It’s the question every mom on the planet asks herself every day: Am I a good enough mother?
I am in year six of motherhood, and if you had asked me that question at any point in the first five years, I would have said yes. In this sixth year? I’m not so sure.
It’s funny because as you can tell from my comment above, I was weirdly confident as a new mom. And when I’d talk to other new moms, I’d tell them not to worry: We were all doing our best, and that was definitely enough.
Oh, sure, I was exhausted. My boobs were leaky and sore. I worried about breast milk and swaddling and strangely-colored poop. But I knew that our kids would eventually sleep. I knew that they wouldn’t be going to college with a pacifier. I knew that if we loved them and had their best interests at heart, everything would turn out all right. I even felt that way about toddlerhood. So much can be solved with a kind word, a well-placed lesson on empathy, and mommy kisses.
As my son finishes up kindergarten, though, I’m realizing just how much harder this whole motherhood thing can get. And yes, I’m also realizing that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Don’t get me wrong: This phase of parenting is awesome in so many ways. My son and I have the most interesting conversations, and I love seeing how his mind works and watching him turn into this awesome, quirky, cool little man. But things affect him more deeply now, he has his own thoughts and worries, and I constantly feel like I’m screwing up in some way. And my poor toddler—I feel like she’s constantly getting the shaft as I tend to her big brother’s seemingly more pressing needs. And don’t even get me started on all of the other time, money and relationship stresses that revolve around parenting and, you know, life.
So I often find myself thinking: Who said that motherhood gets easier after those early years? Because I kind of want to punch them in the face.
I know that I’m not alone here. As we move into these later seasons of motherhood, we are stretched so thin in every way possible, and there is just so much to worry about.
We worry that we’re not doing enough for our kids.
We worry that we’re doing too much for them.
We worry that we won’t be able to provide for them. (Um, has anyone looked at the cost of colleges recently?)
We worry that we yell too much.
We worry that we’re too lenient with them.
We worry that we’re not present enough.
We worry that we’ll emotionally scar them forever, completely by accident.
We worry that they’ll grow up and remember the times we’ve been consumed with work or are checking our iPhones or that we’ve snapped them—and forget the other 90 percent of the time when we’re sweet and fun and rocking this whole motherhood thing.
But here’s the thing: We are rocking this whole motherhood thing. We get up every morning (and often every night, in the wee hours) with our kids. We feed them. We support them. We nurture them. We laugh with them. We teach them. We love them. We have tickle-fests and story time and cookie baking and water-balloon fights and laughing bouts that go on until our bellies ache. We crawl into bed exhausted—hours after they do, because there is always so damn much to do—but we do it all again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
We worry about all of these things because we care, but the worry in and of itself isn’t doing us any good. In fact, what it’s actually doing is pushing us out of the present with our kids and causing a crushing amount of mom guilt.
I’m not going to tell you not to worry because that’s impossible. What I am going to say is that we should acknowledge the worries and then put them in an imaginary little box and move on. Because that maxim that I believed when my babies were babies is still true: If we love our children and always have their best interests at heart, everything will be OK.
No, we won’t always have all the answers, but as long as we’re willing to learn and keep an open mind, it will be OK.
Yes, it’s probably going to be messy and we’re going to make some big mistakes along the way, but guess what—that’s OK, too.
Ultimately, our kids will learn what it means to be human, grow as people and live their lives, mistakes and all. In my book, that’s way more than OK.
Best of all, we’ll get to enjoy them in the way that we want to—and they’ll get to enjoy us, too. And that’s downright wonderful and what’s supposed to be happening here.
So, am I a good enough mother? Are you a good enough mother?
Hell, yes. Now let’s try to remember that, particularly as we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend.
Dawn Yanek is the founder of the parenting site momsanity.com and the author of 107 Things I Wish I Had Known with My First Baby: Essential Tips for the First 3 Months. She lives in Westchester, New York, with her husband and their two very sweet, slightly crazy and incredibly exhausting children. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.