“I don’t want to go to bed! A good mommy would let me have a cheese stick!” Gabby yells at me for what is maybe the 14th time in the last five minutes.
Out of answers and the will to live, I let my head cock to the side and consider this for a second. Would she? Would a good mom let a tired child, who is clearly just stalling and has successfully pleaded her way into one snack and a cup of milk already, have a cheese stick?
Maybe a better mother than me would do everything she could to make sure her child was comfortable and nourished before bed. More likely, a better mother than me would have raised a child who doesn’t stall, who loves bedtime with as much zealousness as she loves her chores and her broccoli, who runs upstairs in her hand-sewn pajamas to vigorously brush an organic dinner completely from her teeth all while asking God to bountifully bless her beloved family.
Truth is, I have no idea what a better mother would do. All I know for sure is that there are moments, like when my daughter’s increasingly high pitched screams for dairy tubes are grating on my every nerve, where I let myself contemplate every single mistake I’ve ever made and wonder, not for the first time, when I am going to feel like I know what I am doing.
And the thing is I don’t know a single mother who does feel like she knows what she’s doing. Not in real life, anyway. I’ve seen more than a few online – more everyday – smugly telling the other less confident mamas exactly what they are doing wrong, but I am yet to meet any face to face.
I’m yet to sit down with another woman over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and say “I love it, but it’s just so hard,” and not have her respond with a resounding yes, spoken or implied through a violent clink of her glass against mine.
Why is this? So many of the women in my life are fully confident in other parts of their lives. Some are confident in their careers. Some are runners, confident in their bodies ability to carry them farther and faster. Some are confident in their beauty, others in their hearts, others still in their words. But none of us, not a one, would stand here in this moment and say to you (or anyone else) “this mothering thing? Yeah. I got this down.”
And should they? Should any of us grow so complacently confident in this – arguably our life’s hardest work – that we have it together enough to sit on the internet dropping mommy wisdom on other women who didn’t ask for it? Getting this kind of “advice” is like getting clothing you didn’t ask for as a present. It’s unlikely to fit, even less likely to be your style, and there’s a real decent chance trying it on is going to make you feel pretty crappy about yourself.
I contemplated telling this to my daughter, who had gone quiet thanks to her thumb finding her mouth. But I knew she wouldn’t understand. I hadn’t either, before babies. Even well into my first pregnancy I had thought, arrogantly, that I would figure it out. How hard could it be, I’d said, feeling this stranger turn somersaults in my abdomen. I’d learned how to drive a car, eventually, albeit not in reverse. I’d learned how to cook. Once, with the help of YouTube, I’d taken apart and put back together the dishwasher. Kids? How hard could it really be?
But oh man it’s hard. It’s the kind of hard where the entire time you mostly have no idea what you are doing, and then it goes on that way all day and all night forever. And just when I think I have something figured out enough to start pontificating about it, things change and what was working before doesn’t work and we start all over again at the beginning. It’s pretty humbling.
Also it’s amazing, beautiful, and hilarious and going by way too fast and breaking and rearranging my heart in every possible way. Yes. That too, I remember, as my girl drifts off towards sleep, her cheeks still ruddy from yelling. I think of all the things I have to do still before I could possibly even entertain the idea of crawling in there beside her and closing my eyes, letting the rhythm of her breath, each rise and fall still a mini miracle, lull me to sleep.
Would a better mother than me go do all those things?
Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not her.
And I’m kind of thankful for that, if only just for this moment.
This post originally appeared on Parent.com.