My head weighs heavy on my pillow. I roll over in my bed and try to turn my brain off. It is time to sleep for three hours until the baby wakes me for his midnight snack. Instead, I endure a mental pummeling. Why did I get so impatient when my 4-year-old treated the minivan like a jungle gym? I raise my voice too often. I tell them to hurry too much. I'm not a fun mom. I don't read enough with the baby. His bedtime routine is non-existent. I was on the phone when I should have been playing with my 3-year-old. I must schedule more special individual time with each of my kids.
Thoughts hit rapid fire. They don't listen, is there something wrong with them, do other preschoolers listen better? Is there something wrong with my parenting? Are my expectations too high? Am I putting unnecessary pressure on my oldest? Should I sleep train the baby?
I am so tired.
Pow. Bang. Boom. The punches keep coming. I take the blows like a professional, but I feel them hard in my gut. I gasp for breath, the guilt. I am a crappy mom. I feel defeated.
I make a promise to myself. Tomorrow, I won't raise my voice. I will be "fun" mommy. I will be less stressed and smile more. I won't look at my phone. I will play with my kids more. We will eat healthy foods. There will be less screen time. I will do laundry during nap time. I will return friends' phone calls. I will be a better mom. I will be a better wife. I will be a better friend. I will be the fun parent.
I suffer from mom guilt. Every night, I unleash an internal assault upon myself. It has gotten worse since the girls have grown older and seem to deliberately antagonize each other and me. I know I'm not alone. We all feel it. However, recently I found a temporary scapegoat for my mom guilt rage -- Hands Free Mama.
Instead of directing my mom guilt frustration at myself, my husband, my children or my dogs, I am redirecting it at the Hands Free Mama. Her essays about putting the phone down, not yelling and not telling her children to hurry up have gone viral. She insists that we must focus on our young children because we will never get this precious time back (a true but very guilt inducing message).
She has one post in particular, The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up that makes me feel exceedingly guilty. The angelic mama eliminated "hurry up" from her vocabulary. One of her children was a "stop and smell the roses" type of child. Before becoming Hands Free, the writer was frazzled. She told the child to hurry up. But then enlightenment struck, she realized she bullied her child by rushing her and decided that she would be more patient. Just like that, she reformed. She accepted her child for who she was and scheduled herself at her daughter's pace. Sometimes they were late, but she acknowledged "... I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young".
In theory, I agree with the Hands Free Mama. My children are paramount. My time with them is priceless and I do my best to enjoy it without distraction. But, and this is a big but, I must do this in the context of the real world.
Hands Free Mama makes me (and possibly others) feel like bad mothers. Her perfection makes me mad. Maybe my anger stems from my jealousy of her seemingly endless patience? Or maybe it's because she makes millions of women feel guilty because we fail to live up to her lofty standards? We aspire to live as she does, but we fail because we are women who have jobs, household responsibilities and other children, in other words, full and busy lives.
American society has become child-centric. Parenting theories a la the Hands Free Mama, tell us that we must increase our focus on our children. If they act out then they must feel ignored, so we should have time-ins rather than time-outs. We must never raise our voices. We must never be distracted. We must schedule endless afternoon activities. We must never get frustrated when our children don't listen. We must. We must ... And if we don't, we are parenting failures.
We put too much pressure on ourselves to be too many things. We are human. Humans raise their voices. Humans get impatient. Humans sometimes need to make phone calls, respond to emails or meet work deadlines when their children are present.
Being human is not a disservice to our children. The real world is not going to revolve around our grown children. As adults they must show up on time to school, interviews and work. Their future bosses, friends and spouses will be human. As humans they will sometimes raise their voices, make mistakes, be distracted and be busy. We must teach our children to forgive them and their selves when they do these things.
Children learn what it means to be human from their parents. Isn't it best that we prepare our children for an imperfect world? I aspire to spend undistracted time with my children, to not tell them to hurry up, to not raise my voice and to be patient.
Through the course of a day, I will sometimes be patient, focused and fun, but I will also sometimes raise my voice, be impatient and distracted. If I am the unpleasant version of myself, I will apologize, try to do better and forgive myself for not being a"perfect" parent. My children will learn that like them, I am human and make mistakes, but they'll also learn to take responsibility for their mistakes and say sorry.