You would think I would remember the person who shared the wisdom with me that forever changed my life. But, somehow my memory can no longer access that fact. It is quite possible that the answer just came to me on my own, through prayer or meditation. I truly can’t remember not that it has become a truth I simply own for myself.
In whatever way it came to me, when I finally started believing this statement, it changed my life. "I am exactly the mom my kids need." Warts and all. Imperfection, brokenness, messiness, and all. To begin believing this was like sipping a cool glass of water on the hottest of a desert summer day (and, I should know, I have lived in the desert--both literally and metaphorically). Before I believed this, I believed that there might have been some sort of mistake. That somehow God had entrusted these children to me without thoroughly vetting me first. That I was exactly the worst mother for the precious children entrusted to my care.
Maybe you know this kind of self-loathing. Or maybe you've always known your worth and never doubted your unique goodness for your children. If this is true of you, I'd thank the heavens for it right now. It is a rare and beautiful gift to know your worth. And for so many, including me, the journey to loving oneself is riddled with pot-holes of insecurity and carpeted by landmines of shame.
It is a terrifying feeling to believe you aren't good enough for your children. Because, at the same moment that all you see is your inadequateness, you also see their preciousness and doubt that any could ever be good enough for them. Surely, no one could love them more than their own mother. So, we se
t about the work trying to become who we believe is the perfect mother for these perfect little beings. These beings that surely God made a mistake with when he placed them in our unsteady hands.
For me, the perfectionist standards I placed on myself seemed to begin and end with cleanliness. My childhood was one long struggle between my neurotypical mother and my undiagnosed adhd-self. My bedroom looked like an active warzone and the battles between my mother and I usually ended with both of us defeated and one of us cleaning my room. Admittedly, it usually wasn't
Adulthood without children was difficult enough. I tried to keep up with my dishes, but the lady in the apartment above mine complained whenever I did dishes after 8pm as it kept her awake. I hadn't fully decompressed from work until 9 and I was a late riser so my dishes would pile up and I would start to feel shame.
My mother had hidden my shame from me by making the problem go away for me for much of my life. But, when the dishes don't disappear like magic while you are at work, they become crusty and harder to clean. And, I began asking myself a question that would become the refrain of my life for too many years, "What is wrong with me? Why can't I keep up?"
Like so many young loveb
irds, my late husband and I entered into our marriage with arm-fulls of love and suitcases packed with hopes and dreams. We both made inaccurate assumptions about the other having their adult-life together. It turned out that neither of us were particularly good with money. And neither of us were particularly good at keeping house. My husband, though, had the ultimate get out of jail card free from the ensuing pain because he was pursuing an education in medicine, while I was pursuing what I was assured was a worthy vocation as a stay at home mom.
Where does one find one's worth when one is home all day with the kids? Well, for many (including me) it is measured in piles of neatly folded clothes and an empty dishwasher. It is graphed in how well the babies sleep and by what age as well as how many days a week you break your back bathing them in the tub.
It didn't take long with these rubrics for me to assess that I was a complete failure.
Add the invention of social media and the perfectly staged and filtered photos of tea parties and organized closets and it was a recipe for ADHD induced full-blown depression and panic.
So, maybe, in some completely twisted way it was a saving grace when my oldest was diagnosed with cancer. Of course, I'd go back and make it never happen if I could, but if it did have to happen then I couldn't have asked for a more laser-focused lesson on what is actually important.
It turns out a family can survive on love and just a little more. Just enough clean clothes. Just enough clean dishes. On takeout and paper plates. On laughter and Disney movies on repeat. It turns out that a mom who likes to build forts and write plays and dress in costumes with her kids --but maybe makes spaghetti for dinner more than once a week-- is exactly the kind of mom a little boy who isn't allowed outside to play while on chemotherapy needs. It turns out a mom that intuitively taught her kids to name their emotions as fluently as their colors and shapes is exactly the kind of mom the kids who witness a sibling surviving cancer need, And, it turns out a mom who learned from the lessons of childhood cancer that the dishes can wait and the laundry can wait but that sunny day should be embraced outside on a blanket by the sea is exactly the kind of mom who took enough time to heal the shame and self-loathing in her heart so that it was strong enough to shelter both her and her children from some of the earth-shattering effects of the inescapable tragedy that was yet to come.
As a single mom, I had every Jane, Sue, and Mary offer their unsolicited advice about what my kids needed. They needed routine, they said. They needed their grandparents, They needed their mom to make them her sole-focus. They needed me to realize that I wasn't enough alone, so I would have to lean heavily on others who would (when they weren't too busy with their own families) help me to be enough.
Thankfully, I'd already decided I was enough for my kids. Not only was I enough, I had already started to believe I was more than enough. I was exactly the mom they needed. And, against all advice, and perhaps against all odds, I set out on a journey of adventure and healing and growth for all of us that has been imperfect and perfect, both. Though I may never arrive at the standards I once set for myself as a mother, I have always been the mom who was becoming the absolute best version of myself for my kids. I've met their needs, but I've also fed their souls. I've made mistakes, but I've also owned them with honesty and grace. So, though I would never pretend to be a "perfect mom" in any societal measurement or norm, I can say with absolute confidence that I am exactly the mom my kids need. And I'm becoming exactly the mom they will need. I am both perfect and progressing. I am both enough and becoming more. And, as each of my children steps into adulthood, I will send them with the stamp of self-knowledge, self-awareness, and selfless generosity. They will not need my approval. They will not need anyone's approval. Because they will have learned what took me too long to. They will enter the world with my whisper as their thematic strain, "You are exactly who you are meant to be."