Your love might be eternal, but you’re still mortal.
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I came upon a memory from over eight years ago. It was of a photo of my four-person family. We were huddled together, smiling at the camera with fresh faces and wide eyes. For a moment, I reveled in the memory of their wet lips and sticky hands, and their chubby arms wrapped around my neck. But as I followed that memory thread, their smiles slipped. Their eyes narrowed and filled with tears. Those sticky hands balled into fists, and I was transported back to my bedroom on the first floor of Pebble Bay. I was pacing with my youngest clenched against my chest while she cried nonstop through the night.
Nope. I was done. The longing was gone and I allowed the memory to happily fade back inside the box I reserve for painful times that should not have been.
Love is easy…
I made a joke about it on Facebook, but I stopped and wondered how many mothers are left feeling embarrassed and, dare I say, somewhat foolish because we thought a mother’s love conquered all. Isn’t that what the movies say? Aren’t there entire cable networks dedicated to the power of our kind of love? We’ve all heard the story of a mother lifting a car off her baby. (How the baby got trapped under a car in the first place seems to be of no interest to anyone!) The problem with these stories is they create an unfair and impossible image of what a mother is capable of, and as a result, so many of us enter motherhood completely and utterly unprepared and unaware of what it will require of us and, most importantly, the toll it will take.
… it’s the doing that gets to you.
Loving our children is the easy part. That part happens without thought, without action or planning. It is as natural as breathing, but caring for them, feeding them, clothing them, listening to them, playing (oh god, the playing) with them, and raising them to be good humans when their natural inclination is to be selfish little cretins, well, that’s the hard part. That’s the part that consumes most of ours days. The doing.
I remember shortly after my eldest was born, another mom and I were walking along the river. She said to me that we kill ourselves trying to be perfect. We sign them up for multiple activities in an almost desperate attempt to give them exposure to anything that will help them find their natural talents. We even go so far as to deplete our retirement accounts to give them the smallest of competitive advantages that can only ever be realized twenty years down the line. What if, she asked me, what if we stopped killing ourselves trying to be the perfect mothers and instead just tried to be good enough.
Now, you have to understand, I was a new mom. Just good enough? Who ever wanted to be “just good enough” at anything? Just “good enough” was average, and average was not good enough for my daughter. She deserved my best.
[If you’re reading my blog, chances are you’re between 40-something and holy crap. So you will remember the time when your boss hired a new kid that was young and full of energy. He had an idealist ways of doing things. He was keen to try out the new system and couldn’t quite understand why you “old timers” couldn’t get onboard? I was that new kid in the motherhood example above. I wouldn’t use anything less than organic sunscreen on my daughter. So, the idea of being just “good enough” was offensive.]
A Good Enough Mom
Well, as you can imagine, our friendship waned—it had nothing to do with the fact that she was having an existential moment about the toll motherhood takes on a woman in today’s society when she wears so many hats, and I was struggling to understand why she couldn’t just “get onboard”. But I remember her and I remember what she said, and if we were walking along the river now, I’d have agreed with her. I’d have said thank you for the potent reminder that I, too, am human.
Sometimes, showing up is the best we have at that moment, and that has to be good enough. It is good enough.
Motherhood is hard work, and the stories we hear about it before we start our journeys are false. Or perhaps they are no longer relevant because they are from a different time, a different era. Maybe they are like those fairytales from my childhood, you know the ones when the princesses needed saving.
Nowadays, we save ourselves.
What I want to tell you both is that when you become mothers, you won’t regret it, but it will exhaust you. There will be times when you yearn for the days when you were only responsible for self. Your children will make you laugh, but they also will make you cry. Potentially in equal amounts. Motherhood does not grant you immortality, but you gain patience and stamina. In your own time, you will realize the power of being a good enough mom. Accept it when/if that moment arrives for you, but don’t judge or compare yourselves to other moms who are parenting differently.
You will get more wrong than right, but effort matters. Most importantly, you matter. Yes, there will be times when you have to place yourselves on hold for your children, but you mustn’t lose yourselves in your little ones for too long. Instead, show them that you are strong and capable and that your dreams matter just as much as theirs. Show them what a good, healthy love looks like. It is not all-consuming nor always self-sacrificing.
Be true to you, so that in turn you can be true to them.
If you liked this post, you might also like the latest article in Sharing the Load, The Guardian’s column about parenting children of all ages, by Saman Shad.