“Behind every great kid is a mom who is pretty sure she is messing it up.” ~ Anonymous
Last week my sons spent an entire school day shadowing at a new school we’re applying to for next year, a school for children who have learning disabilities. This was the final step in our application process, and I was a bit apprehensive when I dropped them off. Seven hours can be an eternity when you’re the new kid. I wanted the day to go well for them and I hoped they would be on their best behavior. I held my breath. At the end of the day, the Director of Admissions sat down to talk with me. The first words out of her mouth were, “You have great boys.” After having observed them throughout the day, she told me they were courteous, well-behaved, hardworking, and sweet. The teachers they had spent the day with concurred. Our boys had left a favorable impression, and so I exhaled.
It was one of those rare moments when I felt some gratification for the hard work and energy I put into my current position as unpaid, stay-at-home parent. It was as close to earning a bonus or a raise as I will ever get. And, it felt good. I mean, it’s one thing to believe in your kids, but it’s something entirely different when another adult offers an unsolicited comment in praise of your children. For most of the rest of that afternoon, I was reasonably puffed up. It was turning out to be a great day until I screwed it all up by later flying off the handle about something trivial, all out of frustration and hunger (but mostly out of hunger). I hate it when after being over the moon I burn up during re-entry into reality.
Most days, I’m the mom in the quote, fairly certain I’m messing my kids up. On occasion I try to imagine which of my most egregious parental errors will earn them the most time on the psychologist’s couch. Will it be because I asked too much of them or because I didn’t always handle their concerns with appropriate sincerity? Maybe it will be because I embarrassed them in front of their friends or because they felt I was not a good listener? Sometimes I look around at other people with their honor student and star athlete progeny and wonder why I struggle so much with this parenting gig while others seem to breeze through it. I feel as if I am the only one agonizing over my choices and actions and praying that things will all work out despite my myriad foibles. I know that can’t possibly be reality, but it feels that way.
Despite what the books say, there’s only one way to parent: you do your best. You make mistakes. Hopefully you remember to ask for forgiveness. You move forward and try to do better on the next go around. You always wonder if you should have done something differently. Second guessing becomes the norm. It’s not the lack of sleep that makes parenting difficult but the lack of certainty. There’s no way to know if all your hard work will indeed pay off someday. As I have fumbled my way through parenthood, the only constant has been this nagging feeling that I could be doing a better job, that I know better than to act the way I act sometimes. When I get too wrapped up in my brain, in wondering what I should be doing or should have done, though, I take a step back and look at our sons. I see their intelligence, their gentleness, their compassion, and their strength. I see two great kids, and I know it will all be fine. For a brief moment, I quietly acknowledge that I am doing a good job. And then just as soon as my sense of inner peace arrives a door slams, I yell, and the balance of the universe is returned to normal.