Seeing ourselves through moms' eyes
Last updated 9/21/2022 at 3:04pm | View PDF
I stood in line at the grocery store behind a mother and her two young children. I watched her unload her cart and manage her kids with such serenity and patience that I confess, at first, I wondered if she was the nanny. She calmly denied requests for cereal for lunch, gently admonished her older child for hitting the younger one and lovingly coaxed off the floor her daughter, who was splayed on it like a snow angel.
"You're doing a wonderful job as a mom," I told her, admiring her tender resolve.
She blinked at me in surprise.
"Really?" she asked. "I feel like I'm always failing."
I paused, momentarily struck by this stranger's vulnerable confession, but I shouldn't haven't been. Author Elizabeth Berg wrote mothers readily exchange such intimacies because we are "full to the brim, that's all ... we are most of us ready to explode, especially when our children are small, and we are so weary."
This innate kinship gave way to understanding. As a mom to a 12- and a 9-year-old, I've heard the negative loop that plays in the background for mothers, whispering all the ways you're getting it wrong. Maybe it's the constancy of the role, the weight of responsibility that goes along with it, or the danger of comparison that sets this record spinning. Whatever it may be, I wanted to assure this woman that all mothers feel the way she does at times, that her feelings aren't a reflection of her gifts, and to let those lies go.
We are all of us imperfect parents ultimately raising imperfect children. Dr. Curt Thompson said the only way not to make mistakes as a parent is not to become one. It's better to release ourselves and our kids from the trap of perfection, because if that's the measuring stick, we'll fail every time. The best we can do is continue to be there for our children despite our failings and theirs, and bathe our families in a wash of grace.
In the fleeting exchange of the moment, I could only say, "Trust me, you're a good mom," as she set off for the parking lot with her kids bouncing along beside her. I'm sure the rest of her day was filled with requests for snacks, messy floors and tested patience, interspersed with laughter and sticky, soul-filling embraces. The years ahead will rush by in a blur of mundane, heartbreaking and joyful days laid heavy with bittersweet triumphs and disappointments.
But being a good mom isn't the absence of struggle and heartache. Rather, it's the endurance to rise again, ready to show up and love with all you've got.
- Jade Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]