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!
About Elisabeth Wilkins
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.