How to Be a Better Mom

I ache to be a better mom. It seems so possible. All I have to do is, well, do it, right? Crabbing at my kids, nagging at my husband—just stop. What’s the big deal?

Much has been made of mothers in movies. Fictional ideals. Women who live to give. But I know real people who are really like this. I don’t think it’s just curating for Facebook. I think it’s real.

I would love to be someone’s rock. Anyone’s. But too many days I feel less like a rock than a pile of driveway gravel.

Me to husband still in bed at seven on a school morning when I’m showered and dressed and have read Curious George three times and started a pot of oatmeal on the stove: “Are you ever getting up?”

Me When I’m a Better Wife: “Ah the poor dear’s exhausted. I’ll just be getting to the homemade cinnamon rolls.”

Me to kids when it’s time to leave for school and they want to finish building an elephant out of pipecleaners: (in a steady crescendo) “Get in the car right NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Me When I’m a Better Mom: “Look at those skills. The creativity. The focus. What is this silly social construct we call time? Preschool be darned.” (When I’m a Better Mom I will use only cute curse words.)

Me to child who after calling downstairs for another hug, a drink of water, and someone to quote straighten the blanket unquote says he has something important to tell me which I assume is a key to his healthy social-emotional development: “Tell me tomorrow.”

Me When I’m a Better Mom: “Tell me tomorrow, sweetheart.” (Truly, I will never be a better mom after nine o’clock at night.)

Now I read that the way to be a really good mom, to have sure-footed, confident children, is to love myself. It’s not enough just to love them. Aye, there’s always a rub.

There’s a little glitch here. I’m never sure how much I’m supposed to love myself. I need a quantitative measure. A cupful? A quart? I’d hate to love myself too much (a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast?) and cross over into selfishness. Guilt? Guilt is the gap between:

a) how well I treat myself; and
b) how much good treatment I think I’ve earned

When the last guest leaves my child’s birthday party, I easily close the door, uncork the wine, and curl on the couch in my slippers. Without a blink. For about twenty minutes. And then I pretty much feel like, okay, time to sweep up pinata bits.

I felt guilt on the four-hour plane ride to a family funeral, alone and able to read – crazy – a book. Surely I hadn’t earned this kind of solitude. Surely I was taking advantage of a sad situation to find, eek, a little enjoyment?

On a regular day, even a weekend, husband working, me with the kids from 6am to 8:30pm? After a day like that, loving myself means…I don’t know. Getting to do the laundry without interruption. Packing lunches the night before so the morning is easier.

I sense this is not self-care.

When I was a junior in college, there were some cute frosh, women who spent a lot of time together. But when one of them needed space, their code to each other was to say, “Guys, my alone bucket is empty.”

I know my alone bucket is scraping the bottom of the barrel. I know happy moms make happy kids. I know I need a day off. Half a day? An hour? A new toothbrush?

I need to be happy. Right now! Put it on the to-do list.

Get milk.
Schedule dentist.
Be happy!

Check. Check. Check.

The kids are watching, they’re learning. What I do now affects the woman my daughter becomes, it affects the kinds of women my children seek, connect with, the women who become fixtures in their lives. For good or for bad.

No pressure.

I am learning.



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