I bought a level at the home improvement store last week. It’s not fancy but the perfectionist inside me is clapping her hands with glee because finally perfection is within reach, at least when it comes to hanging pictures. I love knowing that I have a tool to let me know just how close I am to the ideal. If I’m little off in my placement, the little bubble inside the level will show me, and I can adjust accordingly.
Raising children is a figure-it-out-as-you-go adventure. Read all the books you want but not much can prepare you for the actual moment they place an actual real live baby in your actual arms. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, which is a cruel trick, because just when you think you’ve figured out your first child, the second one comes along and whatever you did with the first one doesn’t work for the second one. And don’t even get me started on the third one and the ones that might come after.
I’ve been a mother for over a quarter century now. It has stretched me in more ways than I can count, and I’m not just talking about the stretch marks of a body that has adjusted to carry a new life inside.
I’ve been a working mother and a stay at home mother as well as a work at home mother. (By the way, they’re all hard and it’s high time we stopped trying to shout each other down about whose way is right. But that’s another blog post entirely.)
So how can we know if we’re doing it right? It’s not by measuring ourselves against other mothers because that’s just a sure way to feel inadequate (if we’re looking at the amazingly put-together Mom in the car line) or smug (if we’re looking at the Mom in Target with a toddler having a full-blown tantrum in the aisle). Neither is going to end well.
It’s not by asking our friends because let’s face it: friends (good ones, anyway) see the best in you and will loudly congratulate you for feeding your kids whole-grain Eggos for breakfast instead of donuts, while forgetting all about the time you forgot to pick up little Susie at preschool because you were getting your hair done. They’re biased, as they should be.
It’s not even by measuring our kids’ behavior because even the most well-intentioned parent sometimes has a child who goes off the rails. And sometimes otherwise “good” kids make bad choices that lead to “good” parents feeling bad about themselves. Not that I’d know anything about that myself. (Just kidding. If I knew how to do it right I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. I’d be writing a how-to book and counting my millions.)
You could wait until your children are grown up and ask them what they think. This is especially helpful if they have children of their own because somehow, raising their own little blessings provides perspective you just can’t find anywhere else.
The truth is we are all doing the best we can at this parenting gig. No one’s perfect. No one approach works for all kids. Some moms stay home, some work, some work at home in between parenting kids. Some kids need strict discipline and some fare just fine with loose boundaries.
The “right way” doesn’t exist.
There’s no magic formula for parenting. We’re all scientists in the lab of real life conducting our own on-going experiments with wildly different results.
But I did come up with a short quiz to let you sort of take your Momming temperature and see how you’re doing.
Here’s the first question: do you love your children? I don’t mean do you like them. Even the best mother will admit (if she’s honest) that there are occasionally times she doesn’t like one or more of her children, or more accurately, her children’s behavior. But overall, do you feel love toward the kids themselves?
If you answered “yes”, the second part is this: do your children know that they know that they know they are loved? Do you tell them? Do you show them? Do you love them in their love language? Do you love them enough to do the hard things, the things they might not like? Do you blow kisses at your middle schooler when you drop her off at school, totally negating any cool factor she’s managed to accumulate? Maybe that last one is just me.
If you can answer “yes”, I’d say you’re doing a fine job.
Now, of course there’s more to parenting than just loving your kids but the truth is most of those other things will flow out of that all-encompassing, throw-yourself-in-front-of-a-train, indescribable-but-yet-I’m-trying kind of love. When you act from that place of love, your kids are going to know it, even if they can’t put words to it. Even if they can’t understand why you do what you do. Even if they throw mean words back at you and appear to reject it. (if you relate to that I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you have a teenager)
If you’re loving your kids and showing it to them with words and actions, you’re doing it right, Mom.
Remember this on the days when nothing goes the way it should.
When you burn the toast and set off the smoke detectors twice in one 10 minute time period.(True story)
When the kids go to bed without a bath for the third night in a row.
When everyone has cereal for dinner because you forget to plan ahead.
When you’ve lost your temper and raised your voice. Again.
When you have to dig the gym uniform out of the dirty laundry because you forgot to wash it.
When you plop your littles in front of the TV so you can finish reading the last chapter.
When you lock yourself in the bathroom for fifteen minutes because it’s the only place you can be alone.
Because Mom love means that the bad days won’t happen every day, that many more days will be marked by hugs and sweet words and time spent making memories.
And because your kids might not tell you, I will: you’re doing a great job, Mom. Keep it up.