“I’m not cut out to be a mother.” In my nine years of motherhood, this helpless, self-judging phrase has crossed my consciousness too many times to count. Has it crossed yours, too, mama? Does it cut you right to the core, like it does me?
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I felt acutely aware of my shortcomings in the mothering department. I grew up in a small family, my brother and I just a couple years apart, and I had almost zero experience with little kids. I didn’t know how to rock a baby to sleep or change a diaper or what any of their cries meant. I never even liked babysitting.
So how could I handle full-time stay-at-home motherhood?
“I’m Not Cut Out to be a Mother.”
Pounding, hurtful, and hopeless, these words were the unspoken lament of my first five years of mothering. I can’t tell you how many times this phrase has echoed inside my head.
But I didn’t dare say it out loud.
Parenting just doesn’t come naturally to me, mama. Or at least not the way I thought it would. I always imagined so much joy, laughter, and play in motherhood, but as I began to raise first one, then two small children, I found myself dragged down by a persistent feeling of failure.
Every day there were battles, not just about eating vegetables (which I expected) but also about putting shoes on, going to the park, leaving the park, sitting down to lunch, finishing lunch, getting in the tub, getting out of the tub, and who got to sit in which spot on the couch.
There were tantrums about dropped pieces of toast and forty minutes of screaming from a toddler vehemently protesting a nap time which he very much needed.
And by the end of those much-craved nap times? I was so burnt out from dealing with everybody else’s feelings, that I had nothing left to process my own.
Overwhelmed and frustrated, I’d lose my temper at the smallest infraction, desperate for my littles to just go to bed.
Over and over I’d try to ask nicely, and I’d get no response.
Then, exasperated, I’d yell at them. And then my heart would break for having upset and unsettled their tiny worlds.
By the time evening wrapped it’s starry velvet arms around our little house, and my sleeping babies were tucked away in their beds, I could do nothing but stand over them and cry big, ugly tears of shame and desperation.
I yelled at them.
I hurt their little hearts.
The house is a mess.
I am exhausted.
I failed today.
I’m too selfish to get this right.
I’m not cut out to be a mother.
Permission to feel all the feels
First of all, mama, can I just say: it is absolutely normal that you feel frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the task of raising your kids.
I don’t want to shock you or anything, but I feel pretty secure giving you a 99.9% guarantee that every parent in the history of time has felt this way.
This is not to say that there is no hope! New knowledge on your part, support from other moms, and the ever-increasing maturity on your kid’s part, can mean positive growth for both of you.
But I do want to acknowledge that this is a hard job, and it’s okay and normal if it feels hard to you. It does to me, too.
Motherhood is a lot.
(Sometimes it requires an extra-large chocolate.)
Parenting is a learn-as-you-go practice, which is an incredibly challenging concept to accept–especially when the stakes are so high. (I mean, we are raising actual human beings, mama! Ack!) It’s also different for each kid! That means that what worked beautifully with your first kid might not work at all with your second. (Thanks a lot, universe. 😉 )
And guess what? It’s different for each parent, too. So your sister-in-law’s patented pacifier-retrieval-and-return sleep-training-routine? It might work wonders for her, but be a total nightmare for you.
And that’s okay.
Feeling frustrated, lost, and like you are constantly taking two steps forward and one (giant) step back? That’s part of the gig. It’s not beautiful, but it is 100% completely and totally normal. You are in very good company.
Different cuts, different cloth, still beautiful
Nine years (and four children) into this motherhood thing, I’ve learned ways to manage some of the crazy, move away from yelling, and get a little better at engaging with my littles. But the most healing and uplifting thing I am learning, is that being a “good mom” doesn’t mean fitting in to a single perfect-mom mold.
For years I felt guilty that I didn’t like going to library story time or playing birthday party with my daughter’s dollies–both things I’d expected to love as a mother.
Then one day it came to me: I don’t remember my own mom playing dollies with me. I don’t think she liked it either. You know what I do remember?
I remember her doing things she liked: taking us on walks and picnics, planting flowers, reading us stories at bath time, making chocolate chip cookies and talking about mourning doves and sparrows and blue jays.
I remember her taking time away from us. A yearly trip away with my dad while we stayed with our grandparents. Lunchtimes reading on her own in a spot of sunshine in the family room. Tuesday nights painting at her friend’s house.
And if she did what she liked, and skipped the things she didn’t feel were her sweet spot… And if I still felt deeply loved and valued as her child… Then it follows that I can give my children a valuable, loving childhood in the way I am best suited to do so.
So maybe I’m not going to be the Mary Poppins mother I dreamed of being. But if I can let go of the picture of “perfect” in my head and allow myself to be the mother (and person) I truly am… Maybe that would be even better.
We’re all different, mama. We’ve all got our own collection of dreams and passions, our own set of values we want to instill in our kids. And that means we don’t have to be “cut out” a certain way to be good mothers to our children.
Keep trying. Keep looking for who you are. You’re doing good.
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