A Mother’s Day Story: Confessions of an Imperfect Mom

Posted May 4, 2009 by

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Here’s my confession: I’m an imperfect mom, and often an ineffective parent. Most of the time I feel like I’m flailing along, trying to “get it right”– and as soon as I do, my son hits a whole new phase and the process starts all over again. There’s nothing like being a parent to humble you!

So Mother’s Day is a bittersweet time. Yes, I love the hugs and home made cards, the burnt pancakes and fresh-squeezed orange juice complete with seeds and bits of peel floating inside. But I also can’t help but do a little mental inventory of the past year. My mind jumps back to the moments “Mean Mommy” reared her ugly head (more times than I’d care to admit), and then, to how often I got it right. On my mental scoreboard, Mean Mommy is in the lead as of now, but I’m happy to report that there was one thing I did get right.

In fact, this year, one sentence has changed my whole parenting style, and I think it’s helping to make me a better mom:

“Always ask yourself, ‘What does my child need from me right now?”  It’s something that James Lehman says, and I have taken his advice to heart.

I know it sounds deceptively simple to do this, but it’s not. Case in point: recently, we were at a friend’s house for a big party. My son was being mouthy, demanding and unwilling to share with the other child who was there. To make matters worse, the other boy (also 6) was behaving really well. In fact, in the course of one hour, my son refused to share any of his toys, insisted on having his way at every game, and kneed this other boy in the mouth and made him bleed. (Luckily, a bunch of adult witnesses saw that it was an accident, but still.) To cap it all off, he wouldn’t even tell the other boy he was sorry for hurting him. Seriously bratty behavior, and I was mortified.

Full disclosure: I should also say that I often worry too much about what other people think, and when I became a mom, that feeling only intensified. Because let’s face it, there is really so much judgment heaped on mothers — and sometimes it comes from other moms!

So everything came to a head when another guest at the party pointedly said, “Boy, Max is such a nice boy. He sure doesn’t have ‘only child syndrome.'” (In case you were wondering, my son’s name is definitely not Max.)

Luckily, James’ wise words came to mind. I took a deep breath and said, “OK, what does my son need from me right now?” I realized Alex really needed to be taken out of the situation, allowed to cool down a little (both kids were hyped up on candy and the excitement of the gathering) and have some one-on-one time with a parent. And if that didn’t work, we were going home.

So my son and I took a little loop around the block. After a few minutes, I sat and looked him in the eye. “You need to pull it together, Alex, or we have to go. Do you understand?”

Alex nodded and looked down, and his lip quivered. “I didn’t hurt Max on purpose.”

I hugged him and told him I knew that, but that it would still be good to ask how Max was doing, and say “I’m sorry, it was an accident.”

We made it back to the party, and Alex was able to say the words to his new friend.

I’d like to say my son was perfect for the rest of the day, though the truth is, he wasn’t.  But you know, he pulled it together and did much better, and I took that as a small victory. (We have to take them where we can get them, don’t you think?)

So this Mother’s Day, I’m going to celebrate being a little more able to deal with a crisis. I’m going to enjoy the fact that I’m a little less exhausted as a parent, because I’m learning how to focus more on what my child needs, and less on what other people think. And I’m going to give myself a break, because I’ve finally begun to realize that being an imperfect parent isn’t the worst thing, as long as we try to get it right.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there who are trying to do their best, one day (hour, minute!) at a time. Enjoy your day.

Has any piece of advice hit home with you as a mom, and changed the way you look at parenting? Please share it with us here!


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Jacks_1_Mom: I’m so glad to hear this helped you. We heap so much anxiety on ourselves for not getting it right, (I sure do!) but forget to stop to enjoy those moments that work. Have a great mother’s day…you are definitely not alone!

    Brooke, You’re so right about the judgment thing. It makes parenting so much harder. The funny thing is, I’m open to hearing good ideas from other parents — I really welcome it, in fact. I guess it all depends on the spirit in which the advice is given…and if someone is trying to build you up, or tear you down. I also agree that your child feels the judgment, which is what really burned me up the most that day. But you know, it’s a good lesson for me to learn — not to get too wrapped up in what others think. Thanks for your comments!

