“We’re casual today,” the mom apologized as she pulled boots onto her daughter’s bare feet. “No socks.”
I regarded her daughter, whose flouncy dress, patterned leggings and blue-dyed rabbit fur vest put my own outfit to shame.
“She looks pretty fabulous to me…” I responded.
As mom and daughter gathered their things and left the playground, I tried to figure out what would make this woman apologize to me, a total stranger. But deep down, I knew.
So many of us feel pressured to be it all for our children. We worry about how they behave in public and how they play with other kids; how they eat and whether we’re following the right feeding strategy; how they handle failure and if their weight is on track and how the hell do we know if we’re doing any of it right???
Of course parents feel judged. I can’t go a day without an email, online article, Facebook post or overheard conversation making me question the job I’m doing. I don’t need to take an online quiz to find out if I’m a “Sleep-Deprived Parent” or if I’m “Winning at Parenting.”
I’m winning at parenting in the same way someone marooned on a life raft is winning at not drowning.
Every now and then, it catches up to me: this feeling that, no, I don’t know what I’m doing. There are no evaluations, no performance reports. There’s no right way to be doing any of this vitally important work. And they need so much every. single. day.
One morning, after a night of questioning myself and feeling insecure about the job I’m doing, I found a note from my husband. There’s one line in particular I’ve repeated to myself over and over since I first read it:
Be as patient and positive with yourself as you are with the kids.
I’ve always believed my kids will learn more from my actions than my words. I model kindness and respect for others in the hope that they’ll follow my example. Yet, until I read those words, it didn’t occur to me that my kids are also learning from how much I love and respect myself.
The past 4 ½ years as a stay-at-home mom have been a journey. I’m still trying to find my balance. I’ve been working so hard to be all the things my family needs me to be —mom and wife and finder of lost things — I’ve lost sight of who I need to be the most: me.
Since reading my husband’s wise words, I’m trying to give myself a break. It’s a process, but I’m working to change the narrative in my head from criticism to praise, from snark to positivity.
In addition to seeing me falter, my kids need to watch me soar.
Fellow moms: join me. Let’s open the windows, let’s sing out loud; let’s buy ourselves flowers and do the things that make us feel healthy and strong. We need to care for ourselves in order to care for our families, and that means tending to our souls as well.
We need to stop apologizing to each other for our messy houses and sock-less children. We have to collectively realize that any mom who seems perfect is either working really hard to look that way or just having a good day. We’ve got to stop judging each other and accept our differences, so our kids will learn to do the same.
We’re setting the example. Let’s teach our kids to tune into their own inner voices; to listen to the songs of their hearts and speak kindest of all to themselves.
But first, my kids have to listen to me, singing at the top of my lungs. Because finding myself means ignoring their backseat protests and cranking up my Janis Joplin and Ben Folds. They may be embarrassed by the lady in the front of the car, crooning off-key and dancing in her seat like nobody’s watching.
But I’m not.