On Being the Perfect Mother…

Once upon a time, when I was younger, I dreamed about how I would be the perfect mother.  I would be the inspiration for this right here:


Except, of course, I would wear a longer and much more modest dress.

“Hi!  I’m perfect Mormon Mother Barbie!  I have a dozen perfectly well behaved children.  They never watch television, listen to anything other than wholesome, uplifting music, pray and read scriptures right on schedule daily, and they all go to bed like angels right on time.  Between their studies that get them straight A’s in school they excel at music lessons, foreign language lessons, volunteer for charity work and whistle happy tunes while they clean the house and do all manner of chores without complaint.  My house is immaculate at all times–there is no such thing as a stray dirty sock in the middle of the floor!  I cook perfectly healthy, nutritionally balanced meals and pack my children perfectly healthy and well balanced lunches every single day.  I photograph every accomplishment and record it in individualized scrapbooks for each of them, chronicalizing their perfect lives from the moment of birth.  Every one of them will grow up to be successful, well rounded, perfect adults that will wish there was an award they could give me for my perfect mothering skills.”

Those of you that know me, know, of course, that 24 years later this is exactly how it all went down.

Just kidding.

Recently I discovered this great new show on TV that I love called American Housewife.  I think the reason I love it to much is because that is me.  I completely relate. Yesterday I had one of those days where I started reliving my moments of motherhood failure, and lest you think I don’t have any of those, I submit proof:

Here’s the Proof:

When Savannah was a baby, she never wanted me to put her down.  When I say never, I mean N.E.V.E.R.  I thought I would lose my mind.  I loved her, but I couldn’t get anything done.  One time I had her in one of those little packs you wear on your chest in an effort to try and cook dinner, stood in front of the stove too long and finally realized her wee little socks were putting off a bit of smell.  I almost lit her on fire.  That was awesome.  This event led to yet another great moment for me–the discovery of the Teletubbies.

You know those kids of mine that were never going to watch TV?  When I realized that Savannah loved the Teletubbies more than life itself, her little bouncy chair became permanently positioned in front of the TV where I plopped her to watch the tape over and over and over again. (Yes, I said tape–I know I’m dating myself when I complain that I had to keep rewinding it!)  I abandoned that “no tv” rule about 30 seconds after my first baby opened his eyes and I discovered that I could actually walk away and leave him with the marvelous boob tube babysitter.

When Braden was younger, there was a day when he came home from school on the bus.  As the driver opened the door, I could already smell the really enticing smell of vomit that had been locked in a metal can for about an hour and it was lovely.  It was even better when I discovered it was my kid that was the culprit.  He had vomited against his tray, and, being in a tilted position, all that nasty had run down the tray into his lap and all over his wheelchair.  It was a nightmare.  Not sure what else to do, and knowing for sure I didn’t want to roll that disgusting mess into my house, I instead pushed him to the backyard where I grabbed the hose and…I’m almost ashamed to admit it… hosed him down.  Yes.  I hosed down my disabled son with ice water from the hose.  Not one of my proudest moments.  But in my own defense, I honestly didn’t know what else to do.  He didn’t seem to mind so much…I think.

When Dylan was young, he had difficulty sleeping and was a little afraid of the dark.  He would come in our room and stand next to me quietly, breathing and staring, until I popped my eyes open and wet my pants in fright.  There’s nothing like waking up to giant eyeballs right at face level, staring at you in the dark.  I was not a “come sleep in my bed” kind of mother, so I always sent him away, back to deal with the monsters under his bed all alone.  Actually, though, he didn’t go.  Instead he’d plod around to the other side where Patrick would gladly move over and let him in.  Clearly, Patrick was a better parent than me.

And last but not least, here’s one of my personal favorites:

Several years ago, Patrick got mad at my kids.  I don’t remember the reason, and the reason doesn’t even matter anyway, because the only thing important to this particular story is the fact that he swore at them.  He doesn’t swear often, so this was quite the scene.  It was some mild mannered curse word, like hell or damn…nothing big and ugly like the F word or anything.  Savannah instantly started crying.

Me:  What are you crying about?

Savannah:  Dad just swore at me.

Me:  You didn’t cry when I swore at you…

Savannah:  That’s because you do it all the time!

An award winning moment in motherhood right there.  (For the record, I’d like to state that I only use the mild mannered curse words and not the big ugly ones…in my own defense.  And I was with them all day while he was at work, so really, if you calculated the time/curse word ratio it probably isn’t as bad as she made it sound.  I’m just sayin’…)

I could literally fill volumes with examples like this and we could all have a good laugh at my expense.  But I think I’ll stop here.

