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The Mom I’m Supposed to Be

I don’t consider myself a mom-blogger. But lately I’ve been receiving so many comments about how my recent posts on motherhood have been inspiring and heartening, that I’ve been able to articulate things for some of you in important ways. It’s flattering to hear such a thing, but also really befuddling.

(Caught in action by my sneaky husband.)

For the most part, I don’t think I know the first thing about motherhood. I constantly have the feeling that I’m the mom in the room who knows the least about raising children, that I’m the one doing it wrong. That I’m the one who hasn’t read the books, hasn’t researched the schools. I’m the one who forgot to sign up for the right classes, had no idea I could do this or that, or worse, that I should be doing this or that.

At any given moment I feel like the least prepared/knowledgeable/informed/creative mama in the lot of us.

For instance:

I’m terrible at sleep-training. Juliette is still sleeping full nights in bed with me and is, at this very moment, taking her morning nap in the ergo on my chest as I stand at a dresser writing this. I’m still trying to figure out discipline techniques with Veronica and I don’t even really know what that means besides me getting frustrated and yelling, then lots of apologetic snuggling, then usually bribery in the form of chocolate.

And those are just today’s issues. The list is endless.

Most of the time I feel like motherhood is this big, crazy thing that’s just happening to me. I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water and that, at best, I’m simply reacting to something that keeps coming at me. I’ve said this before, and it’s the thing I say when I’m trying to apologize for my parenting short-comings, but I just never really thought about being a mom. It wasn’t something I ever longed for or dreamed about, or pictured for myself. There are lots of other things in my life that I’ve been plotting since childhood — traveling and writing and great romantic love, and when those things have arrived they’ve felt much different than motherhood has.

To me , becoming a mother has felt like being forced to jump out of an airplane, figuring out how to use a parachute mid-air, and then landing in a country I’ve never even heard of , where I certainly don’t speak the language or know the customs. It’s been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-let’s-try-this-hope-it-works kind of experience. For me.

At playdates in the park and in the beautiful, put-together homes of my friends where their kids have Etsy-designed nurseries and playrooms and toy kitchen sets and fancy high chairs and just even dishwashers in the real kitchens, my heart sinks, and over and over again, I feel like a failure. I feel like I’m doing it all wrong, that I shouldn’t have just let motherhood happen to me like this, that I should have been more prepared, that I should have been running at this huge experience head-on in order to greet it and grab it and be the best possible mom I can be.

Instead I just stuff my kids back in the double stroller and rush home to rearrange the photos on Veronica’s wall, briefly reorganize her toys and give myself a lengthy chastisement for letting her have too much pink, plastic stuff. And then the next day I give in to her whining and let her pick out a Barbie at Target. See? Utter disaster.

The truth is that I rarely even let myself read mom blogs. Over the holidays I indulged in a few and then I spent Christmas Eve in a dejected state, making lists of all the ways in which I need to be a better mom in the year to come. I got out my notebook and made lists of traditions I want to start, and creative projects I want to do, and all throughout, I had this terrible panicky feeling that I’m right in the throes of this big, important time with my girls and I’m not giving them what they deserve.

However, despite all of the above, I don’t think I’m a bad mom. I love these two little girls like I’ve loved nothing else in the great, wide world. Becoming a mother has meant fulfilling the biggest dream I never had. It’s just that all that comes with it is so confusing and there is so much pressure to do it right, to make it pretty and picture-perfect and it so rarely ever is. The truth is that I don’t think I’ll ever be the mother I’m supposed to be. And I think that’s okay. I also think I’m not alone in feeling this way.

20 comments

20 Comments

  • Meghan
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I think just in the way that every person has his or her silver lining, every mom does too.

