There's so much about being a parent that is wonderful; before you have children people will tell you that you don't know what you're missing. And that's true. You don't know how delightful the warm, cozy kisses they give you at night will feel or the immense pride you'll have when they show true generosity and kindness to each other. You also don't know about the guilt and the stress and balancing act that comes along with parenthood.
I have spent most of life full of passion for learning new things. I have had three careers before becoming a full-time mother and each one I approached with an intense desire to know everything there was to know so I could perform each job at the highest level I could. I think I approached motherhood the same way; I read every book and article on children/parenting/twins, I attended every class I could find, I was on every chat group out there asking and answering questions. In many ways, all of the knowledge felt like a protective barrier; without it, I was naked and left to care for my children "alone". But armed with all I had learned, I felt confident and secure, I felt I had an answer for each new situation should it arise. And, if you asked my husband, I also had an solution for every possible situation that might ever happen in some dark and murky, not too distant future. Have I mentioned that I tend to over-prepare?
So, all of this prep work provided me with with a lot of knowledge; but as the kids have gotten older, I've noticed that sometimes the more you know how something "should" be done, the more you realize you're not quite living up to that level of perfect parenting you thought you'd exhibit before the kids were actually here. While speaking recently with a few of my girlfriends we began to joke about some of our bad parenting moments. And then the confessions began to come out.
I realized that, like so many other areas one might feel shame about, when you share your guilt and realize others are just as imperfect, you feel a bit better. Why is that? Misery loves company? Or perhaps there is just some relief in knowing that none of us is perfect. Those parenting books and classes and so-called experts can lay out all of the scenarios and give you great advice on how to handle your 3 year old's tantrums or your newborn's colic or your sleep deprivation or your changing relationship with your partner after babies, but none of them live my life or had my childhood or react to stress as I do. And even I, when I counsel new or expectant parents of multiples, tell people that it is important to prepare as much as you are able and then, when your children arrive, you will still be winging it for a long time.
|Photo Credit: Patrick Demarchelier for French Vogue|
Winging it, because my children's reasons for dragging out bed time may be different than yours, and your way of handling your children's refusal to put on their clothes may be different than mine. So you may know the "right way" to handle each of these situations, but in any given moment your tricks won't work and then, perhaps, you may resort to what I refer to as my "bad mommy" behavior. You cajole and you bribe and you feel selfish and you feel frustrated and maybe even angry. You might let a curse slip out or slam a door or hide in a locked bathroom. You might take your emotions out on your partner and complain about a messy house and why doesn't he ever help, or tell a white lie and say you have to work late so you don't have to deal with bedtime this once or pretend to be sleeping when you hear a baby cry in the night. You might agree to just one (or two) more Dora videos or let Thomas the Tank Engine play for just a little bit longer so you can just not hear that fighting/whining/complaining for a while more. And most of all, you might secretly want to make a voo doo doll of that parent from your Mommy & Me class who is all roses and sunshine all the time with her singleton who sleeps all night and "never cries".
And you know what? It's actually OK. It's been very hard for me to acknowledge that I am actually a terrific mom, even with my "bad mommy" behavior. Some of what I do, I realize, is not so bad. Yes, I confess that now that my kids watch television I use it to help me get ready in the morning on school days. I excuse it with the fact that my husband leaves for work very early in the morning and so I am usually on my own; but I know that I am saying that because, deep down I feel that I "should" be able to get myself dressed, bathe the kids, get them dressed, make their breakfast and lunch, get everything together for school and all the while have them be happily entertained without melt downs and fights. But I can't and so I give in and let them watch more t.v. than I'd like to admit. But, like so many other things I've learned about parenting, you have to do what works for your family. Occasionally I have really bad mommy moments like yesterday when my 3 1/2 year old daughter screamed at the top of her lungs at me for what felt like an eternity, while I was driving, because I didn't come prepared with a truck-load of snacks for her after school. After calmly trying to reason with her and getting nowhere I finally snapped and yelled back at her "if you don't like it, you can get out of the car and find a restaurant to eat at!". Mature, right? Shockingly, that display of sarcasm got me nowhere.
Confessions are good for the soul they say. I asked a few friends for their "bad parent" confessions; see if any of these make you feel a little better about your own "bad" behavior:
- I recently was upset with the mom of a friend of my son's and when my son complained to me that his friend always had treats in his lunch...i.e., junk...I said..."well, look how short he is...and how nice and tall you are from eating healthy food"! I realized immeidately what a terrible thing it was to say and that I said it because I don't like that kid's mom and think she feeds her child junk!
- I just fed my kids ice cream at 7 in the morning in front of the TV so I could brush their hair.
- We were at the beach in Santa Barbara and forgot my son's shoes and went to the bathroom. The floor was wet and DISGUSTING and he had NO shoes on.....all the other mothers had their kids in flip flops and I felt like the WORST mom.
- I am so tired after having the kids on my own all weekend that by Sunday night I just said "screw it!", ordered a pizza and let the kids eat it in the living room while watching a movie!
- My own mother confessed to me the other day that once when I was little, she gave my siblings and me ice cream cake for breakfast because it was defrosting and she didn't want to waste it. We thought it was the best thing EVER and told our teacher so too. She gave my mother such a telling off and said "I don't know what you do in your country, but here we don't consider cake a suitable breakfast food for children". My mother should have told her to f**k off but she was so embarrassed that she sheepishly apologized!
- My son watches far more television than I'm inclined to admit to anyone (including right this minute while I e-mail you). He is also drinking a cup of tea (decaf, but still)!
- I once told our children, who were driving me crazy, to "get in the f***ing car"! My son, three, then asked me sweetly, "Mommy, why did you say "get in the f***ing car"? Scrambling to cover up, I said "No, I said get in the frustrating car"! Sigh. I'm sure he didn't fully believe me, but at least he hasn't repeated that word since.
- After the birth of our second child I was so overwhelmed and depressed that I told a friend, in all seriousness, that I needed to get away so badly that I was going to find a mail order bride to take over my life.
In the end, you have to learn what you need to be a great parent. I need sleep and I need some time to myself where I am able to write, think and recharge. I need alone time with each child to remind of me of how wonderful each of them is when their day isn't colored by fighting for attention and toys and a turn to speak. Even when I have all of that, I still do things less perfectly than I would wish; but really, who's perfect all the time? I'm neither the fantasy 1950's mom in the picture above, nor am I that chain smoking, self-indulgent fashion plate...I'm just a real mom figuring my way through my real life; sometimes I do an awesome job, other times, I must confess...not so much. How about you?
Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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