Many times this week I have had a conversation or an email exchange with mothers who express worry and fear about "doing it wrong". Or who are just struggling with parts of parenting that they never are quite sure about. This post is made in the spirit of encouragement.
Being a mom - I have absolutely 100% loved being a mother. Nothing I ever do will compare to it. I love it so much, I almost feel guilty about it. Probably because I am no stranger to unmet needs or wishes - there are lots of things I would like in this world which I do not have, and I know there are lots of men and women who would like to have children and don't have them for various reasons - I have a sort of weird guilt about that - that in this one area of my life I feel like I practically won the lottery. I know I have been an imperfect mother. But all the moms in the world are with me on that one - we are all imperfect. Probably the very best most gratifying part of being a mom has been watching my kids turn to teens and then adults (yes, it's true, in spite of feeling like I could still be a teen myself sometimes, I have an ADULT child).
When I was young I could not have anticipated how this would feel. I thought having teenagers would be scary and hard. But really, other than a few minor mishaps, it has been the best part of being a mom. And I am so grateful for that. I think I'm a better mom to older kids than I was to my little kids. I think I have more patience for this type of mothering. And I'm not even sure why I never had confidence in myself enough to see that clearly except almost in retrospect, but it's true. I have been a big fat fail at many things some moms are fantastic at. But the things that have really mattered to me - the things that in my opinion really count - those things I have been successful at accomplishing. And although I don't really want to necessarily go into a lot of details about where I feel my success lies - I will say that raising children to like themselves and to be confident in who they are, was probably the most important thing to me. It was the one thing that I was able to keep my eye on as a goal through out my role as a parent and it's still the driving force behind the majority of my decisions. I've never regretted that and I think the fruit that it has bore is very very good fruit.
Being a mom certainly means some sacrifice. But it's also the one way that I have learned to become my best self. I am so flawed in so many ways, but being a mom has kept me sane and on track in trying to be a better person today than I was yesterday. I don't know who I would be without it. Probably the best parenting advice anyone can ever hear is quit being too hard on yourself. Just stop. You're going to screw some stuff up. You're going to say things you wish you wouldn't have and generally be inept beyond what you think is acceptable at times. It's okay.
Which is not to say you can't improve. You can. Here's what I think is probably one of the single most important thing you can do as a parent: Ask yourself what is your goal? What goal do you have for your children? How and in what ways do you want to affect them?
Your goals and my goals might not be the same and that is totally OK. But your goal should be something that is for them and not for you. Nearly all parenting mistakes can be traced back to this very essential thing. Certainly all permanent damage can be traced back to it. If you're struggling with this - if parenting is something that meets some unmet need for you and you have a hard time thinking of your children as individuals who exist separately and who aren't here to meet any of your own needs - it's not too late to solve this problem.
Maybe you are the mom of a teen and all my waxing poetic about parenting teens is not exactly ringing true. I hear you. I have not being totally conflict free in the teen zone. And while I have avoided some of the messiest aspects of the teenage years thus far (knock on wood and all that...), I understand that some moms absolutely adore the baby and toddler and childhood stages and really aren't so much feeling this whole independent person-hood known as adolescence. Here's what you need to remember - if you rocked as a mom of little people and struggle with the bigger people mode - you probably did so much good in your previous modes that this bumpy ride is a temporary thing. Relax. Chances are, everything is going to turn out just fine.
And let me say one last thing I feel I would be remiss without mentioning. If you're really struggling as a mom - or if your child is experiencing problems you think are a little scary or particularly challenging, please don't hesitate to get professional help either for yourself or for your child. It is so gratifying to watch kids involved in a therapeutic process change and grow. And as a parent, it can be incredibly empowering to deal with some of your own problems in ways that allow you to be your best self for your kids.
And to all moms - new and not so new, above all else remember to laugh, just love them for who they are, and give yourself a break from being too hard on yourself. Do the best you can, and then take a deep breath and enjoy.