“Even if I’m setting myself up for failure, I think it’s worth trying to be a mother who delights in who her children are, in their knock-knock jokes and earnest questions. A mother who spends less time obsessing about what will happen, or what has happened, and more time revelling in what is. A mother who doesn’t fret over failings and slights, who realises her worries and anxieties are just thoughts, the continuous chattering and judgement of a too busy mind. A mother who doesn’t worry so much about being bad or good but just recognises that she’s both, and neither. A mother who does her best, and for whom that is good enough, even if, in the end, her best turns out to be, simply, not bad. ”
― Ayelet Waldman, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace
Today, Maia went to her Dad’s to stay for four nights.
I cried when she left.
The house feels strange without her. Quiet.
She’d been excited about going so I wasn’t worried, I just dreaded her absence.
It’s in her absence that I think of all the things I miss about her.
It’s in the quiet moments I think of all the ways I could be a better parent.
All the things I wish I hadn’t said.
All the little activities I don’t do with her.
All the times she’d walked into a room and I’d nagged her about something instead of just smiling and appreciating her presence.
At night when she’s asleep I go into her room to check on her, tuck her in and kiss her forehead, it’s in that moment I often think “I wish I’d been better with her today.” That post-bed-time guilt. I am experiencing that, but an extended version, stretched out for the duration of her time away.
During the post-bed-time guilt I often promise myself “I will be better tomorrow, no more shouting, no more rushing in the morning, no more generally being awful…”. And tomorrow comes and she is whining about something or taking centuries to finish four mouthfuls of porridge, then maybe there is some snapping back at me, it doesn’t take much and sooner or later I have lost my patience once again.
“Don’t shout at me Mummy!”. The guilt pours in.
That peaceful moment watching her sleep where all those silent promises were made to myself, all those good intentions, evaporated into nothingness.
I try and balance the guilt with some reasoning (and some forgiveness). Children require limitless amounts of patience. Now I, by nature am not a patient person, but for my children – because I want them to grow up feeling safe and loved and not as though they’re being raised by an evil selfish child-loathing witch – I try and make an exception. I try really really hard. I do my best. But quite honestly some days it just feels good to shout. Some days, the pressure gets too much, the bottle bursts and for a split second it’s a relief. And then the guilt pours in again.
I am constantly trying to do better, mostly because I want my children to be happy (and like me as a person), but also because I cannot bear the guilt.
Sometimes if I can swallow it I’ll read parenting books. Brené Brown has a chapter on Wholehearted Parenting in her book Daring Greatly, this little section hit a nerve for me:
“Writer Toni Morrison explained that it’s interesting to watch what happens when a child walks into a room. She asked, “Does your face light up?” She explained, “When my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up….You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see your critical face. What’s wrong now?
Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?”.”
I think about this every single day. Not every time she enters a room, but far more than before, and it’s made me realise just how quick I am to nag or criticise her. (Or in my mind “remind”, what differentiates a nag from a gentle yet firm reminder?)
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“Come here let me see…”
“No you need to do them again…“
“Have you drunk some water?”
“No I’m not thirsty..”
“Come on Maia you need to drink some water….no, more than that…bit more…”
“Where’s your coat?”
“I’m not cold I don’t need it!”
“You’re not cold now but you will be later, just bring it…Maia you WILL get cold can you just bring it!”
“I don’t need it Mummy!”
It’s tiring for both of us. She’s eight going on eighteen. Fierce, stubborn, frustratingly quick. I find her sharp tongue exasperating. Mainly because she’s nearly always right. And she says it like it is, which can be hard to take.
Then we have moments like the other day. Brief snapshots in time that I wish could last forever. She was sat quietly on my bed reading, so for a few minutes I joined her. We lay side by side, reading our books, smiling to ourselves at the loveliness of the scene. Of course I ruined it by wanting to take photos, but she smiled happily anyway.
And that’s us really. Some shouting, lots of nagging, and some perfectly lovely moments in between. Both of us, just two imperfect humans, doing our best.