Your Kids Don't Need A Perfect Childhood, They Just Need You
Hey parents? You’re doing a wonderful job. Probably a better job than you even realize. Parenting is hard, but chances are you’re getting it right. Give yourself the credit you deserve.
I’m not the mom I thought I would be. I’m not a bad mom. I actually think I’m an excellent mom. I love my kids fiercely. At the end of every day, they hear me tell them that I love them, I’m proud of them, and I can’t wait to see them again in the morning.
It’s just that I kind of envisioned being one of those moms who never gets behind on the laundry, never raises her voice, and never mutters curse words under her breath. For the first couple of years with my first one, I kind of was that mom.
But parenting gets harder.
Kids get bigger. There are three of them now. Life happens, and you find yourself standing in the bathroom surrounded by discarded pajamas and wet towels on the floor, shouting, “Why doesn’t one single person in this house feel like they have to listen to me?! The hamper is ONE FOOT AWAY.”
At least, I do once in a while.
And then there’s the house. We bought this house three years ago. It wasn’t exactly a fixer upper; the whole house was clean and livable. But it wasn’t our dream home by a mile, so we have slowly done projects to make it our own. We have done some projects inside to make it our own, but the budget hasn’t allowed us to completely transform it into the beautiful space I know it could be.
I am grateful for our safe, warm home, but it wouldn’t win any curb appeal awards. I’d never describe it as, say, “the best house in the whole world,” for instance.
If I had to quickly describe my family and home, I’d say we have a happy family, I’m a decent mom, and we are lucky to live in a warm, safe house, even if she’s not a looker.
Now, let me tell you how my kid sees it.
Yesterday, we were riding in the car when my eight-year-old piped up from the back seat to ask if I think our family will still live in this house when he grows up.
I replied that I wasn’t sure. We aren’t planning a move any time soon, but someday we might want to move to a different house. I asked why he wanted to know. I assumed he wanted to request a feature for the next house we buy.
Instead, he asked if he can buy this house from whoever owns it when he has his first kid.
“I want my kids to know how it feels to live in the best house in the whole world for kids.”
Immediately, my throat tightened up, and tears filled my eyes. I promised him that if we still live here, I will let him buy our house so his kids can grow up here.
The tears eventually spilled down my cheeks. Being a mom is so hard, and it’s been such a weird, topsy-turvy year. I didn’t even realize how much my heart needed to hear him say that he is happy until he told me.
Where I see a small-but-solid house with some good parts and plenty of flaws, he sees “the best house in the whole world.”
He’s seen plenty of houses I would consider “better” than ours.
Some of our closest friends live in a ten-thousand-square-foot mansion. My dad’s house has a giant built-in pool in the backyard. My son has visited homes with walk-out beach access. He’s watched TV shows with me about ultimate dream homes featuring indoor water slides, thousand-gallon fish tanks, and stables full of ponies.
But this little house is his idea of the best because it’s not about the house at all. He doesn’t see the beige vinyl siding I’d love to replace, the muddy driveway that could use a new load of gravel, or the cracked concrete walk leading to the front porch. My boy doesn’t care that our DIY kitchen remodel could use a few tweaks, or that a lot of our furniture is hand-me-downs.
He just feels the love here.
Sure, this is where I shout about wet towels and discarded fruit snack wrappers.
My kids have to empty the dishwasher here, put their toys away, and take a shower even when they don’t think they’re dirty.
But it’s also where I taught them how to make little Italian cookies, carefully rolling and cutting the dough just like my grandmother taught me. This is where my boys can run around in their underpants with superhero capes on and fight imaginary crime without shame. Our little backyard is where they discovered the joy of ice-cold water balloons bursting on their heads on a hot summer afternoon. In this home, they can cry when they’re sad or disappointed without worrying about whether their friends will think they’re acting “babyish.” There is nowhere else on earth where my big, warm, comfy bed and my open arms are available to my babies if they get sad or cold or sick or lonely in the middle of the night.
I bet you have your own story just like this one.
This is how parenthood goes for a lot of us, isn’t it? You spend three-quarters of the time wondering if you’re getting it right. As hard as you try, you wonder if the magic you’re trying to create is coming across. You lay down at night vowing to be less shouty and more patient tomorrow. It feels like you run around like a caffeinated pigeon all day long trying to keep the house in order, but at the end of the day, you still see a hundred problems that need to be fixed.
The knees of your kids’ jeans are always just a little bit stained by mud, you discover right before someone is coming over that your house has a protective anti-theft dust layer, and you’re pretty sure you could braid your leg hairs between shaves half the time. There are just endless things you wish you could do better. Every day brings an opportunity to critique something new.
But your kids don’t see any of that, and once in a while they just remind you of everything you are doing exactly perfectly.
They don’t know all the little things that keep you up at night. They just help you see all the places where you’re getting it exactly right.
Millions of tiny, wonderful things we do as parents stack up in ways we can’t even imagine, and their lives are happy because they feel safe and at home in our love for them.
Whenever we smile enthusiastically as they run to the car after school.
Every colorful bandage or gentle kiss on a boo-boo.
Each moment we spend reading a story, coloring a picture or playing Xbox.
At-home movie nights with microwave popcorn and a big couch blanket.
The painstaking way we choose birthday and holiday gifts to suit their current interests.
Even the way we rein them back in when they push a boundary.
Every single thing we do shows them that we want the best for them.
I felt like the luckiest parent alive when my son said our house was his idea of the perfect house to grow up in. But my son was wrong. Our house isn’t the best house in the world for kids. It’s the best house in the world for MY kids because this is where love lives for them.
I bet if you ask, you’ll find that your kids feel it, too. I’m almost certain they will tell you that think your house—whether it’s a pristine palatial estate or just a little house that backs up to a muddy cow pasture like mine—is the very best house in the world for kids.
I know that hearing how great you’re doing at this parenting thing won’t put money in the bank or food on the table. It won’t erase any trauma, or make it easier to share custody with your kids’ other parent. Hearing how well you are already doing won’t actually change all the stresses of parenting.
But I think it’s still important for every parent to step back and take credit for all the ways you’re getting it totally right. Creating a home filled with love where your children can be completely, authentically themselves is a gift that turns every house into “the best house in the world for kids.” I’m sure of it.
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