Friday, June 7, 2019

Good Job, Mama

Dear Mama,

You are incredible. You really are. I know your kids drive you crazy sometimes and I know the house is a mess the second you get it cleaned up again and I know you are tired and it feels like there are never enough hours in the day...but you are incredible. You care, and you keep showing up. You love. You are there. And that's what matters.  

I was reminded of this the other day. That showing up and being connected to our kids is what matters more than anything else - more than all the healthy meals and the academic achievements and the sports and the special events. More even than the moments we lose our tempers or the days when everything seems to fall apart. What matters most of all is our connection to our kids. Do they know we love them?

I want to tell you a little story. The other day I was sitting in a car with cigars everywhere, ashes in the air and an older man to my left. Before you get the wrong idea, I work with a seasoned psychologist a couple times a month to assist him with administrative needs while he is on the road. He happens to love cigars, almost as much as he loves talking to people. During our four hour drive, our conversation hopped from jazz music to previous patients to little league sports, and then he asked, How are your kids?   

He is familiar with our family, but what he didn't know was that the day before our trip everything seemed to go wrong. Like one of those days where you really start to wonder what the gods have against you.  Like one of those days when your oldest spills an entire box of cereal all over the back seat of the car seconds after you remind him to be careful. One of those days when your daughter, while helping unload the car, drops a watermelon and shatters it all over the driveway. One of those days when your kids leave the chocolate they begged you to eat as a snack in the car, on the hottest day of the year, and it melts everywhere. 

Yeah, one of those days. 

I spent so much time barking instructions and correcting craziness and rolling my eyes in complete irritation that day. I may have even used the "bad F word" (as my kids call it) a time or two. I went to bed at 8:30 because I was so over parenting and all the messes and never getting a minute to myself. I was tired and quite honestly, deflated and defeated.  

I am telling the psychologist I work with about this day - about how miserable I felt as a parent and as a person, and how I announce to the family that I am heading to bed while my older two are still awake reading books. I am telling him how I sulk up to bed, flop down without even changing, and roll over exhausted and ashamed. 

When I roll over, I find my older two children waiting to tuck me in. They have followed me upstairs and want to know if I need anything before I go to sleep. My daughter asks to sing me a bedtime song, which she then makes up about love and koala bears and the best mommy ever. My son pokes the covers under my legs nice and tight, just the way he likes it when I tuck him in at night. He says goodnight and gives me a dozen kisses all over my face. I think to myself, "If only you had been this nice all day long, I wouldn't need to go to bed right now!" Their kindness is salt on a wound, and I close my eyes feeling more ashamed than ever. 

The psychologist listens and then says, "Those kids know they are loved. You realize that, right?" 

And then he says, "All guilt is good for is making you feel like shit. You've got to stop beating yourself up. Nobody is perfect." 

Then he repeats, "Those kids know they are loved. They feel connected to you. That connection is all that matters. You are doing a great job, Mama."

To be honest, I am completely taken aback by his response. I expected him to judge me. I expected him to dissect my behavior and to psycho-analyze how I am strategically screwing my kids up on a daily basis. I expected him to find fault, and offer tips for improvements, the way I find fault with myself and come up with plans for improvement almost every day of my life. 

I do not expect grace, but I get it anyways. In fact, I get far more than grace. I get truth. I get a total shift in perspective. He offers his words of encouragement, not as a gift, but as an observation of reality. He is not trying to make me feel better. He is calling it like it is.  

His version sees straight through my perfectionism and self-beat up; straight through all the mama guilt and the need to be everything for my kids always. His version sees a woman loving her kids, connecting with them day in and day out. He sees children that are so secure in their connection, they can offer love and support in return. But my version of reality focuses on spilled cereal and melted chocolate and all the ways I have messed up by yelling and correcting and having any emotion other than joy in a day. 

My version sees mistakes, failures, lost tempers. His version sees a family working their way through an imperfect day, and finding themselves connected and secure in their love for one another at the end. And suddenly I realize, I have a choice to accept his version of reality, or my own. 

Mama, please hear me. We do have a choice. Today when the box of cereal spills everywhere, or when the watermelon shatters on the driveway; today when the toddler throws a fit for the tenth time, or when your daughter has decided at six that she is capable of navigating the world alone; today when there are more piles of laundry than hours in the day, or when your instructions go completely ignored from dawn to dusk...Mama, remember, you are doing a great job. Your kids know that you love them. You are connected and yes, you are imperfect, too. Yes, you lose your temper. Yes, you use the bad F word every now and then (okay maybe that is just me!). But here is where your power comes in. You have a choice in these moments. You can choose to beat yourself up and curse every little imperfection and interruption and put yourself to bed guilty and defeated. Or, you can see a family that is learning to work together, that is learning to give and take, that is navigating an imperfect world with an anchor of love and connection. 

Mama, you are incredible. You are not screwing your kids up. You were never meant to be perfect, and neither were your days. Mama, remember: All guilt is good for is making you feel like shit. Today, let's choose the reality that we are doing a good job and that our kids know they are loved.

Friends, I invite you to use these simple tags to acknowledge a Mama in your world. You can simply print a card and write a little note, or use it as a gift tag and attach it to a small gift. Either way, let a Mama know she is doing a good job today! (Click on each image and it will direct you to a downloadable version).

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