“I thought I was doing pretty good at this parenting thing until my kids hit puberty,” the woman I just met at my daughter’s horse-riding lessons said.
I thought of all the times I’ve started to feel like I was nailing motherhood until one of my children started some new, and usually undesirable, stage. Just when I thought I knew what I was doing, everything would change and my newly minted “Top Parent” crown would start to wobble.
I realized I knew this “I thought I was an awesome mother” trap very well. For example:
I thought I was an awesome mother until I realized my child was 18 months old and they still woke several times a night.
I thought I was an awesome mother until I couldn’t get my child to eat vegetables.
I thought I was an awesome mother until my child started giving me attitude on a regular basis.
I thought I was an awesome mother until I noticed when I was out with friends that I dreaded returning home to my children.
Or when my child had been acting out and I hadn’t realized she was stressing about standardised testing.
I thought I was an awesome mother until I realized I’d shouted at my children every day for two weeks.
I realized even if I wanted my child to do homework, I would probably struggle to get them to do it.
I thought I was an awesome mother until I realized I was fantasizing about running away to somewhere that nobody knows me.
I thought I was an awesome mother until my child said they hated me.
The danger of evaluating your parenting skills based on outcomes is that you may regularly feel incompetent. Raising children is a process in which they change frequently, they develop skills and they test boundaries. Raising children is also a stressful, time-consuming journey in which your pre-child calm will be sorely tested.
If we can only feel like an awesome mother when our child is on track and compliant, we set ourselves up for feeling like a failure. If we can only feel like an awesome mother when we feel positive about motherhood and our children, we will easily swing from high to low on our parenting journey without any sense of confidence.
Raising children is like a long term project, with other stakeholders involved. Some stages of the project will be smooth sailing or even rewarding, others will be hellish and some will just be a matter of trying to maintain some forward momentum, one footstep after the other. All the time, hoping and praying that the love and the support you have given your child repeatedly will pay off.
In my former workplace in a maternity hospital, our team area had a poster that read “The first 40 years of motherhood are the hardest”. Surely an overstatement, I thought during my ‘before child’ existence.
These days I think it’s likely an accurate statement.
So mothers, let’s just remember that sticking by these children we’re raising for the next forty years—loving them, praising them, cheering them on—is great, and often good enough. Let’s use our persistent love as our yardstick for awesome parenting rather than any temporary outcome or marker of success.