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Let Go of the Guilt

In pursuit of being the good-enough mother

Published on: May 01, 2017

good mom

“Mommy, why didn’t you come to my writer’s showcase?”

“You never drive me anywhere.”

“You’re never home when I need you.”

“Mommy, there’s a potluck at my school tonight. Why can’t we go?”

My kids’ words ring in my ears, crashing into a single, relentless roar: “You’re not good enough. Try harder. Be a better mom.”

I’m no stranger to these words, but after 19 years of parenting, I’m sick of them. They’ve become a familiar refrain, but they don’t hold me hostage as much as they once did. I now know they aren’t true. My children are loved, cared for and wanted. They have the freedom to explore and fail, and they come to me when they venture too far and need reassurance that they’re still OK. For all the times that they remind me that I’m not good enough as a mother, there are dozens more when they show me that I am. This guilt is an old acquaintance who has outworn her welcome.

My kids always ask me what I want for Mother’s Day. Every year, I tell them the same thing: a little peace and quiet. Every year, they ignore me and festoon the house with balloons and flowers, cards and gifts. The little ones make me pictures, and the older ones buy me gift cards to my favorite coffee shop. They give me more than I need, but this year I’ve decided to give myself a gift: forgiveness.

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Every day, I forgive my children, never expecting them to be perfect, but I struggle to extend the same compassion to myself. I worry too much about small decisions that won’t matter in five years, much less 10. Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that Google and Facebook know more about my kids than I do. I even let myself believe that Pinterest parties and the cult of “making memories” mean more to my kids than the love and affection I give them daily.

But I am determined to turn over a new leaf. I’ll be 40 next year and I’ve wasted too much of my life on guilt. It’s time to make peace with myself and stop striving for perfection. It’s time to give myself permission to be a good-enough mother — nothing more and nothing less.

My oldest son is 19 years old now, and my youngest twins are 6. When I look at them, and all of the kids in between, it’s impossible to tell which ones had formula or whom I let cry it out. I barely remember who sat in their rear-facing car seat the longest or who was riding in a booster car seat long before today’s recommendations. They all survived and they all grew into strong, independent and passionate individuals who have more confidence in themselves than I ever did. All of those parenting decisions I worried so much about don’t seem to have mattered very much in the end. My kids learned the most from flawed, imperfect me, not the ideal mother I keep trying to become.

So, I’m going to take the internet’s advice one last time and calm the fuck down. I’m going to delete the Pinterest app and stop asking social media for parenting advice. I’m going to give myself permission to relax, chill out and make mistakes. I will be human and fallible without explanation or apology, and I won’t waste another minute of my life on guilt. I will dedicate myself to being truly present (when possible) and give myself permission to follow my own interests and dreams, too. I’m going to model healthy boundaries and self-esteem, rather than continuing to let my kids’ opinions shape my perception of my value. My kids don’t always have to like me, and parenting isn’t a popularity contest.

Above all, I will accept my flaws and remind myself that my kids have never needed a perfect mother. All they’ve ever needed is me.

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