Last week I was introduced to another mom at a free activity hosted by our local library. We made small talk and asked about each others’ children when she mentioned seeing me the week before and said “I saw how frustrated you were and I wanted to reach out and let you know it gets easier, but I didn’t want to offend you.” In the moment I thought it was a really sweet gesture and I most certainly would not have been offended had she said that. Instead, I probably would have had to stop myself from dissolving into a puddle of my own tears by shoving Olivia’s butt in my face, feigning dirty diaper detection.
But when I got home I thought about that conversation and I cringed a bit. Not at her kindness, which was clear, but at the fact that she, a complete stranger, could look at me and know that I was visibly and undeniably frustrated . I know I was not at my best when she saw me for the first time. If ever there was a time to show frustration it would have definitely been that day. It was the perfect shit-storm of factors colliding to manifest a total loss of patience: I was on day 6 of my husband traveling for work, the kids were being total sleep terrorists at night, AJR hadn’t napped that day and was acting a hot mess, Olivia was flipping back and forth between adorable and fussy so quickly that the emotional roller coaster left me reeling, and then there was the general anxiety that comes with juggling two kids in a public place where it seems like every other kid is behaving besides your own.
I’m sure my eye rolls were countless, my heavy sighs audible to those across the room, and when Olivia squirmed out of my lap and crawled toward the well-meaning mom, I made a “If she crawls to you, you get to keep her!” comment that would have been funny if my tone hadn’t been so acerbic instead of the conspiratorial oh motherhood, we’re all in this together wink-wink that I had been going for.
Even though I know every mom loses their patience – how can you not when you’re trying to manage little people who make it their job to test and defy you at every turn -I was upset. Upset that I had let my frustration, which I thought I was doing such a good job of keeping inside, become so obvious to those around me. It’s one thing to be frustrated over text with your closest friends and use the wine emoji 20 times in a row, but it’s another to have a stranger see that side of you so starkly. I was in a glass case of emotion that day, sniffling as I chopped up non-organic strawberries and prepped the kids’ dinner and thought about how much I’m so not nailing this motherhood thing.
Often time it feels like motherhood is something that has to be endured rather than enjoyed. My biggest fear when I made the decision to stay at home was whether or not I would have the patience to handle it and actually enjoy all of the QT with the kiddos. That day, and a kind stranger’s observation, brought that fear to the forefront. I wonder if the line between quality and quantity time with my children is being blurred due to my ever-draining reserves of patience. Would I be a better mom if I was around less but gave more of myself? Is it better to have that patience spread thinly over the course of a day or concentrated within a few precious hours?
As I pondered this (as I do from time to time after the madness of the day) the sadness quickly melted away and the all-too-familiar mom guilt took hold and began its ruthless mental assault. Ah, mom guilt. How you have plagued me since the moment I brought AJR into this world. The guilt made me feel like a bad mom for showing just how much fun I was not having in that moment.
I know logically that the other moms are at the free library hour for the same reason I am – to have one hour of the day where they don’t have to provide constant entertainment for their kids. I mean, expose their kids to a variety of enriching activities at the young ages of 1-5 that will most certainly ensure admittance to an Ivy League school. I also know that I’m not alone in thinking about how I’m going to throw the kids at my husband when he walks through the door, run into the bedroom, face plant on the bed, and have a rosé IV inserted directly to my arm while Bravo is on in the background. And even though I know I’m not alone, there is that ever-present guilt lingering in the background that whispers They won’t be this little forever! Enjoy it while it lasts! Don’t you know how lucky you are?? In a few years you’ll have problems that can’t be solved with fruit snacks!
Being a mom is hard. In a world of social media, Pinterest, playgroups, and all the things the guilt seems to weigh heavier by the day if I’m not feeding them all organic food, engaging them in developmentally age appropriate activities, banning screen-time, and wearing a permasmile while we play together as I’m impeccable dressed with full makeup on. Then there are my own expectations of the type of mom I should be and whether or not I’m measuring up to it – the mom guilt is pretty insistent that I am not.
Perhaps the fact that I feel any sort of guilt whatsoever is an indication that maybe I’m not doing a half-bad job. Not a world’s best mom kind of job, but maybe a world’s okayest mom job.
I don’t ever think I’ll be able to completely banish the mom guilt. It seems so intertwined with raising children and wanting the best and to be the best for them that it would be a futile task. However, for those days, like the one I had at the library, there is also this mug that after a few sips, will remind me that this is a tough gig. That we all have bad days, every mom has been there, your kids are alive, and the fact that they want you and only you shows that you’re appeasing the critics that matter most. So until the next bout of mom guilt hits, at least I’ve silenced that grating, nothing-is-ever-good enough voice so that it’s not talking over my Housewives and I can relax to mother another day.
And well-intentioned mom, thank you. Even though you didn’t say it in the moment, I do appreciate your kindness and support. Here’s to things getting easier…although I have a sneaking suspicion that’s just something you said to get me off the ledge.