A bad mother
We love listening to music in our home, from classical to metal; Country to Reggae; And everything else. A good jam can brighten your spirits, fill the void, and be a good excuse to get in some cardio. So when I first heard James Brown’s “The Boss” driving to work; I couldn’t wait to play it out loud in my living room, jumping with my kids. However, I am learning that children have a way of pulverizing your good intentions. They really know how to ruin your dreams. When you try something fun that you think they’ll love, they won’t. Or what they really take away from the activity is not what you planned …
So I played the song; be-bopping and good times were for everyone. I sang my favorite line: “Look at me! You know what you see? You see a bad mother! A bad mother.” Groovy, right? Right up until my almost three-year-old son starts babbling about ‘bad mothers’. How they live in the forest, they say “roar” and are generally very scary creatures. Puff up! With me already somewhat insecure and too concerned about what people think of my fatherhood.
So (seriously) I joked about it with everyone. I told you about “The Boss” and that if you hear my daughter talk about a bad mother, she is not really talking about yours. He he! Cute! Leaving aside my lack of foresight; the situation is a bit poetic. Why do I feel like I’m not doing well enough? -Although when I think about it, I’m doing great! My children are smart, healthy and happy. We have a happy and normal family. So why the guilty conscience? Why do I feel like I’m under scrutiny?
It has been a process of letting go of insecurities. I’m learning to recognize and debunk the thoughts of impending failure, the self-criticism that came from comparing myself to other moms. My children are happy even if we don’t do a nifty project every day. I am such a good father as someone who has more time to grow and preserve food. I definitely can’t cook, but I can learn.
On social media, we want to show our best face, that’s mostly everything we see from other moms and dads. Therefore, I compare myself to people who do not exist! -They are my ideas of what a “perfect father” would be. While I feel insecure for these reasons, I am also alone with my children for most of their lives. Perhaps, if I had more friends and family in my daily life, I would have more real examples and experiences on which to base my upbringing. – Not to mention the dead times for I and not just my children.
It takes a village
I know I’m not the only new parent who feels this way; I have a hunch for one of the reasons why: Parenting is much more difficult than we expected, and we have lost our proverbial ‘Village’.
Everyone knows the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The phrase is believed to have originated in Africa; others believe it has its roots in Native American culture. Either way, this well-known proverb comes from a time and place where people lived in community. It was a world where neighbors were also close friends and family; where everyone played, worked, cried and celebrated together, always together. Today our society is compartmentalized. Most families are islands, as we generally have an “all for themselves” mentality. I feel like the community is very poor and it makes us sadder and sadder.
I long for the times gone by when families lived and worked together. As a sincere kid from the 80s, I also long for the not-too-distant past: when neighbors and friends got together for barbecues and playing cards. – Before the Internet, television and smartphones ruined everything. Please understand that I am not anti-tech – it is a wonderful thing, especially as a new parent, to have all the answers at your fingertips. Support groups and forums can be of great help. However, it’s no secret that while having these tools has closed huge distances between all of us, it can also drive a wedge between people in the same room.
We still need our aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. They have been replaced by digital babysitters. It used to be “Come play with Auntie so Mommy can wash the dishes.” Now it’s “do you want to see another movie? Okay, I guess so …”
It is exhausting going to see people. I have to plan. Dress the children in nice clothes, bring extras, wash them and carry them. When we get to other people’s houses, I spend most of the visit chasing and scolding the children. There is very little time to sit or uninterrupted conversation (the kind of adult that is sorely needed). There is chaos. We came home grumpy and exhausted. I temporarily give up leaving my home, until they are in high school. Having a healthy social life is very difficult with multiple young children … and I am fortunate to have more help than most.
All the help I can get.
I am one of the lucky ones: I have an amazing husband. I know a lot of people don’t have that lifeline, as they tread the unexpectedly difficult waters of parenthood. (To you single parents: I take my hat off). We are extremely grateful for my in-laws who live on the same street as us. They are always there and ready to help. I’m also thankful for my mom – she lives in a few cities away, but she will always come to my helper – whether she has to work or just having a bad day. These people, among others, form my ‘tribe’.
While I know I have a lot of support, it is still not enough. There are days when I want to pull my hair out. Days that I just don’t want -Mommy- for a moment. I mutter: “What was I thinking? I don’t have the patience for this, I didn’t know anything about kids, so I had two of them too close together, I suck at this …” I lost my cool. I screamed. I took her by the arm to the reclining chair. I growled.
So I apologize. Over and over I ask these cute little monsters to forgive Mom. She is doing her best. She is nothing like the mother she imagined herself to be, when she was ignorant. She asks: “Where is my town?”
Realizing that the fight is real
I saw a funny man who said something like: I used to be the perfect father, before I had children. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I know that the people who judge me the harshest are the ones who don’t have their own life sentences. I know because I used to be one of those people. “When I have children, they will never misbehave because I will be tough and consistent. That’s it, right?” I thought: “People much more ignorant than me, they have children every day, we have this!” I didn’t know about the lack of sleep, the last drop of patience was wearing thin. I did not plan to learn to go to the bathroom or to disobey in public. (He wasn’t planning on contracting a debilitating disease either, but that’s a story for a different article)
Early in my pregnancy with baby number two, I met a woman who also had two girls 15 months apart. When I told her that I was pregnant again, a worried expression appeared on her face. She told me that she was overwhelmed. Being so frustrated, she yelled at her children. “OH MY!” I thought, “I will NEVER yell at my babies !!” Say ah. Haha. Say ah
Another close friend had a mild nervous breakdown one night: she left her house without saying anything to her children or her husband, got in her car, and drove off. He checked into a hotel room and thus left life for a minute. It was a difficult moment that he achieved since then, with great success … But I ask: Where was your village?
I propose a solution
I think as mothers we are afraid to ask for help because that feels like admitting that we are inadequate. We don’t want people to know that some days we are over our heads. We can’t admit for a second that we’re not supermoms 24/7. We get angry: we get sad. Many of us are taking antidepressant / anxiety medications.
I want to do something about it: I am setting a personal goal to invite a friend to my house once a week. I used to complain that people never come to see me, until I realized that maybe it’s because I don’t actively invite them. It is a priority for me to go see a family member as often (as exhausting as it may be). I’m going to start promoting group activities focused on doing daunting projects:
Window washing parties
Wood cutting and stacking extravagances
Yard Work Shenanigans
Bring wine and chocolate. Bring beer and hot dogs; whatever the occasion and the company you require. Next week, go to someone else’s house and help him with whatever project is weighing on him. Do it together. Not only “many hands make the job easier,” but meeting with real people to achieve goals, no matter how big or small, is good for you, your family, and your community.
I will spend less time on social media. It makes us feel like we are connecting, but we are not. I’ll make phone calls and send cards. This is my task this summer: encouraging each other to get out of our homes and do things together. Let’s build a village.