For the longest time, I was really consumed with the quality of my mothering. While I still check myself, I no longer obsess over whether I'm doing it "right". That's not to say I don't care how I interact with my kids or the decisions I make, rather, I am more relaxed about where I am in my parenting journey.
I have my days where we all get along, my youngest is incredibly charming and sweet, and we're in a groove. Dinner out is a happy time, my kids say the most thoughtful things, and we aren't correcting behaviors or rolling our eyes at our children's antics.
And then I have my days where I'm tired, my kids are just not pulling it together and instead behaving like they've never been in a store before, and it's just not working.
When my middle was a handful of months and I was mothering a 2 year old alongside him, I about lost my mind. I expected so much of myself and of him, and he clearly needed different things from me than my daughter did at that age. So I let him cry-it-out in his crib. Some times it was because I had no other reserves and it was a better alternative than feeling extreme frustration while he was in my arms. And other times it was because I just didn't feel it in me to meet his needs. When my two young children were in bed and it was 9pm, I wanted to be done with parenting for a handful of hours, at least until I was feeling recharged. So if my son woke, I'd let him cry, hoping he'd "figure it out" and self-soothe himself back to sleep. This wasn't my response EVERY time he cried, but I'm ashamed it happened as many times as it did.
I am the mother that let him cry in his crib, alone and needy. I am the mother that was exasperated by my children's needs. I am the mother that didn't have a village to turn to for support. I am that mother.
Do I respond to my youngest, nearly 2 years old, the same way? No. I have more patience, more understanding for what my child needs, what he expects. When he cries, he expects someone will respond to him. And because I reacted very quickly to his needs early on, I truly believe that he is just more trusting and connected to me.
That last part makes me feel so sad, mostly for my older son's sake.
My older son, my "needy-child", my child that just felt more difficult, is an amazing person. He seems well-adjusted and happy and he's just wonderful. I don't really think I harmed him for the rest of his life by letting him cry in his crib (though it did something to affect his development, I'm sure). But there is something that will forever reside with me, and that is the feeling that I should've been more present to his needs.
That's the part that is hard to swallow.
I feel connected to him now, and I have for many years. I love my children, but part of my mothering story is that I just wasn't able to meet his needs when he was very young. I felt frustrated, confused why he seemed so much more challenging, and I didn't get how my two children could be so vastly different. I believe he would've benefited from being held more. I believe I should've focused on one day at a time, with the effort to meet his needs first and foremost.
With many years between those early months and now, I have more perspective. I also have grown as a mother. It doesn't feel "all-or-nothing", where I felt so much pressure to do it right, and when I didn't, I just gave up. I am more comfortable with reading my children's cues and meeting them just one day at a time. I don't analyze my mothering efforts with such a critical eye, and that has helped tremendously for me to just enjoy the journey.
I also don't label myself as a "bad mother" just because I lose my patience or take a break to fill my cup and recharge my energy.
In public, there are probably times where it looks like I have it all together, and I'm a great mom. And there are times where it looks just the opposite. And I'm okay with that. Because it doesn't really matter what it looks like to anyone else; I know I'm doing what I can in any given moment to meet my kids' needs, to meet my needs, to make it through another day. I am the mother that let my older son cry alone, when he just wanted to be close to someone. I am the mother that would do anything for her kids. I am the mother that still loses her patience and raises her voice. I am the mother that takes it just one day at a time (mostly).
And I love having the perspective that mothering isn't perfect; it's messy and amazing and hard. You will have regrets, I'm certain. You will feel frustrated and lost. And that's okay. Because parenting is not pretty and easy and perfect.
Take it one day, or even one moment, at a time. Learn to forgive yourself and move forward. Say "I'm sorry" when you mess up. And then try to do it differently next time you're in that situation. If you don't like how you react to your child's behavior, then change that reaction. Do something different. Do what you need to meet your needs, your child's needs, your partner's needs. Ask for help, then accept it when it's offered.
Be comfortable saying, "I'm not the mother you think I am," knowing that images and appearances don't mean a thing. It's what you do, who you are, the connections you share with the ones you love.