A Proud Moment…sort of…

I did have my really proud moments though, like when I made a handmade Spongebob costume before Spongebob costumes were a “thing”.  I made it out of those big foam pads you use to make cushions for furniture, and the costume itself was all made out of felt.  It was freaking awesome!  I walked with Colby’s kindergarten class while they did their Halloween parade and heard some 6th grader expressing awe about what an awesome costume it was and felt like it was one of my better moments.  (Sadly, this also is one of those double-edged sword moments.  As Colby went trick or treating that night, that enormous costume was sort of heavy and he couldn’t really bring his hands together or put his arms down.  Finally he succumbed to the weight of it all and fell over and bounced.  Yep…he BOUNCED.  My sister and I actually laughed at him before helping him get back up.  So, yeah.  It was a good and bad moment for me all in one.)

So why do I bring all this up?

Today was one of those days where I woke up feeling a little down about the job I have done as a mother.  It’s easy when your kids get older to spend time looking back, wondering if you did everything right, reevaluating all the decisions you made and asking yourself if things would be different/better “if only”.

Sadly, it’s my nature to look back and second guess myself.  There is so much to learn along the way that once I learned it, it’s easy to look back and recognize my mistakes.  Maybe the worst part is, there is still a lot to learn, so some days it seems like the mistakes keep coming.

Despite our desire to be the perfect parent, it’s not possible.  We will all fail at it at one time or another.  Expecting that anything else will happen sets us up for disappointment.  It’s one giant series of lessons to learn, and lots of practice. There are definitely bad parents out there, but the truth is, if you’ve ever spent even a second of your time asking yourself if you’re good enough at the job, then it’s not you.

It’s inevitable that we will all spend time wishing we’d done things differently, beating ourselves over the head for past mistakes, and praying for do-overs.  But it shouldn’t be that way.

We are all doing the very best we can with what we’ve been given.  No two people will be the exact same at mothering, and there is not a single one of us that is perfect, We all suck at it from time to time, and that has to be okay.

I wonder sometimes, if I could go back, knowing everything I know now, and do things differently, how would my life look?  How might my kids be different if I had had all the answers back before I started?  (The ironic thing about that is that I still don’t have all the answers, even with 24 years of practice.)

I remember a night, many years ago, when all my kids were still young.  They were all in bed asleep.  Patrick was working, so it was just me.  I looked in at all of them and had this overwhelming feeling come over me that said “Holy crap!  I’m in charge!  These little people are counting on me to take care of them!”

It wasn’t like I didn’t already know that, but the actual realization in that moment was kind of horrifying.  I remember that night saying a prayer and telling Heavenly Father I didn’t even know what I was doing, and asking Him why he trusted me to do such an important job.  Sadly, I still don’t really know the answer.  The only thing I know for sure is I couldn’t have done it without His help.

When all is said and done, I’m happy with how things are turning out.  I wouldn’t change my kids for the world.  They are fabulous human beings, and in the grand scale of things, can we ask for anything more?  I like to think that I played at least some role in how great they are, but sometimes I think they got that way in spite of me, not because of me.

The relationship I have with my kids has definitely changed, and I’m loving it.  Sometimes it’s hard to relinquish the “I’m in charge” mentality, but it’s also kind of nice to just be friends and enjoy their company on a whole different level.  It makes all those difficult times SO worth it.

Now I just wait patiently (PATIENTLY, I SAY!  There is no rush here…) for the day I will be a grandma.  I bet I can make some really AWESOME mistakes as a grandma too!




Parenting: The Hardest Part is Letting Them Go

Moving On

Oh, boy…I’ve done it now. I’ve become one of those stodgy old women that looks at you smiling when you’re in the grocery store with your screaming toddler.  You’re ready to rip the kid’s head off if they don’t shut up and you hear this quiet little voice that says “Enjoy them while they’re young because before you know it they will be grown and gone.”  In the back of your mind you say, “Yeah…right, lady.” while you smile back on the outside.Parenting Toddlers

I know all too well how this goes because I used to be the one with the toddler.  Now I’m the old lady.  When did this happen?  How often have you thought any of the following:

  • “My life will be so much less hectic when I don’t have so many school programs to attend!”
  • “I can’t wait until the day we are DONE  having to make Valentine’s boxes!”
  • “I’m so tired of chasing toddlers around!  When I don’t have to worry about them getting into things all the time, I will be so relieved!”

The list could go on and on, and I would know, because I have thought all of these things at one point or another.  Please don’t get me wrong, though, I have loved having kids from the moment they arrived to the present.  Not only that, but I have loved every single stage of having kids, including (and maybe even especially) when they were teenagers.  Every single stage of parenting has had it’s ups and downs, the pros and cons, and even though I had those moments when I was exhausted and ready to throw in the towel, I loved them all.  But over the last several years I have discovered the absolute hardest stage of parenting:  letting them go.

“I don’t want my son to leave.”

Around the time that Dylan was graduating from high school and we were getting ready for him to leave on his mission I started to see a change in Patrick.  He became a little withdrawn and quiet.  I was thinking about all the things that had to be done, and he didn’t seem to want to be involved with any of it.

