My eyes scanned the article in front of me. Hundreds of words written by a young mom who was on the verge of revealing one of her deepest and darkest “embarrassments”: sometimes, her child watched more than two hours of television a day.
I’ve read articles like this before, and I believe that they are so helpful in telling the honest truth about the trials of parenting. My oldest child is almost 10 years old. I’ve been at this for a little while (and S.O.S., I still don’t really know what I’m doing by the way. Send help. Some Oreos. Send anything) and I still remember those earlier days of parenting. I still remember when something like this would have challenged my identity as a “good mom”.
Do you know how guilty I felt the first time I whipped up a box of mac and cheese for lunch?
Do you know how guilty I felt the first time I let my children watch two movies in a single day?
And the first time I legitimately lost my cool with them after a particularly trying day?
Early parenting brings so much guilt and heartache alongside all of those heart-cracking and heart-growing emotions. You feel so insufficiently ready for this monolithic thing that has overturned your life and what it used to look like.
Then the world creeps in via social media and well-meaning older folks at the grocery store who think its OK to wag their finger at you for letting your child chew on your car keys while you’re throwing everything in your cart on the conveyor belt. And it tells you how ill-equipped you are for this whole endeavor. It says you aren’t enjoying your children enough, reading to them enough or feeding them enough kale.
Lord knows, there are a hundred ways to raise a child, and you feel like you’re actually the helpless one learning how to do everything for the first time, and the only one out there getting it all so very wrong. There are dozens of philosophies out there on sleeping and eating alone. Let alone behavior, discipline and development. And they all mostly sound legit.
What if you have a baby who will only sleep on her tummy?
What if you have to wrestle your toddler into staying in timeout and it feels more like you’re trying to put snow pants on a baby goat than making any headway toward him being a better person?
What if it’s tremendously hard?? How will you know when to correct course and try something else versus when to buckle down and push through?
I say, if you’re terrified, you’re ripe and ready for the next part.
Are you ready?
It’s OK if it feels like your only child eats hot dogs and ketchup and fruit snacks, and you aren’t really sure how they’re still alive.
It’s OK if Paw Patrol is the one teaching your child how to play well with others because you need to stuff yourself with tortilla chips in the kitchen for a hot minute.
It’s OK if your kiddo only got one bath in the last week.
It’s OK if you take the batteries out of your least favorite toys and then play dumb when your child toddles over to you wondering why they don’t work.
You’re allowed room between yourself and the beautiful chaos that has enveloped your life.
If you can accept that last part, let me lay some more truth on you: we were never meant to be ashamed of cutting a few corners.
For making boxed dinners or calling in pizza for delivery after spending two hundred dollars at the grocery store. For venting with harsh honesty about how you’re really feeling to our closest confidants, and letting it all hang out in its coffee-stained and overly tired glory because you need to press reset. It’s OK to cry when they’re all buckled into their seats in the back of the car and you turn the radio up to drown out the noise.
It’s OK to hate some parts of this—that one time I had to clean one child’s poop off of one of my other children? Straight up didn’t like it—I didn’t feel bad even in the slightest for not “enjoying” that moment.
It’s OK to cut corners on the small things because I can almost guarantee that you aren’t cutting corners on the bigger things. The works of the heart. The long-term stuff. The elbows-deep-while-we-sort-this-out-and-fight-for-tomorrow stuff.
There are some truly dark things that moms feel and face everyday.
When I think back on some of the darkest parts of my parenting journey, and recall some honest to goodness shame? It wasn’t about losing a library book or forgetting to sign a permission slip.
It was using WIC checks to pay for my groceries.
Or the way I shut myself off from my children and husband while I was caught in the tendrils of hell as I grieved.
The season of our life where the only dinner out we could afford was eating at a cheap pizza restaurant once a month.
When I was too prideful to ask for help.
Screaming at my children because I couldn’t function amidst the chaos.
When I punished them out of anger instead of from a place of love.
Living a life with full-throated depression I couldn’t shake and carried with me for way too long.
Being irrationally angry when it was difficult to teach one of my children how to read.
For picturing what my life could have been like if I had made different choices.
For believing for so long that I could never be the mother they needed or should have.
There are many things in our lives that will bring true discontentment and festering discouragement. Things that will try to rip us apart cell by cell. And the trick is, we shouldn’t feel shame for those things, either. We should never punish ourselves for things beyond our control. We should never believe that we have to get everything right before we can forgive ourselves for the ways we fail, or the ways we hurt.
There is so much stacked against you if you are a parent who is trying their best. Those small things that help you get through each day? You’re allowed for those. You’re allowed to let go of the things that hold you back from loving your babies fiercely. You’re allowed to set aside the things you don’t need so you can draw closer to the things you do need. And you are allowed to only read one book at bedtime and turn on one more cartoon for heaven’s sake.
Because times will eventually come that cause you to reevaluate everything. There are times you might be forced to your knees. There might be times you will look back on and be puzzled about how you made it through. There are times when parenting isn’t pretty, and the things you swore you’d never do are the things keeping you sane as you try to make sense of everything from the ruins of your expectations.
I don’t speak from a place of fear. I speak from a place of profound hope. The people gathered around your table? They’re the reason you do what you do in the first place. Every parent has that in common. We all have things we wish we did better, and wish we could do over again.
We all want to have a home where mistakes are OK.
Where do-overs are an option.
And where grace can ultimately abound.
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