I talk to my mom on the phone nearly daily right now. Seeing as I’m in the thick of motherhood, staying home with my 4-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter, our conversations often turn to my venting about something mom-related. Sometimes it’s minor annoyances and sometimes it’s tears of frustration. I can always count on her to listen and my complaints are usually met with a sympathetic “I know. You don’t have to tell me. I’ve been there.”
My parents married young—my mom was a mere 19 years old. By the time she was 23 she had three children under three, and then came me five years after that. So when she was my age (younger, actually), she had four kids whom she was taking care of and shuttling back and forth to school and activities. My dad worked nights, and we didn’t have a ton of money, so she helped out by watching some of the neighborhood kids.
I don’t know how she did it.
I have two children and so many days I feel like I’m failing at motherhood. I yell more than I want. I don’t read to them enough. I don’t make fun, healthy toddler lunches. I leave the tv on for too long, too often. I don’t take them to the park or on playdates enough. And most of all, I feel like between the two of them, I am not “there” enough—like there isn’t enough of me or enough time for everyone. When they grow up, I worry that they will remember these things. That this is how they will remember me.
But then I think of my mom, raising all of us kids and then some. I’m sure there were days she relied on the tv to save her sanity. I’m sure there were days we stayed in, simply because it was easier for her. I know there were days when we had donuts for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch, and nachos for dinner. I’m sure there were days when she raised her voice more than she wanted to. I’m sure there were days she felt like there wasn’t enough time for four children. And I’m sure there were days she wanted to lock herself in the bathroom, just to get five minutes to herself.
I don’t remember any of that stuff (other than the food, which was awesome).
What I do remember is her soft, gentle voice that she got from her own mother, and the calming effect it had when she would sing to me or read me stories. I remember the way she would trace my face with her finger to help me fall asleep. I remember how she helped me learn to float on my back in the pool and blow bubbles in the water. I remember how she would bring me in her room when I was sick and let me spend the day watching Sesame Street and Mister Rogers while she made me toast and soup in bed. I remember how she left us alone to play, and how some of those adventures with my siblings and friends were the best I ever had. I remember her holding me in the emergency room after I had yet another asthma attack, and singing with me so that I would breathe through the breathing treatments. And I never remember feeling like she wasn’t enough or that she didn’t spend enough time with me, even though there were four of us.
I remember the fun, the excitement, and the love.
My parents just celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary. Together they’ve raised four children to adulthood, who now have jobs and kids and houses and pretty good lives of their own. I can safely say that we’ve all turned out fine, and any questionable parenting decisions they may have made in the name of survival when we were younger don’t seem to have had a negative effect on us as adults.
So when I start to feel like I’m failing at motherhood, I think of my mom, and I remind myself that while there were likely bad moments and days, it’s the good ones I remember.