  2. brooke Report

    I want to be in your play group. You have voiced one of my biggest struggles too. It’s often hard to know the right thing to do in the moment, but even harder when you are being judged, particularly by other moms??? Don’t you wish you could be in the audience when her kid flips out at the bank.

    I think taking your son out of the situation is a great technique because it gives you both a moment to reflect and you don’t feel like you are being evaluated by everyone else. And, don’t forger, if you feel this judgement, your child does too.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. jacks_1_mom Report

    This is one of the best article I have read lately…not only have you helped ease my anxiety about being a “bad mom trying to do better,” but you also have helped me see that some of the things that I have been trying can really work, even if they don’t work all the time.
    Thanks for the uplifting story.

  4. Elisabeth, EP Editor Report

    Kris, I think that’s why parenting is so humbling…it really drives home the fact that we are all human! There is nothing neat and tidy about being a mom. (Unless the whole family is gone and you’ve just cleaned the house! 🙂 )

    Kathy, you’re so right about it being easy to react to behavior and not dig for a solution. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s really going on. I’ve gotten a little better at taking breathers for myself, too, when I get frustrated or see that red flag being waved in front of me! Change is such a slow process…

  5. kathy pride Report

    Ha! Amen, sister! Can I ever relate. I think we might be twins separated at birth…

    I love that advice, ask what your child needs right now. The other night my older daughter wouldn’t let me come near her to hug her good night. Go away, were her hurtful words…so I kissed her anyway and decided to wait and see what she needed and sure enough it bubbled to the top.
    “You haven’t been around, you’re NEVER (it may seem like it but it isn’t completely true) home and she needed some mom time. We got it yesterday with a cancelled softball game and trip to the mall, without rushing anywhere…but so often we react to the behavior without digging for what is driving it and applying the solutions there.

    Thanks for your honesty! You know I love it!

  6. Kris Report

    Wow, did you right that article about your experience or mine? It could have just as easily been one of my days! Thanks for making it feel okay for us all to be human once in a while.

  7. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Thanks, Dr. Joan! I feel the same way about the snide remarks. It doesn’t help anyone parent better, and in fact, it usually makes things worse. “I’ve been there” is a much better — and kinder — response.

  8. drjoan Report

    I loved the article and I agree wholeheartedly that we mom’s need to stick together. It bothers me a great deal when I hear other mom’s making snide remarks about other people’s kids. Truth is, ALL parents will have a moment with their kids in which we feel embarrassed, horrified,and wondering what their behavior will mean for their future. I’ve had many, many of those moments and the parents who smiled and said, “I’ve been there” were way more helpful to my self-esteem than the ones who were mean-spirited. You are doing a great job and you are a great mom Elisabeth. Keep up the good work!

  9. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Caroline, first of all, I want to say good for you for getting to the bottom of your son’s health problem and finding a solution. It’s so hard to *not* cater to a child when they are sick or have some other kind of issue…so I understand where you are coming from. Just keep trusting your instincts and try not to worry about what others are thinking. In the end, you’re the one who best knows what your child needs. (This is what I tell myself, too!)

    Natalie, thanks for the book recommendation. Good luck to you with your son. It’s never too late to learn more, and hopefully you’ll be able to help your son in the process. Perhaps the thing to realize about parenting is that it is never-ending. My mom told me recently, “You’d think you’d worry more about your kids when they’re little, but the fact is, sometimes I worry more now!” (Nobody tells you that when you sign on for this gig though, do they?)

    Duffyclan, I so agree with you that moms need to stick together more and judge each other less. I think sometimes we (I include myself in this statement) feel threatened when we see others parenting differently, and then wonder, “Maybe I should be more strict/less rigid/more fun (you name it) with my kids.” I think that’s why this advice from James has really helped me — it distills a single, basic truth about parenting down to one sentence that’s easy to remember when I’m panicking!