    Let me tell you a story. I was sitting around a table in Brooklyn the other day with a bunch of 20-somethings who were talking about how their moms always “still” pack them sandwiches for their trips home to New York from CT. One other person at the table was quiet. I looked at her and then spoke up, “my mom doesn’t do that stuff. Usually when I visit her she puts me to work – ‘let’s clear away that dead tree’ or ‘we want to move the woodstove from this wall to that’.” The other woman at the table, it turns out, has a similar mom. Thing is, my mother was never all that interested in or good at the “mom blog” kind of mom stuff. But I know how to be self-sufficient, I know how to fix most things in a house, and I’ve spent my life being treated like an equal by my mother. That’s a different kind of relationship. And one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

  • Bri
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Yes. All of this.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Unlike you, I always wanted to be a mother. Like you, once it happened, I had no idea what I was doing. I think they key is, Claire, you follow your heart in your mothering, as do I. Sure, we learn and grow and make mistakes and change things, but one more Barbie is not going to ruin anyone. My daughter had a pacifier until she was three and woke up in the middle of night until she was 5. Not by-the-book parenting at all. But she’ll go off to college in September without a pacifier. She’s independent, capable, and strong.

    Do what feels right. That’s never wrong. I think you know that.

  • Becky P
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Yup. 100% there with you. The most terrible part of it is that, when I realize that I’m doing all this comparing and being so insecure about all these things, right at that point where I should stop comparing–let my rational mind–I start worrying about how my insecurity and comparing myself to other women is probably to make my daughter insecure and WHY CAN’T I JUST BE MORE SECURE IN WHAT I’M DOING? LIKE ALL THOSE OTHER MOMS????

    Endless. It’s endless. But at least we’re way less alone in it than we thought.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Regardless of the kind of mom you think you should be, know that the mom you are is what matters. You love your girls. You are creating a wonderful life for them. They will remember all these things you do for them and how you made them feel.

    Honestly, everyone always looks like they have it more together than you–but I doubt that is true. (You being the collective “you” and not you in particular.) Most days I feel like I have no clue as to what I am doing and I am just taking things as they are thrown at me but I do my best to work with what I have and try to be as patient and loving as I can. Right now I can’t be a super mom who does lots of crafts and goes to the park all the time, even though I WANT to be that mom. Maybe some other time. To another mom, I may look like super woman juggling my brood in Target. To me, I am trying to keep everyone together and get out of there without spending $100 and hope the baby doesn’t start crying halfway through.

    V and J will remember the love and friendship in your home, just like you remember that from your childhood. All the parties and guests you have over will create lasting memories and the fact that they don’t have a playroom designed by a professional won’t matter one bit.

    Beautiful piece. You do say it all so well. xoxo

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    My fatherhood experiences are different because I have two boys. With me it has always been a balance between giving them what they want (and need) and being a genuine friend to them (my honest-to-God best friends). I have a neighbor who raised two girls and never really instilled in them any sense of responsibility, or service. One way society has wronged girls was to show them models who just want to party, live to party–like Paris Hilton. So for a time girls craved a lifestyle without responsibility or service. These are arguably older “girl concerns” than for your two wonderful younger girls. I do believe that we have to consciously bring up children who are genuinely loved/cared for, but also given a sense of responsibility/service,etc. One of my neighbors two girls has since become addicted to serious recreational drugs. If that girl had some of Megan’s experience with her Mom then the outcome may have pointed to more of a sense of adult responsibility– when a girl becomes a woman–somewhat like when my boys became responsible male citizens.

  • Wendy
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Much like you I never dreamed of being a mother. It was more something that happened as a growth of the love Craig and I shared and his desire to have a family. That being said our kids have anchored and given my life a purpose I never had before. They have in many ways both changed and become my whole world. It’s not the life I planned and it’s far from picture perfect, but it’s the life I love. I barely can keep it all together and I am definitely not the Martha Stewart, Etsy, put together mom. In fact this is the first time in their lives when their room has had any type of theme or decoration and that was mostly at their prompting. I feel most days (even after 11+ years of mothering) that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. I just don’t care what others think anymore. Instead I go with what each day brings and try to love, inspire, and challenge our 4. They are happy, healthy, and well adjusted, not to mention fiercely independent, creative, and funny. From what I have seen of your two girls it is clearly evident that they are so loved and nurtured. I have no doubts they will grow up to be all of those things and so much more.

