“I need to have a baby so I can get a break,” I said, when I was a preschool teacher (and also stupid). I spent nine hours a day with up to 15 toddlers; being at home with one child would be “easy peasy lemon squeezy.”
Turns out being home with one child is “exhausting overwhelming lemon nightmare.” I was so wrong about how hard parenting was going to be. 15 toddlers who belong to someone else have nothing on a child who is yours.
It was the first error in judgement I made as a pre-parent. I didn’t think of myself as judgmental, but I judged the parents nonetheless.
I think back on that time a parent brought their child into daycare on their day off and I said, “When I have kids, I’m going to want to spend all of my free time with them. If I had a day off, I’d keep my child home with me and have quality time.” And then I laugh, and laugh, and cringe, and cry. Less than three years later, I was screeching into that parking lot on my day off and handing my kid to the same teachers before the wheels on the car stopped spinning.
Spend all my free time with my kid? Ha! I’m sorry parents who dropped your kids off on your day off. I get it now, and I’m truly ashamed.
I was also positive I was completely prepared to be a parent. Better prepared than most, in fact. I had a degree with a minor in child development. I had years of experience caring for children. I had this shit down. I learned 30 seconds after my son was born that none of this prepares you to be a parent. It made me a fantastic preschool teacher, but I was starting parenthood with a clean slate like everyone else.
I can forgive myself the naivety in my over-estimation of how prepared I was to be a parent. I didn’t know. Nobody knows until that kid arrives and everything gets thrown out the window. What I find harder to accept is that I am nowhere near as good a parent as I thought I would be.
I know the philosophies. I know the proper way to handle a tantrum, childhood fears at bedtime, all of that. I give fantastic advice. So why do I suck so badly at applying it to my own children? Why am I Mary Poppins to other people’s children and Mommy Dearest to my own?
I lose my patience. I’m tired, I’m frustrated, they know exactly what buttons to push, and eventually I yell when I should reason. I demand when I should explain. I turn the TV on when I should haul out the craft box.
It’s not that I didn’t picture motherhood being hard, it’s that I was overconfident in my ability to handle the difficulty. I had no idea that simply holding a baby for hours a day could suck the soul out of you. Or that it doesn’t get easier as they grow, it just gets different. I thought I would handle this with grace, and I decidedly am not.
I’m not concerned with how I measure up against Facebook posts and Instagram stories. I know they are the highlights and that five minutes after posting an ethereal picture of her sleeping child, my friend is going to text me what an asshole he was at bedtime. I am endlessly forgiving of my friends’ parenting imperfections, and hyper aware of the highlight reel effect of social media. But what I find harder to reconcile is the image in my head of the mom I think I should be, and genuinely thought I would be, and the mom I really am.
Objectively, I know I am doing my best. I know my children are well-cared for and fiercely loved. I know I am raising them properly, and when I can take a step back, I see that. But letting go of the ideal is hard.
So, I am choosing to grieve her – the mom I thought I’d be. I’m letting her go. It’s painful. It feels a little like a loss. But I can’t move forward with the mom I am until I detach from the mom I will never be.
I’m not her, despite my best efforts and highest expectations. But I’m me – an imperfect mom with the best of intentions who hits the mark more than she misses, or at least hits the general target. I’m not the ideal. I’m not even the ideal version of myself. But I’m enough, and that’s enough. And you are too.