    Roxi, good for you, and wow, raising 3 kids as a single mom. My hat is off to you. (Just one child often puts me over the edge! 🙂 ) That in itself is an achievement. Getting through the morning without yelling is absolutely cause for a little victory dance. I raise my coffee cup to you!

    Michelle, thank you for reading and sharing this post, and hope it helps. Every little thing we can do to help each other makes a difference, in my book.

  10. chellybean Report

    This was a very helpful scenario to relate to. Little things like that can be really helpful as a parenting tool. I intend to use it as much as possible, and share it also. Thank you, Michelle

  11. roxi Report

    My mental scoreboard has my mommy skills pretty low lately. Like you say though, all I can do is keep trying and trying to be better. That is what I do every single day and I guess I’m okay because of that. The victory you described in your story was huge – what a great way to handle the situation. I am a lawyer with no husband and three kids, 9, 7 & 5. I’ve been in that situation so many times! I generally become angrier & angrier & I feel sadder & sadder wondering what I have done so wrong. Instead of being angry and mean, you took control and made things better by making your son feel better. I am going to think of you the next time Im in a similar situation and I know it will be soon. I made it through a morning without having to yell at anyone and everyone left the house happy. That is my little victory for now. I keep trying and I thank you, thank you, thank you for your posting. Happy Mothers Day!

  12. duffyclan Report

    Enjoyed your story. I wish the group we belong to called “Mom’s” would come to grips with the realization that they will eventually have a day, days weeks, years like you had that day. WE need to stick together more and acknowledge perfect behavior never really happens, even in adults!
    Please know that there are many girls out there with the label “Mom” trying to figure it out on the fly, like you did in your story. James has been a wonderful resource to tap into, WHEN I’M SMART ENOUGH TO TAP INTO IT!
    I applaud your honesty and vulnerability , not only makes you a great Mom, but even a better person.
    Happy Mothers Day~

  13. Natalie Report

    Sorry for the double post, but I should add that my son’s problems were very mild as a young child, but got much worse as he got older. His sweet but socially alkward behavior fooled me and I was caught off guard. When I finally read the book, I could recall some very distinct behaviors that I thought was just a phase.
    My inaction has cost me, now that he is a teen he is very stubborn and has immovable set black and white thinking etc. that makes it all but impossible to help him. We have lots of issues around on-line gaming.
    So I am not trying to say anything about boys in general. The book is excellent and the techniques will help any parent.

  14. Natalie Report

    This was a touching article and I thank you for it. Although my children are in their late teens I still remember these situations. Unfortunately we are still having them and I suppose that is waht parenting is all about. I have presently discovered that my son has a bend toward Aspergers and have read a book about it and have learned many insights about his behavior. The most significant is that these children cannot (I said the word cannot) read social inferences and need much help with social situations. The most significant technique was to tell the child what to expect in any given situation. I other words to prevent these behavors from manifesting them selves in the first place. For those of you with boys inparticular, I would recommend that you read a book on Aspergers Syndrome. I have read “Parenting your Aspergers Child” by Alan Sohn and Cathy Grayson. May God Bless your families.

  15. Caroline Report

    I can relate to your story! Our son who is 4 has had severe food allergies and Eczema since he was a baby. I have always felt bad for him and catered to him to make his world a little better out of pity and sympathy. I thought I was helping him, showering him with love to make him feel happy. Now that we started him on probiotics 8 months ago, he is sooo much better. (It has been an answer to prayer, really!) The only thing is, now that he is better, he still thinks that everyone should be catering to him. Making him happy at every moment. Getting his way all the time. Now, he may sound totally spoiled…but he can be so loving and sweet too. I know that I have done a good thing giving him love…but I have difficulties with discipline. BIG TIME! I now need to change all kinds of things to parent him as he should have been all along, still loving him but not catering. It is so true though, not to worry what others think as long as you know you are giving everything you’ve got 🙂 Caroline



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