Last week, I had one of those days.
You know the kind — everything feels harder than usual, anything that can go wrong does, and the world basically seems out to get you. I was behind on everything. My house was a disaster. Laundry was climbing the walls. I yelled at my kids. I snapped at my husband. I woke up exhausted, went to bed even more exhausted, and generally berated myself in between for the shitty job I was doing at motherhood, marriage, and all things required of me.
Truthfully, it wasn’t just one of those days; it’s been one of those months. For the past several weeks, I’ve been busy as hell, distracted, and stressed. Work projects have kept me up late at night. Volunteer events kept me away from my family. I can’t remember the last time I went grocery shopping or cooked a meal. Bedtimes are rushed, chores are skipped, and I’m constantly running late. I’ve been worrying a lot about my parenting abilities as a result.
I don’t need to get into the specific details of my day/week/month from hell because, quite frankly, we’ve all had a day/week/month from hell. We’re all busy. We all have our own shit to deal with. We all know what it’s like to worry that we aren’t good enough, whether as an employee, a spouse, a friend, or worst of all, a parent.
For the past month, I’ve worried incessantly about whether I’m totally fucking this up. I’ve felt guilty about the time away from my kids. I’ve worried about the things that I’m not getting done. I’ve fretted over every infraction — all the times I answer with “just a minute” when I’m in the middle of sending a work email, all the nights I’ve missed bedtime for a work meeting or volunteer event, all the times I’ve served up a dinner of cereal or gone through the McDonald’s drive-thru, all the times I’ve yelled at them to “just freaking go to bed!”
At night, I would lie in bed and start to tally the list under the category of “Ways I Fucked Up Today.” Inevitably, I’d fall asleep before I could even finish. (Did I mention I’m behind on everything?)
Isn’t that what we parents do best? Second-guess ourselves and worry about all of the things that we didn’t get done, all the things we messed up, all the ways we fell short?
But what about the things we got right? What about all of the things we did for our kids, all the hugs given, the tears wiped, the snacks made, the homework checked? What about all the things we did well?
When I finished working last week — in the midst of my I-suck-as-a-parent self-flagellation and I’m-totally-fucking-this-up lamentation — my younger son, Teddy, handed me a note. On it he wrote: “I love you, Mom. You are the best. Thank you for doing nice things to me.”
It was just about the best thing ever, and it made me wonder whether I had been too hard on myself. Maybe it’s okay for our kids to see us working hard at something other than parenting, to understand that we have obligations and needs that don’t include them. Maybe our kids don’t need to think our lives revolve around them 24/7 to feel like they are still the most important people in our lives. Maybe our kids notice the things we do, and not the things we don’t do. Maybe we aren’t messing things up as much as we think.
Because despite all of my shortcomings, distractions, and inadequacies, my son — who is one of my favorite people in all the world — thinks that I’m doing alright. Not just all right. He thinks I’m the best. And if these little people whom we love more than life itself think that we’re doing okay — maybe even the best — we have to be doing something right.
I might not be a perfect mom. (Who is, really?) But to my kids, I just might be the best. I’ll take it.