It was the second time in three nights that I asked my husband to go through the drive-thru on his way home.
Feeling exhausted from a day of balancing toddler parenting while simultaneously managing the expectations of my employer and defeated from the first-trimester nausea of my second pregnancy, I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to get off the couch, much less make a meal. Far from a perfect vision of health, all I initially felt was overwhelming guilt.
“It’s okay, honey!” my husband assured me. “I don’t mind. You are exhausted and feeling sick. I didn’t expect you to have dinner waiting at home!”
His words made me feel better, but I still felt like I was underperforming, like I was inadequate as a wife and mother. My mind scanned through every Instagram post I had ever seen about the dangers of processed food and every Pinterest picture-perfect meal I had pinned. There were moms who exclusively fed their families free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, who locally sourced their hormone-free milk and grew their own organic vegetables.
And here I was, bringing home fast food. Again.
It took some wallowing in my chips and queso (the only thing on the menu my stomach would consider keeping down) before I began to realize this didn’t make me a bad mom—it made me a real mom.
My kitchen was clean, unaffected by used utensils and an overflowing sink. My family was fed (turns out grass-fed beef and Taco Bell beef taste the same to a 1-year-old). My toddler was smiling. Our needs were met, and it truly didn’t matter that a fast-food chain met them. It mattered that dinner was on the table.
Mama, you are doing great—whether you spent six hours preparing the perfect, gourmet meal or you found yourself in the drive-thru for the third time this week. Your worth is not measured by the meals you can make from scratch or the processed foods on your grocery list. Your children won’t remember the week they ate fast food twice by Tuesday.
They will remember a mama who nourished them, a mama who loved them. They will remember a mama who knew she wasn’t perfect, but who found the beauty in imperfection.
They will remember a mama who did her best and knew it was enough.
Even when you do not realize it, your children are watching you. They are learning and forming an understanding of the world around them. These lessons—the ones you do not even know you are teaching—tend to be the most valuable.
Feeding them McDonald’s because you do not have the energy to cook or preparing boxed mac and cheese because you burned the turkey is teaching them an important lesson: life is not perfect. Very often, life does not meet your expectations. Even with the very best of intentions (like creating a weekly meal plan), things go wrong and you are forced to adapt and overcome.
You could spend those moments wallowing (like I did with my nachos), or you could acknowledge that life happens, and you are simply doing your best. The latter provides a far more valuable lesson.
There is power in knowing your best is enough, in recognizing you are enough.
Mama—you are enough. Those Goldfish are your toddler’s version of the lottery. Those scrambled eggs (for the third night in a row) are your 9-year-old’s favorite meal. Those frozen pizzas every Friday night are establishing a beloved tradition of family movie night.
Your family knows you love them, and they do not need a seven-course meal to prove it.