I recently watched the movie Cake. It is the story about Claire, played by Jennifer Aniston, and adjustment. Claire and her son were in a car accident. While the boy died, Claire survived but with a degree of paralysis and chronic pain. She struggles to cope with the loss and abuses pain medication—to treat both physical and psychological pains. Claire connects with the surviving husband and son of a woman she knew in her support group who had committed suicide. Flirting with the idea of committing suicide herself, Claire speaks one sentence that resonated with me. As she laid on train tracks awaiting death, she says, “I was a good mother.” (She changes her mind and lives, don’t worry.)
“I was a good mother.”
That’s it, isn’t it? I believe that is the heart of it all: we want to believe we are good mothers. We want to know that we are good. Not necessarily that we are great…but that we are enough. What we are doing is working and our children are happy. And I know I’m not the only one in this. Jennifer Senior spoke of the relationship parents have with their children in her TEDtalk.
In this age of intense confusion, there is just one goal upon which all parents can agree, and that is whether they are tiger moms or hippie moms, helicopters or drones, our kids’ happiness is paramount.
(Senior, 2014, 17:58)
By hiding “our kids from the world’s ugliness,” we take away opportunities to learn. We prevent them from living a full life. The beauty of pain and unpleasantness is that it helps to define just how amazing life really is. That is not something that I want to take away from Gus. I want him to struggle; I want him to experience hardship and pain. But, I also want to be there when he does. I want to hold him and explain that life is a cycle. We are ecstatic…and then we mourn. Over and over again. I want to help him understand that our struggles over and over again teach us lessons and make life that much more interesting and worthwhile. Most of all, I want to hold him, kiss his forehead, and tell him that I love him.
The single-mother of the two boys across the street who spends more time at work than at home does so to provide for her kids. The mother snapping at her child in the grocery store to “just put the cookies back! We are NOT getting them!” loves her kids so very much—everyone has their breaking point. The first-time New Mom, still in the hospital, is crying because she is terrified and unsure whether she can ‘do this’. Try as we might, not one of us is going to be a perfect mother. She doesn’t exist. But we do what we can with what we have.
A child’s happiness is a very unfair burden to place on a parent. And happiness is an even more unfair burden to place on a kid.
(Senior, 2014, 17:58)
I try to create a warm and loving home for Gus. Right now, it is easy to see him happy at two years old. However, I personally struggle with good parenting and seeing my child smile. I believe that holding up boundaries and standing by my word is the best option in the long run. It is just hard to see my son bawling when I tell him he’s had enough juice or it’s time to get out of the bath.
There is so much I want for my son. So much I wish I could provide for him. There never seems to be enough money. And there never seems to be enough time. And I never seem to have enough energy. Most of the time I can accept that.
Then there are days where I collapse in tears. I don’t feel like I give Gus enough. If I could give him the world, I would. And I know that there are millions of mothers out there who feel the same way I do.
So, I try. I talk and sing with Gus on the drive home from daycare. I play and read with him instead of doing my homework. I have dance parties with him while I’m cooking his supper. I make sure that he has clean clothes to wear everyday. I take the few hours in the evenings and weekends that I have with him and try to make them count. And I drink more than my fair share of coffee. These are the memories I want him to have—happy ones. I want him to feel loved. Unconditionally.
I do my best…most days. I need to accept that not everyday is going to be perfect.
For today, I am going to enjoy waking up at 2am to sooth a frightened and crying Gus. I am going to tear up as I hear him squeal and laugh. I am going to smile when he wakes me up faaaaar too early in the morning just to show me the tractor on his cup. Or when he tries to put my glasses on my face and hands me my phone because he wants his mama awake, too. I am going to hold onto every moment I have with him—even the frustrating ones. And I am going to let them go as they pass because I know there is SO much more to come.
In the end, I know I am a good mother.
Senior, J. (2014, April) For parents, Happiness is a very high bar [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talk/jennifer_senior_ for_parents_happiness_is_a_very_high_bar/transcript? language=en