When I was new to motherhood, I was pretty defensive and nervous about every little choice I was making. But it wasn’t because I thought I knew better than other mothers; in fact, it was just the opposite — I was absolutely terrified of making the wrong choices and screwing up my kids.
From feeding them the wrong things to hovering over them too much (or not enough) to fretting over the way I dressed them, I felt constant pressure to get it right. Because in many ways, stepping outside of my home meant broadcasting my parenting skills in public, and that was where the heart of my anxiety lived.
My kids were, and still are, bruisers. Taking them anywhere with their little elbows and knees (and sometimes an eyebrow) covered in bruises made me want to just hide. Not only would we get strange looks from passersby, but I was constantly worried that in this era of keyboard warriors and perfect parents everywhere, I’d one day be accused of either neglect or abuse.
But the truth? Well, it’s this: I have boys. Extremely active boys who want nothing more in life than to literally transform into Jackie Chan and nunchuck fight their way through every single task at hand.
Time to eat dinner? Great! They’ll karate chop their dinner plates and send food careening through the air. It’ll hit the floor within seconds, and someone will end up with a finger bent in an awkward way.
Time to put on jammies before bed? Awesome! This generally translates to someone running around with underwear on their head until they run smack into a wall and get a fat lip or a black eye.
Bath time? OMG, I cannot even with bath time. My bathroom turns into monsoon season instantly, as toys get chucked across the room and someone inevitably slips and falls, thereby hitting another body part — resulting in yet another bruise.
I was forever feeling self-conscious about my kids wearing their bruises like badges of play, showing off how tough they are. One time, my oldest son ran across his room, tripped over his younger brother, and slammed his head into the metal frame of his boxspring — which split his forehead open and landed us in the ER with a doctor explaining how stitches work. Nowadays, my son tells everyone he is the real Harry Potter, since he has that distinctive scar on his head just like the fictional wizard hero.
What finally calmed me down was the day I finally realized that my kids are just fine. They are two brothers who love each other fiercely and sometimes that brotherly love means wrestling and ninja kicks. But it also means gentle hugs and holding hands. My kids are polite and articulate, compassionate and curious. Those traits are so much more important to me than unstained pants and bruise-free elbows.
If I get disapproving looks from other parents at the park, I don’t even notice anymore. My attention is so laser-focused on my own kids, who are no strangers to throwing themselves off the monkey bars or trying to get their swings to flip over the top bar in a glorious 360-degree motion. (I don’t think this is actually possible, thank God, but man, do they try hard.)
The distance between who I was as a mother when my children were babies and who I am as a mother today is so far apart that I can hardly recognize that woman now. The one who was so nervous about people judging her for letting her kids drink juice boxes or wear dirty jeans at the playground. It’s not so much that I’m more relaxed these days (because by all accounts, I am not), or even that I trust my kids to be wild. No, most of all I think it’s that I finally trust myself to intercept and deal with the chaos in a more managed and seasoned way.
They say that motherhood isn’t for the faint of heart, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. I think motherhood starts out with a faint heart and grows tough and thick and strong. The experience of protecting children — of letting them grow, and learning from them in equal measure — costs us dearly; but we come out of that experience with richer wisdom and a deeper love. I’m so glad I’m on the other side of it now.