I know which one falls asleep on her back and which one wakes up hungry. I know which one needs to cuddle and which one needs her space. I know their sounds as they walk down the hallway, giggling their way through mischief. I know which one loves to color and which one gets lost in imaginary worlds. I know their habits and their favorites and the secret nothings they whisper to me when we sit on the front porch watching a rainstorm.
I sit on the floor with them, witness to their creations and adventures and excitement over the tallest tower they’ve ever built, ever. I dance in the middle of the day when we all just need to be silly for a minute. I kiss, and I cuddle, and I say, “Baby girl, don’t you know how brave you are?”
I am a good mama.
Something falls, something spills, something doesn’t go as it’s supposed to. They wrestle too harshly, take too long to obey, say words I have asked them not to say. They pinch, or they push, or they make a bad choice.
They act like kids, really. And I break.
So quickly it changes, so quickly I become the mama I swore I never would and I raise my voice. I yell, really, if we’re being honest. My babies freeze — I have their attention. I’m no longer holding myself together; my pieces have dropped, and from the shards emerges a broken, impatient, tired, barely keeping-it-together mama who takes it out on her kids.
I’m a terrible mama. The worst.
I become convinced that I am going to royally screw up my kids. How are they going to be able to reconcile the silly, creative, loving mama willing to have ice cream for dinner simply because it’s a Tuesday with the irritated one right in front of them shattering because they took too long to pick up their shoes?
The ferocity of the switch surprises me. It makes me question if I can actually do this. Can I actually raise my babies in love and courage and confidence and then send them out strong?
Sometimes, you see, what I see in myself says I am failing. Pure and simple: Failing at being a parent.
Am I the only one who feels like I’m giving this my everything but it’s still not good enough?
I must not be the only mama who feels like she’s failing. I can’t be. Am I?
We compare ourselves to the other moms we see and keep a tally in our mind of how we don’t measure up: We don’t finish the laundry, complete the project, have a clean kitchen. We snap at our kids, forget to call back, struggle to enjoy every moment. Don’t wake early in the morning, don’t do yoga, don’t fix every meal from scratch. We’re tired. We’re late, annoyed, overwhelmed, barely keeping our head above water.
We have it together until we don’t.
We are patient until we’re not.
We see grace until we’re blind.
But see, it is right there that we need to linger.
It’s not that the grace isn’t there any longer. It’s that I become incapable of seeing it.
I’m no longer aware of the light when all I notice is the dark.
We feel like we’re failing because we’re comparing ourselves to a false image. We imagine up a woman who has the perfect marriage, 9% body fat because she wakes up at 5 a.m. to work out every day, cooks organic from scratch meals, has clean toilets, well-behaved children, leads the PTA in her time off from running her non-profit, and — by the way — brings meals to her neighbors when she’s done volunteering at church on Thursdays too. We create fake standards we can never measure up to and interpret missing the mark as failure.
These false measuring sticks only cloud our vision, preventing us from seeing the grace in our days that lights up our path. When we learn to push back against these impossible standards, we begin to place enough stars in the sky that will slice through the dark, and we’ll notice the beauty instead.
Mama, you feel like you’re failing.
You’re doing a good job.
Your babies don’t need to see a mom who is worried about keeping it together, living up to Pinterest standards, or comparing herself to the neighbor across the street, constantly tense from messes on the floor.
They need a mom who lives big and lives well and loves deeply and is all in.
We need not worry about keeping it together, keeping it perfect, keeping a standard nobody can meet.
It is love that can wash away a multitude of not good-enoughs. Small moment love is getting up in the morning, in the pool with tinies, cooking meal after meal after meal again. Small moment love reminds us that every inch of our life matters and that the ordinary is where the grace is. Small moment love helps us take the next breath, puts one foot in front of the other, allows us to see this decade of raising and teaching and training and building children as wild and exhausting and magical all at once.
Love is bigger and deeper and wilder and freer than we ever knew it to be. Love is big and strong as we carry our babies, and it is tender and fierce as we rise to protect them and kiss a wounded knee or snuggle a broken heart.
Love is exhausting and sacrificial and courageous and true and the small whisper reminding you that it is what always wins.
Love moves, and love matters, and love is what your babies see when they look at you.
So, mamas, no, you’re not failing; you love your babies fiercely. Silence the not-good-enoughs, the voices telling you that you should do more, be more, achieve more, and then go and love yourself fiercely too.
Keep doing what you’re doing and just do the next small thing with big love and then look around at this magical life you have built and notice the stars.