"You're not a good friend, and you're not a good mommy."
The words stung more than a little bit, even as I was conscious of the fact that they came from my crying 3-year-old daughter whose blood sugar was crashing quickly. Instead of our normal morning routine in which I tend to set the bar low by making "getting out of the house" my main goal, we opted to stay in that morning so I could work through my in-house to do list. The breakfast table was cleared and Sesame Street was on, and I could easily work around my toddler son while my daughter was glued to the television.
I've learned how to survive with two kids at home while trying to get things done and allow myself enough time to breathe: it usually involves more-than-scientifically-recommended amounts of television and hefty amounts of Goldfish crackers. On these days, I have to try harder to ignore the voices that would shame me. I'm usually pretty good at shutting down the talk that would have me believe my identity should be wrapped up in a clean house, 100% organic meals, toned muscles and happy, well-behaved children who make papier-mache crafts on the daily. I'm just never going to be that person, and I'm ok with that.
But it's a little difficult when the voice that is criticizing actually has a form and a face and it's the form and face of the person who you pushed out of your womb and into the world just over three years ago. The one who calls you "mama", the one who receives most of the direct impact of your parenting skills, or lack thereof. Even when you reason that she cannot possibly know what she is saying - some of your deepest anxieties ("I'm messing it all up!") are still being given an audible voice.
Even without her voice, I can be pretty good at coming up with reasons why I am not a good mother:
"I let my kids watch a lot of television." (I'm not a good mom.)
"I occasionally lose my temper and yell at my daughter." (I'm not a good mom.)
"I have given my child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day this week.." (I'm not a good mom.)
"I haven't even started looking at preschools for next year!" (I'm not a good mom.)
"My children barely go outside to play some days." (I'm not a good mom.)
"When we do go outside, I fail to put sunscreen or hats on them, and we have a family history of skin cancer." (I'm not a good mom.)
"I'm a stay at home mom and some nights I still have no idea what we are going to have for dinner by the time my husband gets home. All those people are right - what am I doing with my time?" (I'm not a good mom.)
"I'm pretty sure I haven't read a single book to my daughter today." (I'm not a good mom.)
And there are so many more where those came from. I'm not as good at listening to the next voice, the voice that doesn't discount the facts but also doesn't tie the facts to my worth as a human being, or my skill as a parent. It sounds like this: "You are a good mommy. Did you let your kid watch 3 straight hours of Daniel Tiger? Yes - but that doesn't mean you're a bad mother. It means you needed a break. It means you're human. (And, in case you've forgotten, all of yesterday was spent outside at the park and in the garden. You're doing fine.)" It sounds, actually, quite a bit like something my own mom would say.
But on the very hardest days, the days that I crash hard onto my pillow at 8:30pm wondering how we even made it through all the tears, falls, whining, raised voices (ok, ok, sometimes it’s straight up yelling that I have to ask forgiveness for later) and tugs at my sleeves, I often have to just trust my intuition: I am a good mom. I don’t think it and I definitely don’t feel it on those days, so I have to trust that I just know it. That even without an immediate list of reasons to back me up, without a list of accomplishments, without a Mom of the Year award, that I am a good mom.
I’ve learned over time that the voice I most need to listen to isn’t the loud, pushy, frantic voice with a disheartening message about my failures (which always seems to be the first voice). Sometimes it isn’t even the second voice that provides a list of reasons to justify that I am a good mother. My intuition seeks neither to shame nor justify: it simply tells me what I know. I know I am a good mama. I know I love my children. I know I’m not perfect. I know we’re going to be just fine. I can’t explain it, I just know it.
While my hunches can guide me to make really good decisions on my children's behalf ("That movie is probably a little too scary for my sensitive kiddo" or "I think there's something more to this fever than just a fever - time to talk to the doctor"), my gut doesn't seem to kick in quite as quickly when making decisions and judgments about myself. Unlike the intuitions I have about my kids, the perceptions I need to listen to as a mother don't come quickly, but slowly. I can be tempted to listen to the first set of voices that would have me throw all my eggs into the basket of failure or try to come back fighting with a list of reasons why I’m not a failure. I suppose the encouragement I have for mamas everywhere, then, is to listen a little longer, listen a little deeper for the voice that tells us what we know deep down: we are doing a good job. A great job. A hard job. A beautiful job.
My intuition tells me that you are good mamas. So, let’s take a deep breath, keep going, and wait for that slow, steady voice that's rumbling beneath the surface-level chaos. We are good friends. We are good mommies. We’re gonna make it. We just know it.
Written by, Catherine Gordon