A Bad Mother
We love to listen to music at our house, from Classical to Metal; Country to Reggae; and everything in between. A good jam can lighten the mood, fill the void, and be a good excuse to do some cardio. So when I first heard “The Boss” by James Brown driving to work; I couldn’t wait to play it LOUD in my living room, be-bopping with my kiddos. I’m learning however, that kids have a way of pulverizing your good intentions. They really know how to just crap all over your dreams. When you try something fun you think they’ll love, they won’t. OR what they actually take away from the activity is not what you planned…
So I played the song; be-bopping and good times were had by all. I sang along to my favorite line: “Look at me! Know whatcha see? You see a Bad-Mother! A Bad-Mother.” Groovy right? Right up until my almost three year old starts babbling about ‘Bad mothers’ -How they live in the woods, say “Roar” and are generally very scary critters. Swell! With me already somewhat insecure and overly worried about what people think of my parenting.
So I (seriously) joked about it with everyone. I told them about “The Boss” and that if they hear my child talking about a bad mother, she is not talking about yours truly. Hee-hee! Cute! My lack of foresight aside; the situation is a little poetic. Why do I feel like I’m not doing well enough? -Even though when I think about it, I’m doing great! My kids are smart, healthy, and joyful. We have a happy, normal family. So why the guilty conscience? Why do I feel like I’m under scrutiny?
It has been a process to let go of insecurities. I’m learning to recognize and debunk thoughts of imminent failure, -self-criticism that arose from comparing myself to other moms. My kids are happy even if we don’t do a crafty project every single day. I am as good a parent as one who has more time to garden and preserve food. I definitely can’t cook: but I can learn.
On social media, we want to put our best face forward, that’s mostly all we see from other moms and dads. Therefore I am comparing myself to people who don’t exist! -They are my ideas of what a ‘perfect parent’ would be. While I feel insecure for these reasons, I am also alone with my kids most of their lives. Perhaps, if I had more friends and family around in my daily life, I’d have realer examples and experience to base my parenting on. – Not to mention time-outs for me and not just my kids.
It Takes A Village
I know I’m not the only new parent feeling this way; I have a hunch as to one of the reasons why: Parenting is way harder than we expected, and we’ve lost our proverbial ‘Village’.
Everyone knows the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The phrase is widely believed to have originated in Africa; others believe it has its roots in Native American culture. Either way, this well-known proverb comes from a time and place where people lived communally. It was a world where one’s neighbors were also close friends and family; where everyone played, worked, grieved and celebrated together – always together. Today our society is compartmentalized. Most families are islands, as we generally have an -everyone-for-themselves- mentality. I feel like community is sorely lacking, and making us increasingly sad.
I yearn for the times long-past when families lived and worked together. As an honest-to-goodness 80s kid, I also long for a not-so-distant time past: when neighbors and friends got together for barbeques and card games. – Before the internet, TV, and smart phones ruined everything. Please understand I am not anti-technology: It’s a wonderful thing, especially as a new parent, to have all the answers at your finger tips. Support groups and forums can be extremely helpful. However it is no secret that while having these tools has closed great distances between us all, it can also drive a wedge between people in the same room.
We still need our Aunts and Uncles, cousins and Grandparents. They’ve been replaced by digital baby sitters. It used to be “Come play with Aunty so mommy can do the dishes.” Now it’s “you want to watch another movie? OK I guess so… “
It’s tiring to actually go see people. I have to plan. Dress the kids in cute clothes, bring extras, bathe them, and load ’em up. When we get to the home of other people, I spend most of the visit chasing and scolding children. There is very little sitting, or un-interrupted conversation (The much needed adult kind). There is chaos. We get home cranky and exhausted. I temporarily give up on ever leaving my home, until they’re in high school. Having a healthy social life is very difficult with multiple small kids… and I am lucky enough to have more help than most.
All The Help I Can Get.
I am one of the fortunate ones: I have an amazing husband. I know many people don’t have that life-preserver, while treading the unexpectedly difficult waters of parenthood. (To you single parents: I tip my hat.) We are extremely grateful for my in-laws who live right up the road from us. They are always right there and eager to help. I am also thankful for my Mom: She lives a few towns away but will always come to my aide: whether I have to work or am just having a bad day. These people among others make up my ‘tribe.’
While I know I have a ton of support, it’s still not enough. There are days I want to pull my hair out. Days I just don’t want to -Mommy- for a while. I mutter: “What was I thinking I don’t have the patience for this, I knew nothing about children then I had two of ’em too close together, I suck at this… “ I lost my temper. I yelled. I took her by the arm to the time-out chair. I growled.
So I apologize. Over and over again I ask these beautiful little monsters to forgive Mama. She’s doing her best. She is nothing like the mother she envisioned herself being, back when she was ignorant. She’s asking: “Where is my village?!”
Realizing The Struggle Is Real
I saw a funny that read something like: I used to be the perfect parent, back before I had kids. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I know the people judging me the most harshly, are the ones who don’t have little life-sentences of their own. I know this because I used to be one of those people. “When I have kids they will never misbehave because I will be tough and consistent. That’s all it is right?” I thought: “People far more ignorant than I, have kids every day -we got this!” I didn’t know about the lack of sleep, the last drop of patience being drained. I didn’t plan for potty-training and public disobedience. (I also didn’t plan on coming down with a debilitating chronic illness, but that’s a story for a different article)
In the beginning of my pregnancy with baby number two, I knew a woman who also had two girls also about 15 months apart. When I told her I was pregnant again, a very concerned look came across her face. She told me about getting overwhelmed. About being so frustrated she screamed at her children. “OH MY!” I thought: “I will NEVER scream at my babies!!” Ha. Ha-ha. Ha
Another close friend had a mild break down one night: She walked out of her home, saying nothing to her kids or husband, got into her car and drove away. She checked into a hotel room, and so checked out of life for a minute. It was a difficult time that she’s since made it through, with flying colors… But I ask: Where was her village?
I Propose A Solution
I think as mothers we are afraid to ask for help because that feels like admitting to inadequacy. We don’t want people to know that we are in over our heads some days. We absolutely cannot admit for one second that we are not super-mom 24/7. We get angry: We get sad. Many of us are on anti-depressant/anxiety medication.
I want to do something about it: I’m setting a personal goal to invite one friend to my home, once a week. I used to complain that people never come see me, until I realized perhaps it’s because I don’t actively invite them. I’m making it a priority to go see a family member as often (exhausting as it may be). I’m going to start promoting group activities centered on getting daunting projects done:
- Window Washing Parties
- Gardening Get-Togethers
- Wood splitting and piling extravaganzas
- Canning Shindigs
- Yard Work Shenanigans
Bring wine and chocolate. Bring beer and bratwurst; whatever the occasion and company calls for. Next week go to someone else’s place and help them with whatever project is weighing on them. Just do it together. Not only do “many hands make light work,” but getting together with real people to accomplish goals, however large or small they are, is good for you, your family and, your community.
I will spend less time on social media. It makes us feel like we’re connecting- but we aren’t. I will make phone calls and send cards. This is the task I set before myself this summer: To encourage each other to get out of our houses and do things together. Let’s build a village.