I remember being young and single, and telling others that I wanted a big family. I came from a family of four kids myself, and while that’s still pretty big according to some standards, I wanted bigger. I had good friends who came from families with as many as 11 children, and I loved how there was always a playmate around. I imagined that having more kids meant there was more love to go around.
But then I actually had kids — and realized that parenting is no cake-walk.
I struggled right from the beginning with my own feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and constant anxiety. (Even with a super easy first baby.) And now, as a mother of three beautiful kids, I can honestly say with absolute certainty that I’m done having children. But I owe a lot of that feeling of acceptance to something my sister told me last year.
At the time, it seemed like everyone around me was announcing the pregnancy of their fourth or fifth child. In the back of my mind, I kept feeling slightly selfish that I didn’t want more. After all, I don’t care too much for being pregnant, and my hands felt ridiculously full as it was with the three I already have.
Not only that, but I felt a constant nagging that I was never good enough, doing enough, or being enough. I write about motherhood often as a way to work out my own conflicted feelings on the subject. I had even spent the last year in therapy helping me work on those constant feelings of inadequacy and fear of ruining my kids.
“Maybe there is something wrong with me that I don’t want more?” I remember saying to my sister one day. “Or maybe I’m just being selfish?”
And that’s when she said something that has stuck with me ever since.
“Meredith, you need to just focus on being the best mom you can to the three kids you already have. You already worry so much about not being a good enough mom to them. Just be happy doing your best with them.”
I knew instantly she was right.
Why was I struggling with the finality of declaring I was done having kids just because others around me were? I will be 40 this year, and although women have kids well into their 40’s, I didn’t want to start over. I just barely hit the sweet spot where everyone can wipe their own bums, shower independently, and mostly sleep through the night. It would be madness to have another baby now.
I realized then that in worrying endlessly over whether or not I was truly “done” having kids, I was missing the bigger picture. I just needed to shift my focus to what was already right in front of me: my three beautiful blessings. The ones I worry about screwing up every day.
I think all mothers inevitably struggle with feelings of inadequacy. There’s no easy way to prepare for motherhood and the many unpredictable struggles you will face. But the truth is, I have struggled mentally too. For years I’ve been battling an anxiety disorder, and fight a constant inner dialogue with myself that I’m a bad mom.
I’ve been a mother for over a decade, and have just now learned to embrace my imperfections and focus on my strengths. I have just now started to accept that I can’t do it all, and that I’m not ruining my kids forever if I do things for myself. I have just now accepted that what other mothers can do may not be the same that I can do.
I physically could have more children, but I’m not sure that mentally I could survive it.
With that one suggestion, my sister taught me a powerful lesson: That I need to just focus on what I’m doing instead of constantly looking to my left or right at what everyone around me is doing.
In the past year, I’ve worked hard on my own mental health, and have found peace in accepting that I’m not like all other moms and that’s OK. I struggle with things that other moms don’t struggle with and that’s OK too. I wasn’t meant to be a mom of eight like I imagined in my pre-married life. And, I know now more than ever that wasn’t my path to follow.
I’m not a perfect mother. Some days, I don’t even claim to be a good one. But, I have learned in the past 10 years some valuable lessons that have helped me be a better mom than I might have been without my own hardships and trials. Parenting through a mental illness has shown me strength within myself, I didn’t know existed.
I’ve learned that not all moms are created equal. We all have unique strengths and weaknesses that are meant to teach us and shape us into becoming the moms we were always meant to be. I’ve learned that accepting my own limitations is a gift I can give myself and my children.
Because the more I love myself — imperfections and all — the more I can focus on their needs.
I don’t need to have more kids to live up to some idealistic idea I had as a twenty-something. Instead, I need to love myself, know my limits, and be the mom I was meant to be to the three beautiful beings I’ve already been given.
My plate is full for me. And I’m finally OK with that.More On