The last few weeks have been hard. So hard that my brain couldn’t stop racing. It’s amazing what stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation can do to a mind. It is a frustrating state of infinitely running thoughts, yet nothing happening. No solutions. No plans. No forgiveness. Just worry and judgement.
Being a parent is hard. Hell, being a human is hard. And the last couple of weeks, both have been tested. I am exhausted. I feel like I am slowly coming out of a battle- and I am not sure if I won or not. I feel battered and bruised.
Two has been a test of wills, patience, and sanity that I didn’t expect. Once we survived reflux and weaning from the medications, my little man was an amiable, energetic toddler. He was easy to take places- restaurants, festivals, friend’s houses. He was flexible and happy, most of the time. His needs were easy to anticipate.
Then a monster took over my cherub faced Moose.
The problem is, a monster grew within me too. Not with how I dealt with my son- but how I dealt with me. The more he erupted in tantrums or struggled sleeping, the bigger the monster became. His voice overthrew my thoughts. He filled my lungs and suffocated me. He told me I was a bad mother. That I had no idea what I was doing. That it would be this way forever.
That everyone could see me failing. Anyone would be better at this than me.
It’s funny, I have come full circle. When Moose was an infant, I stumbled across a mug with the phrase “World’s Okayest Mother” scrolled across it’s surface. I felt that identity in my soul. I had finally put my finger on it. I love my son with my entire being. I am doing the best I can. I’m not doing a bad job, but I’m just not amazing either. He is loved, fed, and clothed. He could do worse. But I am not enough. I am Okay.
Over the course of the first six months after Moose’s father left, I built a confidence in myself. I survived the rough nights alone. I took on the challenges of each day and thrived. I got to a place that I no longer needed to cloak myself in anger to survive. Through it all, I never let me son see my heartbreak. My disdain. I determined, I was a good mother. I actually wrote this in a draft I never posted:
I have a difficult time acknowledging that I am good at things. This is two fold. Partially because I am far too hard on myself. I am definitely my biggest critic. If I am not the best at something, if I am not absolutely perfect at it, I must not be any good at it.
I have been convinced my whole life that I didn’t possess any talent. That when God put my puzzle pieces together, he left that one out.
When I do have a fleeting moment where I feel like I am good at something, I squash it down. I don’t want to be full of myself. I am not sure where that started in my brain. Why I confused confidence with arrogance. But it has always been there. I am fighting it now. I am especially fighting it now. Because I am finally realizing that I am pretty good at some stuff. And my response to myself is to crush the thought. When I think about how I am good at my job- which is a lot more difficult and complicated than I like to see- I quell the thought. “Be humble. It isn’t that difficult. Anyone could do what you do. You just draw pictures all day and do some math.” These are the thoughts that perpetually run through my mind. When I sing to my son at night, I focus on the note I missed- not the ones that came out beautifully. Hell, my son is the only one I sing to because he doesn’t have the words to comment yet. I don’t sing in front of people unless the music is at a decibel that drowns out my voice. I critique myself in the car alone. But as my son grows and the months pass, I have seen something that I never would have allowed myself to see before. I am a damn good mother. I was made to be the mother of this hurricane. I am not perfect. I make mistakes and I am sure I will make more as he ages. But I let my guard down for this little man. I play with him and laugh freely. I sit on the floor and make a fool of myself in public places just to pull a giggle from him. I scoop him up when he cries and acknowledge his pain, but assure him that he is ok. That I have him; he’s safe. I give him the freedom to fall down and make mistakes- but I am always close by just in case he needs me. I am his home base. I don’t give in to his tantrums, but I drop everything to snuggle when he wants to. I am much better at this mom thing than I thought I would be. And I am learning to give myself credit for that. To be proud of this new identity.
Now, four months after I penned that excerpt, I can’t allow myself to believe a single word of it. I don’t feel like a good mother. I feel like I am drowning- and Moose will pay the consequences when he is an ill equipped adult.
But that’s the monster yelling- his words overwhelming mine. The monster that twists the questions of thoughtful people that love me- welling up a sensitivity and defensiveness. The monster that creates a perception of persecution in acts of love. The one that yells that I will never be enough. I will never be what he needs. I am broken and unsuited.
As I pen this, spilling the words of said monster onto the page, I catch myself with a laugh. How am I damaging his adult self? Is he going to be 33 and in diapers? Will he be 45 and lay down on the floor in a yelling heap if the bakery is out of his favorite cookie? No, we will both learn. We will both adjust. Even in the 4 days that I have been drafting this (as life got in the way before I could finish it) we have corrected some sleep issues. We have learned all about separation anxiety. His tantrums have decreased significantly. My cuddles have skyrocketed. His laughter is the pervasive sound in our house.
So maybe I have beaten the monster back again. Maybe one day, I can bury him for good. Maybe this is a battle I will fight for the rest of my life. I really don’t know. But today, I feel like I am pretty good at this whole mother thing. I know my kid. I know his needs. And when I don’t, I search the earth for how to be better. How to know more. And maybe that’s what it is all about. I will never have all of the answers. And that’s ok. But I care enough to look. I care enough to adjust. I care enough to learn.
This job is hard. The rules are ever changing. Once I feel like I get the game figured out- everything readjusts. So when that happens, I have to remind myself- maybe you need to remind yourself too- that I will learn the new rules. I am capable of whatever is thrown my way. I may lose sleep. I may lose sanity. But we will make it to the other side. And through it all, I am this little person’s safe place. He knows I will protect him from his fears. He knows I will always be there. That’s the shield I have to use against the monster that grows in my mind. My child is healthy, safe, and fed- but moreover, he is loved. And he trusts me. There is no greater sign on the planet that shows I am doing something right. Sometimes I just have to remind myself to see it. To appreciate the massive things I am doing right. The other things- they are just details.
So if you are battling a monster in your mind, let me give you a shield. The pinpoint of light that you need to see through the darkness- you are doing a good job. You are doing the best you can- and even though that doesn’t feel like enough- it is everything to your little people. You are their whole world. You are all they need. Just you, as you are. In your dirty shirt and messy hair. They just need your soft voice, your strong arms, and your love. Everything else you will figure out together. Your monster is cruel. The words he spews are lies. The love in your child’s eyes- that’s the truth. Cling to it like a life raft. Because in the end, it’s all that matters.