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Apologizing for Nothing

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“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.

It’s a Beautiful Life Sentence

Coffee Break

As I move the knob up to “brew,” I sigh to myself. For some reason, brewing a second batch of coffee for the day feels like some form of failure.

When it occurs to me I’m feeling this way, I have to ask, why? When I was working, I wouldn’t think twice about needing an afternoon caffeine boost. So, why, when I’m brewing the coffee myself instead of purchasing it in a crisp, white paper cup, do I feel like I’ve failed?

Countless times lately, I’ve looked at my new life as a stay-at-home mom (for now, as I’m always compelled to say), and felt more than a little deficient. This is a much bigger transition than I ever thought it would be.

In many ways, all is wonderful. My baby is happy, healthy — positively cherubic. His rosy cheeks widen every time he looks at me, and my heart melts every time I look at him. I love — love — being able to be with him every day.

But many Friday afternoons, I find myself drained and I breathe that pre-weekend sigh of relief. Then I remember: there are no days off for the stay-at-home mom.

This is a job I treasure — granted, it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had. But it’s a job I feel very, very lucky to have. So I had to probe a little deeper to find out why I frequently feel like I’m not the employee of the year.

Why was I always so much quicker to forgive myself when I worked for someone else than I am now, when I essentially work for myself?

(Maybe it’s because my boss is actually a 16-pound comedian who blows raspberries in my face when I bend over to wipe his ass.)

I think it must be because this is the most important job I’ve ever held. No matter how well I’m doing, I never feel like I’m doing well enough. There is always more laundry to be done; the dogs could always use more exercise; the floors of my house could be mopped clean of dog slobber and potato chip crumbs, if I were so inclined. Right now I’m using the precious time while my son is asleep to explore my feelings through my tip-tapping fingers instead of taking the shower I (badly) need.

The fact is, the job of a mom — whether staying at home or working outside the home — is never done. I look at my own mom and realize that, while she retired from her career last year, she’ll never be completely off work. She’ll never stop worrying about my sister and me; she’ll never stop calling us on holidays or making sure we’re as happy and healthy as we can be. I’ll bet each August and every June, when my sister and I celebrate our birthdays, she’s not thinking about birthday cake or candles. I’ll bet she still thinks about the day we were born.

I know I’ll do this each October 6 for the rest of my life.

Yes, there are days when this job feels more like a life sentence. Because that’s in fact what it is. A beautiful, heart-wrenching life sentence that started the day my son was born, and will probably (hopefully) not end until the day I die.

And there are days when I need a second batch of coffee just to get through the afternoon.

So be it.

(Is it too early for a glass of wine?)

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