Nighttime is a symphony of motherhood: the probing infant cries in the dark, the expectant hush that falls as you lift him into your arms. The creak of the rocker as it takes your weight. The peaceful grunts of nursing. The suspended easing of his sleeping body to the mattress. The quiet tread as your feet brush against the hard wood, the gentle click of the door closing. Your breath held. Will he wake? Is your day beginning now, here in the darkness?
I am most vulnerable at 4 a.m. It’s those moments, in the early predawn stillness, that ask the most of me. It’s those moments that ask me to show up, to hold space, to keep on going despite feeling so intimately the failures of how I mother. It’s always the case, isn’t it, that we see most intimately how we have failed at those moments when our very cells seem to yawn with exhaustion? It’s in these moments that I am most likely to crumble, to give in to my tears and frustrations. To feel the weight of my failures.
But these failures aren’t real: they are lies we tell at our most vulnerable moments, there in the dark, in the stillness. There in the half-light, we spin tall tales: today, I am tired of being a single parent. Maybe even of being a parent at all. Today, I am digging deep to find what little patience I have left in me, to support and foster these epic growths in my little one. Today, I am wondering how to do it all. How to give the attention needed from me. Today I do not feel like I am enough. Today, I am inadequate. Today, I cannot be both mother and father. I cannot be patience and goodness and growth. Today I cannot be teacher and doctor and storyteller and engineer and chef and jungle gym. Today, I wonder how to be present, and how to participate. Today, I wonder if I am enough. Today, I am digging deep to find the strength and courage and joy to continue forging this strong and fulfilling path. Today, I cannot fathom how or why or with what willpower another mother is succeeding so easily. Today, I compare my inadequacies to your successes.
A mama’s babe sleeps through the night from the start, and another’s doesn’t sleep more than two hours at a time until she’s well over 2-years-old. There’s no secret trick one has discovered over another, I promise you that. You are not failing. Your son has a difficult time eating solids at 10-months-old, but your friend’s daughter has been eating them since she was 5-months-old? There are no secrets here, either, mama. You are not failing. You breastfeed; you formula feed. You underwent fertility treatments; your pregnancy was a surprise. You had a surrogate; you adopted. You let your child watch TV; you don’t have a TV. You have spent every day and every night parenting your child alone; you feel overwhelmed when you parent alone for three days. You had a scheduled C-section; you had an emergency C-section. You had an epidural; you declined all pain medication. You delivered at home, you delivered in the hospital, you delivered in an operating room, you delivered at the side of the road. You are not failing.
Here’s the secret, mamas: you are enough, just as you are.
You are a good mother if your child doesn’t sleep or if she hates vegetables. If they are shy or they have a temper tantrum in the cereal aisle. If you buy store bought food, or make your own. If you work or you stay at home. If you put your child in daycare or you have a nanny or you have family who watches her. You are not failing if you get frustrated with your babe for starting the day at 3 a.m. You are not failing if your child can nap in her high chair, or will only sleep in his room, or will only sleep on you. You are not failing if your child cries all the time or if your child never cries. You are not failing.
Show up, hold space, show love, do your best, keep your child safe. Let the rest go: the comparisons, the lies you tell yourself of failure. No matter your story, mama, you are not failing. Our babes are as different from each other as you are from me. Their preferences, their pace, their interests and needs. They’re starting their life stories, in all its glorious mess. Let’s practice meeting them where they are. Let’s practice meeting ourselves with the same patience we watch our little ones with. Our differences should make us allies not enemies.
We are not failing.