I’ve been a mother for 9 years, which is about how long I’ve been convinced I’m doing it wrong. What seemed to come naturally to other mothers – scheduling play dates, packing snacks for long car rides, and remembering to sign permission slips – often felt like a struggle for me. In comparison to other moms, it was clear that I just wasn’t getting it. To further test this hypothesis I traveled with my daughters last week to North Carolina to spend time with my extended family.
My sister, the mother of 3 boys under the age of 5, has motherhood down to a science. Even on vacation, every minute is accounted for and every disciplinary action seems to be the perfect punishment for the crime. My sister-in-law, also the mother of 3, was born to be a mother. She faces each interaction with peace and ease and seems to get a kick out of the tantrums her kids throw once every two years. I, on the other hand, always seem to be a step behind. For example, the first thing I noticed after unpacking our suitcase was that I had forgotten to pack warm clothes for the girls. And by “warm clothes,” I mean a single article of clothing that had a long sleeve. We were five minutes into our visit and I was already asking my sister-in-law to borrow clothes and planning a trip to the store for everything I’d forgotten. The rest of the trip was a lot more of the same.
After 5 days of extended family fun and countless mom fails, the girls and I headed to the airport to make our way home. When we arrived at the gate, I told my kids to hand me their boarding passes. I must have said it with authority because the 65 year-old woman next to me reached into her pocket to hand me hers. She said, “Wow, you really have this mothering thing down. I was ready to give you my boarding pass!”
“If I could only get my kids to listen to me that well,” I said, shaking my head and sharing a laugh with the people around me.
This upset my 9 year-old. She looked at me with her perfectly honed evil eye and said, “Mom, you always make jokes about us to be funny to other adults.” I stopped and thought about it. She was right. I totally do that. I love to make other people laugh and it’s true that I often do it at my children’s expense. In an effort to connect with others, I am actively disconnecting with my kids.
I said, “I’m sorry I did that. I bet that doesn’t feel good to be joked about to other people. I am going to do my best to not do that anymore,” and then kissed her on her head. Her glare softened and she leaned into me affectionately.
A moment later, the elderly man behind me leaned in and said, “I do not mean to eavesdrop but I just wanted to tell you that I overheard what just happened and you are a wonderful mother.”
I was stunned. I had felt like the worst mother all week long, and now a total stranger had acknowledged me for being a wonderful mother. I started to wonder, what if he’s right? Sure, I struggle with the details. I forget long sleeves and snacks and sometimes my kids go to school without gloves, or lunch money, or their homework. But I am also compassionate, and self-aware, and generous. I bring those gifts to my personal life, my work life, and the outside world, and when I really look at my parenting, that’s who I am with my kids a whole lot of the time. I had hurt my daughter’s feelings when I made that joke in the airport, but then I had listened, acknowledged my mistake, and promised to do better. I made sure she was heard and I showed her what it looks like to learn and grow in real time. We both learned a valuable lesson in that moment, and our relationship is stronger because of it.
I realize now that every time I stress about forgetting bathing suits for a beach vacation or a water bottle for softball practice, I am missing the opportunity to show up for my kids in the way that is unique to me. When I worry about disciplining a certain way, I forget to trust my instincts and be the mother my kids need in that moment. So, this Mother’s Day, while sipping my mimosa at the special brunch I’m certain someone is planning for me, I am going to celebrate what it is about me that makes me a good – and by good, I mean GREAT, mom. I hope you will do the same. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the superstar mothers out there.