We all have good days and bad days.
Everyone has days when we’re “on”—happy and feeling great—and everyone has days when we’re “off”—not feeling well, or we’re moody or grumpy. Kids are no different. More, how kids act at home, versus how they act with new people visiting the house for the first time, or how they behave out in public on any random afternoon in the grocery store, is not an overall picture of either our children or our parenting skills.
One Monday a few weeks ago, I was running errands with my girls all day long. I didn’t know it at the time, but the next day I would come down with mastitis—and the woman who shot me a blatantly dirty look, when she heard me speaking in slight frustration at one of my kids, surely had no idea either that I was already feeling incredibly weak, exhausted and worn down (or that it was the thirty-fifth pair of snow boots, inside of the third store, that my little girl had tried on and not liked).
We have no idea what a family is going through, or an individual for that matter. I think of this often while driving.
One day after two weeks of no sleep with a baby cutting four teeth at once—the true definition of insanity, I’m convinced—I was driving home with my daughters; maneuvering the winding, country road to our house. I turned a sharp, 90-degree curve, and was just about to put on my turn signal to head into my own driveway—being exceedingly careful, between my exhaustion and this precious cargo in my backseat. The man in the car behind us sped around and yelled, “You’re an awful driver,” so loudly that I heard it in my car, well into my driveway, with no windows down. It shook me up initially, but then I thought about how sad it is that someone could have so much anger for a car going the speed limit and then making a right turn.
Another time, a few summers ago, after a childhood friend of mine died, I became the driver behind another car, feeling nearly fed up with her up-and-down speed, but couldn’t pass. It popped into my head that I had no idea what this driver—as a human being and not just another inanimate vehicle on the road—was going through. After all, my friend’s mom was out in the world going through her normal, daily motions, after the loss of a lifetime.
It’s easy to forget that there are people driving the other cars on the road, or that there’s a real-life mom on the other side of that computer screen, blogging her perfectly imperfect life.
Really, we have no idea what a child’s life is or has been like. We have no idea what struggles others face, unless we know them well, and sometimes not even then.
Lately, I find those over-the-top baby photos, of kids with gigantic bows and multiple filters, creating just the right look—no drool or rashes—grotesque. Kids are beautiful as they are, but I realize that my judgment is ironic and self-damning.
Who am I to judge the person who wants an adorable keepsake snapshot of their kid? Have I forgotten that I, too, largely share pictures of my children when they’re smiling, or candids that somehow turned out lovely and charming? It’s human nature to gloss over the ugliness. People don’t like messy.
We like our crazy and our chaos to be contained just enough to be able to turn it into a funny, relatable story, or to be fixable, so that we can feel good about ourselves, the heroine. We want the statuesque Madonna cradling the sleeping baby, but we don’t want the infant screaming his head off in front of us at the grocery-store checkout.
We want to place our children into milestone categories, and our reactions to be easily separated into “Good Mom” or “Bad Mom,” but we forget common, human variables like sleep, illness, worry, loss, or stress at work.
Being a person is messy—and motherhood and growing up are not always tidy, pretty and picture-worthy.
For me, motherhood frequently looks like finding simple ways to attractively put the hair up that I haven’t washed in three days. It looks like more food under the dining table after I just wiped up yesterday’s crumbs. It smells, recently, a lot like poopy diapers and fruit snacks. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.)
My oldest daughter is a people lover. She adores making new friends, and she easily becomes animated and energetic around new faces that she’s eager to play with. Occasionally, I’ll want to apologize for her excitable behavior, but I usually stop myself. I have to then fight feeling defensive—that anyone who doesn’t appreciate her sincere happiness—albeit maybe exuberance—to be in their presence doesn’t deserve my apology or explanation either.
And then we’re at home. We’re not running errands on an exhausted Monday, and I’m happy and healthy and rested. My kids are both their silly, wonderful, kind-hearted selves, and this is them on a typical day, and my reactions to the regular stresses of life with children are much different than when I’m haggardly bustling two kids in and out of car seats.
Let’s not forget that kids are not short adults. They are learning, and growing, and they have big emotions they don’t know how to deal with yet—and it’s part of my job as “Mom” to help them.
And I might be “Mom,” but I’m definitely no saint. Sure, my life is blessed and beautiful, but it’s also full of trying to figure out what on Earth to do with the baby while I get my 5-year-old on the school bus, and it’s less than 7 degrees outside, and my husband has left for work early. It’s filled with deciding whether or not the baby is crying in her crib because she needs a few minutes of restlessness before she falls asleep, or if she won’t nap that day. It’s filled with understanding when to hug my child instead of scold her; it’s recognizing when I need a hug.
Our lives are filled with choices. Sometimes we make good ones, and sometimes we don’t. I want to teach my children to give others the grace to make mistakes. I want to teach them, through example, how to give themselves grace, too.