Monday morning. I lurch out of bed late; brew much-needed coffee as I hurriedly attempt to create lunches that will pass the muster of Martha Stewart, Michelle Obama, and oh, yes, my kids; change my kale omelet idea to plain toaster waffles and a juice box in the car; and race to school hoping that I don’t encounter stop lights or radar. The kids run in the school door on time (barely). I breathe, enjoying the drive home in sacred silence. Then I walk through the door and remember with dread: yesterday was Mother’s Day.
In our home Mother’s Day ranks up there with Christmas or birthdays in excitement for the kids. That’s right…the kids. Homemade table decor, party lights, adorable cards, gorgeous fragrant blossoms adorning the breakfast table with a feast prepared for a queen. Right? Almost.
As I walked through the door this fateful Mother’s Day Monday a few years ago, I was greeted with the lingering aroma of scorched eggs and burnt toast. Paper clippings, open glue bottles, puddles of glitter and kiddie scissors remained on the table in the den. Wrapping paper and ribbon spilled out of boxes in the basement. It hit me. Is Mother’s Day really about being a mother? As I began cleaning up the mess in the silence of my own company, I of course felt guilty. Guilty that I selfishly wished I could have just gone away on my own. Guilty that I grumbled to myself about petty things like wasted glue bottles and baked-on glitter left over from creating the treasures my children had proudly presented to me the day before. Guilty that I felt encumbered to now have to prominently incorporate a paper mache penguin into our living room décor. A friend had displayed her children’s creative output in a manner suggesting she had hired a museum curator. Why couldn’t I honor my children in the same way? Surely I would rue the day I underappreciated their talents.
Motherhood and self-doubt go hand-in-hand, as do motherhood and self-reproach. No matter how hard we try, how much we seem to accomplish in a day, or how compassionate, smart, and fit our children are, someone always seems to do it better. We kick ourselves when we don’t measure up to what we feel is the ideal mother – often falsely finding this ideal in each other and competing to reign supreme. It is an endless destructive cycle that makes us all feel terrible at one time or another. Self-criticism is not written in our DNA, and fulfilling our needs and desires is not selfish or unmotherly.
Our kids grow up so fast; mine are now in high school. This year on Mother’s Day Monday I scooped up a nothing but a few Amazon boxes, eyeing with nostalgia the untouched glitter tubes and the brand new glue bottles that at some point I purchased to replace the dried out relics from Mother’s Days past. I felt a different pang of guilt, now centered around the should-haves. We should have used this glue together to make some sort of abstract masterpiece. I should have shown more admiration of their creative talents. I should have framed every piece of their artwork since pre-K and turned our home into a family art museum to build their self-esteem. Long ago I committed to remove “should have” from my vocabulary, yet at this moment it struck me that there is one critical area of second-guessing that remains in my life: motherhood.
There are about 2 billion mothers in the world. We all need to take a few collective cleansing breathes and agree to give ourselves a break. Wherever we are in our parenting journey, we need to stop to collect ourselves. Stop feeling guilty. Stop being rushed. Stop worrying that our friends are better mothers that we are. Stop using our children as pawns in an endless and fruitless pursuit to win the game of motherhood that has been going on for generations. In our own kids’ eyes, we are always the winners.
Just two years remain before my first fledgling leaves the nest. Though I long for the days of pudgy arms and finger paint, I delight every day in the bigger, lasting rewards of seeing my children grow strong, confident and self-reliant. I realize now that how I treat myself is more important than how I treat their artwork. This Mother’s Day Monday I made a commitment to give myself a break. To show my kids the importance of self-forgiveness. To model mindfulness – literally stopping to smell the roses like we used to when they were toddlers. Happy moms don’t just make happy kids. Happy moms also make future happy moms by showing the next generation a happier, more balanced picture of motherhood.