She spun around with her plate of spaghetti. There it was: splattered all over my freshly mopped floor. The dog immediately indulged himself in a hearty meal of meat and pasta. The food was now certainly unsalvageable. I never dreamed I would ever feel such rage and anger toward my own children when I started the journey of motherhood. Yet, that evening I was overcome by emotion. I found myself extremely annoyed about an incident that was simply the recklessness of childhood. This was not the first or the last time I lost my temper with one of my children. Chocolate milk spilled on the carpet. A bath that turned into a splashing contest. The endless whining. The fighting over seats in the car. It was often more than I could manage. Yet, I loved being a mother and I adored my children. I still do. But mothering young kids often felt like an air traffic controller managing a fleet of planes on little sleep and a caffeine overdose.
Loss of Identity
Even though I had experience working with children as an educator, I was not prepared for the emotions evoked from motherhood. I could easily experience confusion, weariness, guilt, fear, pride, inadequacy, desperation, and joy all before 9am. At times I did not recognize myself. Before children I felt confident, somewhat competent, sure of my decisions and self-aware. But kids have a way of stripping your identity. Once emotionally stable, I now was prone to cry without warning, lose my temper in frustration, even enter a state of panic when my sense of control had been decimated by mounds of dirty clothes, toys piled everywhere, and dishes constantly in the sink. Often, I felt like I had lost control over not only my children, but my emotions as well. Motherhood is like a tangled web of emotions and, until unraveled, difficult to navigate. Empathy and skepticism battled within me as I tried to determine when my children were in real pain and what was manipulative behavior. Apathy and passion regularly fought inside my psyche as I struggled to ascertain a pattern for conscious discipline. But the most annoying of my feelings was that of insecurity verses an “I’ve got this thing” attitude toward motherhood. All this inner turmoil left me depleted each day.
One thing was for sure, failure was not an option. I took the responsibility seriously. Even though parenting young children was relentless hard work, I wanted to succeed. Unconsciously undergirding the tangled web of emotion was a belief that if I was a perfect mother, I’d have perfect kids. This belief I carried for many years; I blamed myself when my kids made bad choices, embarrassed me with poor behavior or simply did not live up to my expectations. But I’ve learned over the years that parenting is only one part of the development process. Humans are complex beings, and many factors impact the choices that they make and the people they become.
Regardless, when I was a young mother, embracing the mindset that “failure is an option” helped me to let go of the pressure of being a perfect parent. Letting myself fail allowed me to relax into accepting the struggles motherhood naturally imposes and the self-actualization that comes as I result. Bringing my children alongside for the journey allowed them to see my weaknesses as well as my desire to grow and change. Kids recognize authenticity and love and trust us even more when we are willing to be vulnerable with them. On one occasion I remember reaching a point of extreme frustration with the constant whining. Insisting that it stop immediately, my oldest daughter responded to my demand with, “but Mommy, you whine!” I was startled at first and in complete denial until I realized that I had been whining. I had to admit to my failure and reflect on my own poor behavior.
Accepting my failures was the first of many developing attitudes I learned to adopt as a young mother to calm my inner turmoil. Another conscious effect was made to accept my style of mothering. I learned that I had to stop comparing myself to others because I would always fall short. Acceptance of my weakness and failures was liberating and empowering–like a spiritual journey, I felt born again. Over time I began to realize my unique gifts and abilities and allowed myself to embrace those innate qualities. Unfortunately, my strengths do not fall in the areas usually associated with the perfect mother. Along with the inability to cook, I am not instinctively nurturing or prone to listen quietly to a troubled child. Instead, I was more likely to give a solution to every problem and remind my children that life is not fair. Once my children were all in school, I found great joy in returning to work and using my skills of leadership and creativity in an educational setting. Releasing the ideal image of motherhood and the determination to fit that mold was healing and restorative.
I loved to run as a young mother, so I bought a baby jogger and took my kids running every day. I loved to teach, so I found a private school where I could work, and my kids could go to school. I enjoyed going to school with them all throughout their childhoods. Focusing on who you are and the things that bring you joy feeds your soul and makes you a better mother and friend.
Find a support group!
Friendship is another important way to feed your soul. Finding friendship and community was and still is essential to my mental health. I did not have extended family nearby to support me with my young children, but I had close friends. I needed those friends to ground me when I felt overwhelmed by life, to help with daily tasks of parenting, and as an outlet or break from motherhood. Now, I have a friend, with young children who hosts a book club at her house each month. We all arrive after her children have been put to bed and discuss the book of the month. Still, conversation always turns to the day’s struggles, and we end up providing each other with the support we need.
Many days as a young mother I would feel overwhelmed by life and have an incredible urgency to get past the moments in time in which I was living. Sometimes I felt as though I just could not wait until my children were all out of diapers, or until the last one was ready for a full day of school. I wanted them to be old enough to bathe themselves, feed themselves and eventually drive themselves. Parenting is relentless hard work, and honestly, I wanted the life I once had where I made all my own decisions and had freedoms to come and go as I pleased. It seemed like a waiting game. I was waiting until the last one left and then I’d have a life again. I wish I had embraced each moment more willingly and treasured the angst of daily life with 3 growing children. One morning I did wake up to find my last child had moved away to college and the loneliness of being an empty nester stung hard. Parenting young children seems like forever when you are living it, but it doesn’t last forever. It is only a season of life and living in the moment will quench the thirst you have for life, feed your soul, and strengthen your will to face another day.
I love being a mother now more than ever before. I love the friendships I have with my adult children and being a part of their busy and exciting lives. I wish I had known then that the children who pulled at my emotions, wore me down daily and set me on a journey of learning to love and accept myself would one day be my closest comrades, my biggest supporters, and human beings that I love and adore with all my heart. Had I known, I would have appreciated the mounds of dirty clothes, piled the toys a little higher and overlooked the dishes in the sink, or maybe not…