I just watched this video from Upworthy. A simple video where moms were asked to describe themselves as a mother – followed by videos of what their kids had to say about them. I was tearing up before the kids even began to speak; I knew that the deep truth of how hard we are on ourselves as parents was going to be poignantly revealed by the words of their kids.
One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was because of this. Because of the multitudes of conversations in my family practice over the years, combined with my own challenges in being a mom – and the common thread of how moms are so, so hard of themselves. And just like you, I am a work in progress.
After all, what ‘job’ could be more important? (or more time-consuming, emotionally involved, or world-view-altering?) What an honour it is to have these beautiful young people to love, to teach, to learn from, and to fill up our hearts and our lives. I cannot fathom my life without my kids. Without their laughter, insights, quirky personalities, never-ending questions, and glorious hugs. The frustrations, challenges, and learning opportunities may be constant – but they are still overshadowed wonderfully by the magical moments.
And yet, when I watched this video and saw how the moms began by focusing on all of their shortcomings, a particular incident came to my mind. It was a brutally honest observation Ethan made to me several weeks ago. It was during our bedtime talk after a particularly frustrating evening – a night where I felt like someone must have hit the mute button on my voice, because NO ONE was doing what they were supposed to do. NO ONE acknowledged my requests to clean up, get ready for bed, brush their teeth (etc) – and there I was, feeling like a drill sergeant… but a completely incompetent, and disrespected one. For me, on nights like these, with my mental resources tapped out, I seem to lose the ability to approach these non-working situations from a new perspective.
Demand, harp, nag – and then repeat louder. (Not a strategy I recommend, as no one wins on this one, even if the outcome you are looking for is eventually reached.)
By the time the kids were finally done and in bed, I was emotionally drained – as were they. Tucking Ethan in, I simply commented “That was not a very nice way to end our day.” And I wasn’t placing blame – just stating a fact. He nodded, looked me in the eye, and stated without any drama: “Mom, you know, the only place I ever feel miserable is at home.” That one sentence was like a punch in the heart. I could barely breathe for a second, as I swallowed back tears to look at him calmly, and acknowledge: “I believe you.” A pause. “Why do you think that is?”
He went on to say how most of the time he is happy when he is home. And he acknowledged all the great time we spend together as a family. “But,” he said, “It’s the only place where I sometimes feel like I can’t do anything right.”
All I could do was listen – I think the only thing I said for a while was the absolute truth: “That makes me feel very sad.” The truth is that it made me so sad that even now, weeks later, it’s so raw to revisit that it’s difficult to even write about.
In my head, I could have justified (He’s being overly dramatic! He’s tired!).
I could have made excuses (What do you expect – no one would listen to me! I’m sure other parents yell sometimes.)
I could have disagreed with him (What are you talking about? You are one of the happiest kids imaginable. Look at the family life we have, what about all of the amazing experiences we give you? You don’t know how good you have it!) .
But I couldn’t do that.
We have committed to having open, loving and supportive relationships in our home, and for us that also means making it safe to say things even when you know someone won’t want to hear them. Sometimes when we know our kids have something they are hesitating to say, we need to gently encourage them: “It’s okay to say what’s on your mind.” Even if they worry that what they are about to tell us may make us mad. Or even if their words will make us sad. It’s those things that we don’t want to hear that may in fact be the ones that most need to be said.
By the end of this particular conversation, I told Ethan that I was glad he told me how he felt, and that Dean and I would talk about it. And following a huge hug that was needed on both sides, that’s exactly what we did.
While we know that most of the time he is a wonderfully happy kid, obviously we don’t want him to feel miserable. Ever. (although, with teen years fast approaching, I sincerely doubt that that goal will be in our power to manage…) For now, all we could do was commit to being more mindful of how we are communicating in our home. Kids to parents. And parents to kids.
So, these thoughts were stirred up after watching that video. I have my moments as a mom that are stellar. And those that are not so hot.
And if I had to describe myself as a mother, I would say:
- I am committed to being the most present, loving and authentic human being I know how to be – and that in my role as a mom, that commitment is the hardest one to fulfill.
- I would say that I love being a mom, and that it is the most important part of my life, and the one that fills me up with the most love, joy, purpose and happiness.
- I would say that most of the time I am fun-loving, playful, creative and fully engaged.
- I would say that it’s taught me some of my less-pleasant traits – like being impatient, having high expectations, and that it’s a constant learning process.
- I would say that I am grateful every day for every moment that I get to be a mom. That my children are loved beyond words. And that the fabric of my life is so much richer, vibrant and alive because of it.
Guess what? I’m not perfect. And I’ll never try to be – especially as a mom.
As for what my kids would say about me? I don’t know for sure, but I have no doubt that it would swell my heart with happiness. But the truth is, I feel it every time I hold them close to me in a hug.
And that’s all the proof I need. We may all be imperfect. But LOVE is PERFECT. And we certainly have an abundance of that.