Tucker was a few weeks old, and it was my first night back to my part-time job as a writing teacher. I’m pretty sure I was teetering under the weight of everything I carried into my parents’ house: the car seat, the diaper bag, bottles, milk, binkies, blankets, burp cloths, a page of typed instructions, and finally, my newborn baby boy. Aside from my full hands, I carried a heart heavy with heaps of anxieties as a new mom. I placed everything in my mom’s hands and in her care, and as I snuggled Tucker and kissed his face one more time, I said, “Mom, can you please hold him a lot tonight? I think I didn’t hold him enough today.”
First of all, let’s address how gracious she was to entertain my anxieties about leaving my son in her care, after she had in fact raised me with little to no major errors in childcare decisions. She let me rattle off my list of instructions, acting and listening as though she were a novice at all things babycare, just recently trained and certified by the Red Cross.
She then gave me this gift that I have carried with me every day since. As I asked her to fill in the gaps I had left by not holding him all day long, she hugged me and said with a gentle smile, “Trish, you can feel guilty about that if you want to, but honestly, there will be so many real things for you to feel guilty about as a mother. I wouldn’t waste my energy on that if I were you.”
Somehow, she both acknowledged and dismissed my conviction in one fell swoop. And she was so right! I couldn’t have imagined then how many times I would lie awake and wish I could do parts of the day over again—this time with patience and a more gentle voice. Sometimes I wish could pick and choose which parts of my parenting my children will remember and which ones will be cast aside as deleted scenes. I contend that behind every great kid is a mom who’s pretty sure she’s screwing it up. The truth is that if you’re worried about screwing up your child, then you’re already a better mom than you realize.
One evening recently, things had gone especially well with our night routine. Homework was finished early. We had hot dogs on the grill for dinner, and we made s’mores over the fire pit for dessert. There was conversation and authenticity in heaps. And everybody went to bed without ten thousand reasons to get back up. Because I’m prone to honesty with social media, and because I would likely write something quippy online to tell about my best-laid evening plans gone awry, I decided to do myself the equal favor and write that it had gone well. I wrote on Facebook: “What a perfect evening. I feel like a good mom tonight.”
But my goodness, the responses made me so sad. A few dozen women commented with an overwhelming consensus: “I don’t even know what that feels like.” “I’ve never felt that way.” “Must be nice.”
Let’s take a look at this for a minute. First of all, why are we so hard on ourselves and each other? I wasn’t saying I had done everything perfectly, that we had scored an irrefutable touchdown in parenting and now I shall post advice lists on Pinterest on how to plan your family times to be like mine. It’s just that things came together, because sometimes they do. My personal gifts lean toward encouragement and affirmation, so when things go well—in my own life included—I am a big proponent of saying it out loud. I read these words from moms, and I thought, Come on, girls. Surely you know what it’s like to feel like a good mom now and then. Let’s not be so hard on ourselves, so guilt-riddled that we’ve forgotten what a win looks like.
We’re all going to drop things. But the best thing about legacies is they can be changed in an instant. I have a picture in my kitchen that says, “At any given point, you have the power to say, ‘This is not how this story is going to end.’” Life doesn’t give you a do-over, but you can claim a makeover. Pick something to do differently.
There are real things to feel guilty about, so there’s no sense in wasting energy on the pretend ones. So choose today to be real with your kids, and choose to be fun. Bust out the cookies and milk, and have a picnic on the floor. After everybody puts their jammies on, pile them in the car for a late-night ice cream treat. Show them your silly side. Choose something simple and easy, and do it now. Do it today. I promise you: It will matter and the kids will remember. Restoration is a deep, wide pool of awesome.