Olivia usually falls asleep in our bed at night. Some nights she’ll look at books until she’s tired, but a lot of nights I will lay down with her, scratch her back, and make up a song about her and her imaginery pet cat. Last night she wanted to tell stories. But, in a rather out-of-character moment, Olivia wanted to not just hear a story, but tell one as well. Her story went something like this:
“Once upon a time, there was a mommy. That’s you! The story’s about you. (She whispered to me.) She was always busy and having to go places. She would take someone with her sometimes. When she got home, she napped…”
I don’t remember the rest of the story. There was more, but that first part was all I remember. I laughed at first and thought it was cute. I told myself that that’s not really true, because it’s not true. I reminded myself that I’ve started going to the gym three or four times a week, so in Olivia’s mind it does look like I’m going out all the time…
At first I was okay with the story. But tonight I’m struggling with it. I know her story isn’t an accurate depiction of my life. But it was her depiction — it’s the way she sees it. And in her depiction I am not a very “present” mother. But I am a present mother. (I think that’s why I’ve been going a bit crazy this semester, because I’ve been deliberately focusing more on the kids, the family, the household, so the time left for school has gotten smaller. (I honestly sit here and wonder how I had so much time to do research last semester. Maybe because I didn’t sit and wonder about having time to do research???))
So I struggle between her perception and what’s going on… or at least between her perception and my perception of what’s going on.
Perceptions. They are the means by which we know. But they are also what limit our knowledge. (Yes. Thank you. Why, yes, I do have a degree in philosophy…)
If there is anything that women struggle with as mothers, it is perceptions. There are so many ideas about what it means to be a good mother. So many women, doing motherhood in so many different ways, that it’s hard not to think… “if she and I are doing things so differently, how can she not think I’m completely wrong in my parenting?” Which often leads to, “Who does she think she is? How dare she judge me?! Well, all I know is that her way of doing things isn’t so great. In fact, she’s quite the idiot. I would never parent like that!” And the accused quickly becomes the accuser.
Perceptions. Our own perceptions. Others’ perceptions. Society’s perceptions. Even our own kids’ perceptions. All different. And enough to make us filled with confusion and rage. (Or maybe that’s just me… like I said, it’s really getting to me tonight.)
But I guess what I have to keep telling myself is that all of these perspectives are limited. Others’ especially (since they don’t see the hours spent between these trailer walls), but also my own. Does that mean I have limited self-understanding? Why, yes! Yes, it does. I don’t know if each thing I do is exactly the right thing to do or if one of those things will scar my child for life. What I do know is that I have to live my life out of love instead of self-preservation. And that means I can’t live out of the need to preserve my status as a “good mom”.
So, here it is. I’m not a perfect mom. I’m not always a good mom, either. Sometimes I lose my temper for no reason other than my own self-inflicted tiredness. (Of course, Olivia seems to think I have an excessive napping habit, so I shouldn’t be tired, should I?!) Sometimes I don’t know how to discipline my kids. I don’t know which method or maneuver will teach them to share or have compassion. Sometimes I feel lost and that those most basic and beautiful things of life aren’t getting through. Most of the time I have more questions than answers. And too often the fears overshadow the hopes.
But I think that’s because I forget that I am limited and that I don’t have to have some all-knowing perspective in order to function in this world. Instead, I have to live in the questions. Because that’s what we have. We don’t have certainty. We have questions.
Do I know if I’m spending enough time with my children? I know I’m spending more time than some moms and less time than others. Does thinking that way help in any way?! Do I know if they are going to grow up feeling loved and secure? Nope. Don’t really have control over that one. Do I try to do my best with that? Yep, I do. But does that mean that I always love them and show them love fully and without any strings? Nope.
I told my counsellor the other day that before I had kids that I had never failed. At anything. Lucky me? I don’t really think so. It’s made parenting really difficult. I was used to life made up of jobs that could be completed in a timely manner and marked with a 98+% (because if I got 95% I’d ask to redo it for a better mark). But, oh no, not parenting. There are no gold stars at the end of the day. No check marks to show that “Today your child was intellectually, socially, and spiritually stimulated and went to bed feeling 100% secure in mommy’s love”. No True or False exams.
Nope. Instead we’ve got those crazy tests where it’s all:
“D: A and B”,
“E: A and C”,
“F: A, C, but not D”
“G: none of the above”
“H: all of the above”
“I: immediate fail because you aren’t using a #2 pencil”
You see what I’m getting at? We live in the questions. We’ve got no choice. And sometimes I think I get so bothered by those people who don’t see the questions is because I think they must be either naive or delusional. But I kind of wish I could be them!
In the end, after thinking a lot about Olivia’s little bed time story, I am left with: I am a good mom and I love my kids, even though I don’t act in good and loving ways all the time.
In other words, “A good mom isn’t good all the time.”
Let’s be honest about this, I think we’re all in the same boat here.