Then one Sunday he told me he had an appointment with the bishop, so I waited for him after church and we rode home together.  He told me in the car that day how distressed he was about having Dylan leave, and those are the words he said to me. “I don’t want my son to leave.” I will never forget them, because in that one sentence he conveyed all the anxiety and heartbreak he was feeling.  It seems he was not able to come to grips with the idea that we were basically done raising Dylan at this point.  He would leave and eventually come home, but things would never be the same again.

Shortly after that, the whole dust-up with Dylan’s mission call happened (a story for another day) and all of Dylan’s plans got put on hold for an entire year.  At the time I tried to tell myself there was something for Dylan to do here before he left, or maybe there was something that needed to take place in the mission field before he needed to be there.  As I look back on it now, I sometimes wonder if his delay didn’t happen because Heavenly Father needed to prepare Patrick for the leaving.  Maybe we all needed the extra time to prepare.

Fortunately or unfortunately, they all leave.

Parenting College StudentsThis last week we moved Savannah off to college.  She is living close to where I lived when I was attending college, so it was kind of fun to remember those days. But as we moved her I was a giant ball of horribly mixed emotions and didn’t really know how to react.  On one hand, I am so excited for her to start this new chapter because my college days were the best ever, and I know she is going to have so much fun.  Then again, I am a little frightened for her too, because I know she will struggle and things will be really difficult at times.  It’s all part of the package–she will learn, grow, struggle and have the time of her life as she figures out who she is and where she is going.

But there is another mixed emotion for me as well–I am sad she is gone, but I am also happy she is gone.  The fact that she is excited to move on with life and feels the confidence it takes to do so tells me that I did something right.  They say that you know you’ve done your job as a parent when your child grows up and no longer needs you.  I hope she still needs me a little bit, but I also hope she has learned a lot of what she needs to know to make good choices and move forward.

Regardless of all of this, I apparently am not done worrying about her night and day just yet.

Her first weekend down there, she started her new job.  She had told me she was scheduled to work from 5 p.m. to midnight, and I was having a hard time with the fact that I would not know whether or not she made it home safely.  I asked her to please text me or call me when she was off so I wouldn’t worry all night.  I then plopped myself on the couch with the TV remote to wait it out.

Midnight came and went.  No messages or calls.  Pretty soon it’s 12:30 and still no phone call.  I start to wonder if maybe her phone is dead, so close to 1 a.m,  I called.  I figured if her phone was dead it would go straight to voice mail, so at least I would know.  It didn’t go to voicemail, but it did prompt her to text me to say she was still working.  I reminded her that I was waiting up and to please not forget to call.

Fast forward two and a half more hours:  I am texting her and she is not responding.  I have not received a phone call.  I am a mother.  These things all combine and form the perfect storm of panic, leaving me shaking and freaking out and crying on the couch.  I was sure that she had forgotten to call, had gone home to a dark scary parking lot alone, had been forced to park a million miles from her apartment, and on the walk in had been nabbed, dragged into the bushes where she was viciously raped and murdered.

While all of this was happening, Patrick was sleeping.  SLEEPING!!!  So not only was I worried about her, I was mad at him.  How can any respectable parent sleep while their only daughter is out being raped and murdered in some dark parking lot, her body just laying there is the dirt, soon to be covered up by the newly falling leaves as the seasons change?  I was ready to put my clothes on and go looking for her, but instead I woke up Patrick by storming around the bedroom throwing something of a mini-tantrum.

I told him I still hadn’t heard from her and finally he joined me in my panic.  He got up and called her phone, again to see if it had died.  This time she answered and she was mad.

“I can’t talk! I’M WORKING!”  That’s all she said.

At 4:06 a.m. I got a text that said “I’m home safe.  I love you guys.  I’ll call you tomorrow when I wake up.”

Apparently I need to work on my apron-string-cutting just a bit.

Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are grown they will not depart from it.

Growing up in the LDS church, we’ve all heard this about a million times.  Sadly, as much as I want it to be true, sometimes it isn’t that simple. There are times when, despite our best efforts, our kids will choose differently than we wish they would.

I have a child that is struggling to find his way right now, and I know family members and friends that are experiencing similar times.  We ask ourselves often what we did wrong and how do we fix it.  We lose sleep as we try to find the one thing we can say or do that might make a difference and put them back on the path that we want for them.  I know that for me personally,  I have spent countless hours reviewing the past and asking myself what I might have done differently that would have made the difference for today.

Sadly, the truth is,  we all do the best we can, we all make mistakes, and our kids will too.  All we can do is love them and pray for them that they will find their way.  And even though we disagree with their decision, we still have to let them make it.  They will learn and grow and probably suffer a little (or a lot) in the process, and it hurts to watch, but it’s unavoidable.  I certainly don’t have this mastered, so if anyone has good advice on how to get through it, I’m all ears.

Enjoy your kids when they’re young.  Before you know it, you’ll blink and they will be gone and your parenting role will change.

There.  I said it again.  Go ahead and roll your eyes at me if you must, but treasure up every moment, because more good moments are coming, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather anticipate what’s next than regret what’s over.