Almost always, what I write declares itself, simmering in my head unprompted until I finally get it out on paper. But this week, I saw a writing prompt requesting articles for submission: “I am a great mom because….” I saw that prompt and thought surely I can write that article. Easy. I’m a mom. I enjoy writing. Consider it done.
For the rest of this week, the thoughts would swirl in my mind in between seeing patients, and between innings of my son’s baseball game, but they never came to a conclusion.
Am I a great mom? What makes a great mom? Wait – am I a terrible mom? Maybe I’m a terrible mom. What even makes someone a great mom? Is there such a thing as a great mom?
As a mother myself, I talk to a lot of other moms. We stand in lines at the grocery store together, and dump loads of daily laundry. We sign the progress reports and permission slips. We spend hours in the car toting our kids from school to activity to home, and we gather at the sidelines and in the auditoriums to watch our kids do what they do. We take them home, where there is sometimes a healthy meal, and sometimes fast food, but hey – the kids are fed.
When they’re little, we bathe them and scrub them, to their delight some nights and their despair some nights. We get shampoo in their eyes and accidentally cut their fingertips when we’re clipping their newborn nails. As they get older, we yell out “make sure you use shampoo!” and “wash your whole body!” to make sure they get the dirt off. And then “you’re wasting water!” when they stay in the shower too long.
We rock them and read to them and are at the midnight bedside when they have gas or vomit or wake up with a bad dream. Then we stay awake for them in the teenage years to make sure they get home safely, or set an alarm to make sure they make curfew. We can’t really sleep ourselves until we know they are all tucked in somewhere, safe and sound.
We do all these things, but are we great mothers? Earlier this week, I could not think of one way to finish the sentence “I am a great mother because….”
On an average working day, I talk to 25 mothers, not counting the doctor mothers and staff mothers and mothers I run into at the grocery store. And in 16.5 years of private practice at 25 mothers a day, I have never once heard someone say, “I am a damn great mother.”
Over 16.5 years, let’s say working 3 days a week and 48 weeks a year seeing 25 patients a day, I have talked to 59,400 parents, many mothers. And not once have I heard someone shout from the mountaintop with confidence: “I am a great mom!”
You know what I hear instead? Now I feel guilty about taking him to the birthday party, since he caught his first cold. She wouldn’t have rolled off the couch if I’d been there. I feel so guilty. I missed the call that she was sick because I was in a business meeting and didn’t get her for another hour - I feel like a terrible mom.
I wish I had worked outside the home. I wish I hadn’t worked so much. Is this rash because I didn’t give him organic foods? What am I doing wrong that my child won’t fall asleep on her own?
I can’t believe I wasn’t there when he fell off the monkey bars. I wouldn’t have missed the signs of depression if I had been paying attention. Is there something I could’ve done so my child wouldn’t be sick? Have cancer? Be going to rehab?
Have I raised a spoiled brat? Do my kids even like me? Will my baby grow if I don’t breastfeed? I feel judged. My family makes me feel like I should parent differently. Am I making the right activity/discipline/school choices for my child? I don’t think I know how to be a parent.
So all of those thoughts lead me to my conclusion: I am a great mom simply because I love my children, even in my imperfection. I am a great mom because every day I wake up with the best intentions to help them become not who I want them to be, but who they are meant to be – individual humans who, from the moment their umbilical cords were cut and they were physically separated from me, are on their own path.
I am a great mom because I am learning to let them be. Despite the fact that my teenagers now experience my nagging voice like nails on a chalkboard, I think that deep down they know that I am here no matter what. I’m not going anywhere, and that’s what makes me a great mom. More than what I give them or provide for them, I want my kids to be who they are meant to be. And as they get older and I see glimpses of the adult they will be, I am so very proud.
A great mom (who doesn’t feel like a great mom) said to me this week through tears that raising teenagers is like “hemorrhaging your soul,” and I told her that would end up in one of my blog posts. And here it is. We would hemorrhage our souls for these children, and the hemorrhage itself leaves space for more love than you ever knew you were capable of. I feel my childrens’ joys and sorrows as if they were my very own.
And sure – they may need therapy some day for the mistakes I have made, for my best maternal efforts gone awry. But raising these children is the most important job I will ever do. And, more than anything else, simply showing up to take on the challenge of mothering, and riding the roller coaster of parenting, is what makes me a great mom.
So however you came to mothering – birth, surrogacy, adoption, taking on a younger family member, fostering, mentoring – Happy Mother’s Day. Stay on the roller coaster. You are a great mom.
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