In my twenties, I was the babysitter that most local moms had on speed dial. In true “Super Nanny” fashion, I was the kind of caretaker who always managed to get children to bed quickly, feed them green veggies with ease, and usually spent my last few minutes comforting the kids who didn’t want me to leave. I was a super awesome babysitter, and I totally knew it.
I was also ignorant as fuck.
I remember one particular night when I tiptoed downstairs to greet two parents after I had just put their young daughters to sleep in record time. I was met with a look of sheer disbelief from both of them, and the mom appeared especially shocked. She could not for the life of her figure out how I was able to do what she usually does in half the time that it takes her – and with none of the annoying tantrums. Smugly, I smiled and immediately gave her step-by-step directions for how to have an easy nighttime transition.
“Oh, well, if you just sit in front of their beds with a flashlight and some books, then they can’t get too clingy. And always make sure to ask them if they’re comfy and cozy right off the bat. Oh yeah, and don’t cuddle them at all, just read quietly and boringly to them and yawn a whole lot. They’ll be out like a light in minutes!”
Thankfully, I wasn’t too swept up to notice that the mom had a tear rolling down her cheek. She confessed that she does much of the same things I do, but that their bedtime battles often last one or two hours. And in that moment, I felt so sorry for her. Here was this poor woman who wasn’t equipped with all of the raw talent I was naturally gifted with to successfully parent her own kids. Thank goodness I was there to enlighten on her this topic! Hey, maybe child-free twenties me should write a parenting book one day, because I’ve got this “raising kids” thing DOWN TO A SCIENCE.
What a royal fucking asshole I used to be.
Let’s fast forward to now, so I can give you a rundown of my four-year-old’s current bedtime routine. The whole process lasts at least an hour and includes a long bubble bath, constant negotiations around teeth brushing, a dozen sips of water, repeated pillow fluffing, three costume changes, several books, periodic interruptions during said books to give me updates about her day, five lullabies, and snuggles. So many fucking snuggles.
Every once in a while, my daughter will wake up three hours later screaming her brains out and calling for me because she had a nightmare. “Mommy! Mommy!! MOMMY!!!” is the phrase on repeat until I enter her bedroom, and then I am violently yelled at to “Go awayyy!” if I try to comfort her. Did I mention that we have a one-year-old who is struggling to sleep too?
My early motherhood nights — and days — have been long and brutal, and I am forever humbled by them. But even more than that, I am now completely humbled by how little I actually knew about the shit I doled out to parents before I had kids myself.
One of my friends used to have a standing coffee date with me at her place and would immediately stick her toddler in front of a television, so we could have some kid-free time. While she was grinning from ear-to-ear and enjoying the rare chance to feel like a human being again, I was silently judging the shit out of her for potentially turning her little guy into a total screen zombie. Doesn’t she know what the internet has to say about this? Isn’t she worried that he’ll be delayed in his learning or that his eyesight might worsen or, dear GOD, that tiny humans can’t separate fantasy from reality?!
Right then and there, I was looking at my own BFF and making a sweeping assumption about her parenting before I ever even joined the mom club.
But wait, there’s more! Allow me to give you a bunch more reasons to continue cringing and laughing today. Not only was I certain that I’d be raising my future babies very, very vegan, but I was also dead-set on preparing to be the next famous plant-based hippie mom on YouTube. I planned to institute a strict “no screens” policy in the house before my children started kindergarten. There would always be homemade, organic dinners on the table every single night. I’d easily breastfeed both children until they self-weaned, my kids would be so happy that there’d never be a public tantrum I’d have to clean up, and I’d “get my body back” within the first six months of motherhood.
Basically, I was vying to be the most organized, put together, loving, and fucking awesome SAHM the world has ever seen. No pressure, right?
These days, it’s a much different story. My limits around TV watching have gone right out the window, and my kids often scatter their vegan and non-vegan snacks all over the couch as their tired-ass mom sits huddled in a corner on her phone. Our dinner table is used for art projects, empty seltzer cans, half-filled cups of old coffee, and miscellaneous broken items that my baby has demolished. Breastfeeding was hard as fuck and tried my patience on even the best of days. My daughter melts down like it’s the end of times in front of anyone and everyone, and there is not a damn thing I am able to do about it other than wait it out.
And my body? Well, let’s just say I’ve realized that bodies don’t ever fully “bounce back” (nor should they have to).
Now, I’m that hot mess express mom at school drop-offs who always has piles of shit in her car, usually hasn’t showered for five days, isn’t always the nicest or the most loving parent, forgets everything everywhere, and sometimes just plain sucks at being a mother. And I can finally say that I vulnerably empathize now with every single parent I used to judge.
To each and every mom I looked down on, I have to say that I am so sorry. I was completely wrong about everything. I’m sorry that while you were busy holding up your family’s world, I didn’t bat an eye at the pain, overwhelm, and exhaustion you were probably experiencing. I’m sorry that I didn’t ask you if you needed help, praise you for being a fabulous mother, or stop to question why I thought I had all the answers. I have been quite literally brought to my knees by motherhood, and both of my eyes are wide fucking open now. You are all world-series winning champions and before I had kids, I was just a rookie pinch hitter.
Anyone without children who thinks they know better than the moms who are bravely showing up for their kids every single damn day is missing the key part to this equation. Motherhood will change your entire biology and has the potential to transform you into a more authentic, honest, and empowered version of yourself. But this can’t be achieved without actually going through it.
Until you walk the parenting walk, you have every right to support the mothers around you, cheer them on, and have endless compassion for them. But please, don’t make the same mistakes I did. Please don’t harshly judge someone’s parenting just because you happen to catch a temporary glimpse of them being vulnerably human while they’re doing it.
Now that I’m a mom, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we really are all in this together. We are doing the best we can with what we have. We are allowed to screw up. We are so much more than the impossible standards we set for ourselves prior to having kids. And all of us deserve a goddamn break.