I'm Not a Perfect Mother

My recent post, “I Think I Love My Son a Little Bit More” got…quite a lot of responses.  Many of them negative.  At first I was surprised and hurt by it, but then realized a couple of things:

1) None of you in “internetland” know me well enough to understand why I’d write and publish such a thing (I actually pulled it for awhile but my real-life friends encouraged me to repost it)

2) It probably struck a little too close to home for many of you…you’ve had those same thoughts about one or more children in your darkest, most private times…and found it obscene to see your own worst thoughts out in the light of day

There’s a lot of irony surrounding that post, and the reactions to it (and really, surrounding my entire online-writing career!).  And in the name of honesty, I’m not done confessing.  Oh yes, there’s more….

I’m not a perfect mother.

There, I said it.  So many of you who read the first post are now saying, “Gee, that’s an understatement.”  But really, are any of us perfect mothers?  Are we?  I would say no.  I’d also say that most of you would be willing to admit that much, because it’s currently fashionable to do so.  Most of you wouldn’t be ready to get any more specific than that, though.  There’d be vague mutterings about “Well, you know, I lose my temper sometimes…umm…my house isn’t always clean….”

That’s crap.

Let’s approach it with real honesty, with vigor and passion.  Let’s talk about what’s truly going on here.  For example, at my house, sure I can say those things.  I lose my temper sometimes and my house isn’t always clean.  Okay.  That’s easy enough to admit.  But I’m going to go a step further.

All of my children’s misbehavior (or, well, the vast majority), their occasional misery, their bad days, and their acting out — is my fault.

Did you hear me?  I could rationalize it in a dozen ways, too: “I just spent an hour playing with them, why won’t they leave me alone?”  “I just need a break today.”  “Why do they have to push my buttons when I’m unhappy?”   There are a thousand excuses for it.  I’m stressed.  I’m busy.  They’re being brats today.  I could pretend that I don’t understand.  But really?  It is my fault.  I’m the adult, and I have to look past the circumstances.

Since I can’t do that all the time (how many times have you broken down and yelled at a child who didn’t deserve it because you were stressed or angry about something else?), I can only tell them how I am feeling and ask them to forgive me.

That sort of honesty…is not that common.

I didn’t get it growing up.  My mom never wanted to show weakness or uncertainty to us.  And yes, as a few of you guessed, she did favor my brother (and my father favored me).  My brother and I both knew it, talked about it.  In my teen years, I even kind of understood it.  I still didn’t find it fair.  She was the adult, after all…shouldn’t she get past that?

But now, as an adult…we talk all the time.  At least once a week.  I see her every couple of weeks.  And we’ve talked at length about all of these things that she did when we were kids.  She’s admitted that she was harder on me.  That she wasn’t fair to me.  That she struggled with me and pushed me away sometimes because she didn’t know how to deal with me.  And I loved hearing it.  It made her human to me.  It made me realize that she struggled and she did the best that she could.  That she wanted to do her best and fell short.  I understood her as a person, not as “my mother.”  It made a world of difference to me, to know that she knew she wasn’t perfect.  It was far more frustrating to believe that she thought she was doing so well when I felt I needed more.  Knowing she realized she could have done some things better made me feel so much better.

That is what I hope for with all my kids someday.  That they will know that I screwed up, that I wasn’t a perfect mother, that I did not always treat any of them fairly all the time.  That I let stress or life stages get to me.  That at different times I preferred one child over others (and no…it wasn’t always the same child).

Did I struggle more with my daughter than my son?  Yes.  But do I love her?  Yes.  I didn’t love her the moment she was born…I did, but I didn’t have that “miracle moment” that so many moms describe.  She was this tiny, strange person I did not know.  At first.

It was May 8th, 2008.  She was about 3.5 months old.  I’d decided that I’d had enough of this funk and difficulty (it had been a really hard few months and I’d been sick a lot).  I got up early, ripped the curtains off the window to let the light in, and made my bed.  I set Bekah in her Boppy on my bed so she could watch me as I cleaned up my room.  I stopped every few minutes to talk to her and play with her.

While I was cleaning I found this tiny pill bottle I’d recently used while I was sick.  I brought it over (yes, it was child proof) and showed it to her.  I started shaking it in a pattern.  Shake, shake, shake, pause.  Shake, shake, shake, pause. And, for the first time, she laughed! I couldn’t believe it.  She was so young, I was doing something silly…and I made her laugh!  I cried.  That was the moment I fell in love with her.  That was the moment she became mine.

After my son was born, I suddenly knew what I’d lost in the early months, and what I was — am — struggling to make up for.  I cried so much in the weeks following his birth…for her.  For what we’d lost.  For what I knew we could never get back (the early experience).  I hadn’t even known.  I loved her so much, and she was so amazing to me…and then I learned it was possible to be even closer to a person, to experience instantaneous bonding.  I wanted that with her, too.

My son was the only person I have met under ideal circumstances in my entire life.  For us, bonding was instant and uncomplicated.  It was perfect from the beginning.  Everyone else in my life, I’ve met under less-than-ideal circumstances.  We strive daily to connect more and to love more and to get past the baggage that we had when we “met.”  It doesn’t mean we love any less, only that we have things to overcome.

Even now Bekah makes me laugh with the silly stories she tells me.  I wish I really did have a journal to write down all the things she does.  I frequently share them on my personal Facebook (often enough that most don’t get any responses anymore, because people are sick of hearing it!).  If you weren’t paying attention…you’d think I loved her more.

But, I don’t.  I love both my children, and will love all my future children.  I love different things about them.  And I am annoyed by different things about them, too.  I love that Daniel is so snuggly, but wish he wasn’t always so clingy or whiny (in some ways he is).  I love that Bekah is so strong and independent…except when she disobeys!  The things she does might shock some of you, but if you talked to my mother — or my husband’s mother — you’d hear the exact same stories.  We were just like that as children.  We still are.  And we love it about her…we talk about it all the time.  But we also find it a challenge.

This in no way means that we love her less, that we spend less time with her, or that we treat her like a “second class citizen.”  We parent her differently because she is a different child.

Could we do a better job, all the way around?  With our children, our marriage, any and every part of our lives?  Sure we could.  There are lots of things we do that are not ideal.  I would venture to guess everyone is in that boat.

For awhile now — a few months, actually — I’ve been considering that we (Bekah and I) should go to these “Bonding Before Birth” sessions.  They work with older kids, too, if you’ve struggled to bond in the early months.  And I think we might just do that.  It could help us come to terms with (well, me) what happened at the beginning and repair it.  Now, while it’s still early.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I think we need that, or that we will probably do it.

I look forward to the future.  I look forward to loving my daughter and getting to know her more everyday.  I enjoy talking to her.  And as my son grows, I enjoy getting to know him and talking to him, too.  That has always been my favorite part of parenting, even before my babies were born — getting to know who they are as people.

So, I’m not a perfect mom.  I never will be.  It is my hope that in confessing my failings, as well as constantly evaluating them and striving to do better, that I can be the best mom that I can be.  To all my children.

Read: Why Raising Girls is Harder

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