I am my least favorite version of myself when I am mad; I lost my cool in the car with the girls the other day. We were on the way home from daycare and running errands, and with my internal patience reserves running low, I lost it all over a noise someone was making.
That’s it. Just a noise.
When I envisioned motherhood at the beginning, I naively assumed I possessed a bottomless well of infinite grace. I pledged that I wouldn’t be a mother who yelled. I characterized myself as calm and collected, full of boundless energy for educational activities, a culinary master of kid-approved meals, always poised with the 90s-sitcom-style “right” thing to say.
I gave myself too much credit.
Yet, I can laugh about all of that now because I know I am a good mother. I genuinely love without limits. I stretch myself in ways that pre-kid me didn’t know would be necessary. I feed, I change, I wash, I dry, I laugh, I hold, I kiss. Before-kids me merely failed to recognize that my humanity was coming with me to the world of motherhood. I will always fall slightly short because I am never going to be perfect.
Despite my acknowledged and accepted flaws, I take motherhood very personally. I wear the “leggings and messy bun” uniform without a thought; I have always dressed that way, and I have always wanted to be a mother. It’s what I hoped most for in life. My humbly exhausting reality is absolutely what I prayed for. I am honored to be raising these kids.
Children are purely emotional creatures; they are masters of letting it all hang out. My most changeable offense during their challenging moments is matching them toe-to-toe, scream-for-scream. I fail so hard. Unrested or unprepared, stretched too thin, I meet them in their mess, and I match them. And I hate that version of myself.
If I am not careful, I take their meltdowns personally. I forget that they aren’t as big as they seem; they aren’t as sure of themselves as their rigid posture and defiant voice would suggest. I dismiss that they can’t fully appreciate what they are doing or saying. My instinct and my ego run counter. Pride shows up when I am weakest.
The single most important role model in every child’s life is the same-sex parent. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, I am their window to understanding the world. One night during a bedtime meltdown, I found myself getting heated. I wasn’t alone in that moment, and my husband gently approached me and whispered: “don’t match her.”
Don’t match her. Don’t match them. But how?
ONE – Remember: you are the mama, you are the boss.
It’s easy to forget that we are in charge because everyone is continuously relearning to parent; kids change all the time. Four years in, I still don’t feel like a “real mom” some days. But I am. In this, it is my job to be their calm. It is my responsibility to see myself as they see me.
In moments of doubt, consult your tribe: your partner, your friends, your mirror: whatever will reflect back the version of yourself you are presenting most honestly. It isn’t impossible to change a habit of reaction, but it does take intention and practice.
TWO- Remember: you have permission to take space.
If it is safe to do so and if no one is being reasonable, it is acceptable to take space from your kids in moments of chaos. Boundaries are loving and only as valid as we allow them to be. Sometimes, everyone just needs a break. It’s been humbling for me to accept that they also need a break from me. Space can be beneficial for everyone in moments of total anarchy.
Janet Lansbury says, “Respecting children means understanding their stage of development, not reacting to their age-appropriate behavior as if they are our peers.”
Their emotions aren’t about me, and so as much as I want to, I can’t take them personally. It takes confidence in my role as a mother to ensure I remember that their meltdowns are not about me.
Meltdowns are a normal part of development.
THREE – Remember: forgive your slip-ups.
I pledge to work daily to see myself as they see me. My kids may not always like what I say, but they will forever love me. They deserve for me to be more than a friend or a peer; at this tiny stage of life, my kids need me to be everything that the world is not, and everything they need to feel safe. I am where chaos meets calm.
Yet, assuming there is no intersection between humility and authority in parenting our children is a fallacy. I need to be better at forgiving myself for falling short. I aspire to model a humble heart in asking for forgiveness. I am a mommy, for better or worse.
Even if I am so tired.
Even if it’s not convenient.
Even if I am totally done.
All of us are more than our worst moments. Chaos seems mission critical in the moment, but tough moments are intense yet fleeting. We are all just learning, us and them, and learning takes practice.
Mama: don’t even sell yourself short.
Motherhood is hard, you are seen, you are loved, and you are amazing.