could see where she was coming from. I assured her that parenting really wasn’t that bad and she actually didn’t have to have kids at all if she didn’t want to.
And then she said something that made me stop laughing completely.
“Yeah,” she responded. “It’s just that you always seem so stressed.”
I really took pause when she said that, and I admit that I was actually filled with shame at her words. Because the truth is — I am always stressed. And frankly, that’s just not the kind of mom I want to be.
When I look back at my children’s childhood, in the moments that fill our days right now, I can see images flashing through, like old frames on a slideshow projector from the past. Me, rushing them out of the door in the morning for school; me, huffing when someone (always) spills their cup at dinner; me, skipping pages in the bedtime story at night; me, scolding them for not cleaning up their messes; me, complaining to my husband that I am so far behind on work and housework and Christmas shopping and every other thing in my life.
Those are not images that I’m proud of.
Those are not images I want to see, let alone have my children grow up remembering.
Now, I’m not a mom who wants to guilt us all into putting down our phones or letting the dishes pile up or enjoying every second, because that’s not real life. Some of us need our phones for the work that feeds our families, the dishes have to get done sometime if we want to eat off of them, and not every second of life is meant to be pretty and polished.
But I am a mom who needs a reality check of sorts. Because the sad truth is, my life is rushing by me and a lot of the sweetest, most precious moments of my life are happening right here and right now. And while I might not be able to stop and savor every last one because life happens, I don’t want to know that I am missing out on any of the good moments simply because I was too stressed to see them when they were happening right in front of my eyes.
It’s almost like somehow I have fallen into believing this motherhood script that we all seem to write. That motherhood and work and life and parenting in general is supposed to be miserable, but still a funny kind of miserable like teehee, we don’t shower but we’re still adorable, just look at our messy buns.
Um, no. Not showering is not adorable, it’s gross and it doesn’t make me feel good, either.
It’s almost like in believing the script that parenthood is supposed to be hard, I have made it hard. I’m embarrassed to freely admit to all of you that I genuinely am living my life as if it is meant to be a relentless struggle until my kids are a little older and then — only then — will I be able to catch my breath a little.
But the truth is, that’s not the life I want. At all. I don’t want my husband coming home to a wife who will once again, open her mouth to let out a litany of complaints. I don’t want to be the mom whose first thought upon waking up in the morning is, oh no, I have so much to do today. I don’t want to be the mom whose kids remember her as the mom who was always rushed, always stressed, always running from one thing to the next, always complaining about messes and spills and missed showers.
Honestly, it’s not a source of pride to always be busy or always be stressed, and hearing my sister’s words made me stop cold in my tracks and take a good, hard (and it was hard, trust me) look at myself and try to answer the following question:
What kind of mom do I want my kids to remember?
I’m not saying that life with kids isn’t stressful or that it’s never OK to be stressed, but I am saying that hearing those words and realizing I’m not proud of the image of motherhood that I am portraying to my own family, above all, was a wake-up call for me.
I don’t want to be the stressed mom anymore.
Now, if someone could please pass this message on to my children so they will be perfect little angels, let my washer and dryer know that they will now be in charge of the laundry with the addition of some magical singing mice, tell my husband that I will be requiring all home-cooked meals, with wine and nightly massages, and inform my employer that I will be taking a full year of paid vacation with the promise of a promotion when I return, I am certain I can achieve this goal.
But seriously. Maybe it can start small, like a few extra smiles this holiday season, a day of playing hooky for no good reason, and for crying out loud, smiling when I hand the toddler a towel tonight at dinner because we all know he’s going to spill his milk, and my stress level will never, ever change that.