    BTW, we co slept with all 3 of the youngest and most nights Cam still winds up in our room where his sleeping bag has a permanent home ;).

  • Ellen A.
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Claire, I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to write. One of the reasons I so enjoy your photos is that Vera reminds me so much of my older daughter who is now grown up and a third year medical student. All of the worries you have are felt by all of us mothers, even the ones who seem to have it all together. The little decisions and choices that seem so vital and life-changing at the time (which preschool, what toys to allow, etc.) really don’t seem to matter much at all in the end. The most important things you are already doing, and doing well. Loving them, giving them a sense of security, challenging them at times and showing them that we all make mistakes, but hopefully learn from them, is all part of being human, I believe if you get the important things right (esp. the love part), your children will turn out who they are meant to be. Of course they may blame you and resent you when they’re teenagers (all part of that sepaation stuff), but even that is fleeting, although it may feel that way at the time. Don’t worry! They’re all kinds of mothers and all kinds of kids. Follow your instincts! Thank you for allowing me to re-live this precious stage of life.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Yes, yes, yes.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I grew up with the last traces of Victorian childrearing, but could rollerskate through the house with my 2 sisters and brother, pass my mom making rice for her high blood pressure. We were in bed at 7, way before other kids, but we had benign neglect which i think was possible then, but not now. We were not helicoptered as some children are. Martha Stewart and other stuff is fictive. We go throught times we think we are the worst, and then the child you spawned, you realize this in teen years, turns out to be a lovely adult. You have to maintain the integrity of your being; you’ve already got your heart stuff down; don’t compare, easier to say in a small block of letters, than do. We are all in the process of becoming our true selves. There’s always a higher wisdom at work. Keep you eye on the horizon; you sound like a wonderful mom. Self-doubt may be the absence of rigidity – i don’t know. values are more importan than Etsy shopping and having your kids become capable and with good qualities will carry them through. Best to you; i reached this knowledge at 74.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Absolutely yes. My children are 10 and almost 8 and I am still waiting for the real mom to come home. I’m still tripping every single day. And so I think maybe we NEVER figure it out. All we’ve got, after all, is love and instinct. Right? xoox

  • devin barnwell
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    When I was pregnant with my first, I read an article about how parents today focus too much on being the “perfect” parent – making sure their child takes the right classes, doesn’t watch too much TV, eats only organic…when in reality, parents should just LOVE their kids and they will turn out fine. Loving them is the only thing that matters. It’s hard to remember that, but I try.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Six and a half years into the mother-hood, I often feel like I have no freaking idea what I am doing at any given moment…. and am sure that every mother around me knows more & does more & is waaaaayyyy better at it than I am. The thing I have discovered is that we all feel like that at some point. On one particularly bad day I called a friend to vent about how I never seem to be able to get it “all” under control. She, being a wise friend, asked me to write a list of all the things I think I should be doing as a mother. Actually writing down all that I expected of myself it was so easy to see that no one could actually live up to such a list. I try to stick to the non-negotiables… love them, feed them, protect them. Anything else is just sprinkles on top.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Jeez. From my tiny empire in an Australian rainforest, I have finally figured out what is wrong with you Yanks. You think too much. The brain takes an unreasonable share of the body’s energy, and should be relaxed and unused on every opportunity. Actually I think mums and dads are pre-programmed to mostly do the right thing, and the rest isn’t worth worrying about. A lot of people and companies want to tell you ‘you ought to do this’ and ‘you have to do that’. Have a quick look to see if they have a hand in your pocket.
    Kids need feeding, comfort, love, and an emotional base of trust so they don’t have to look behind. You can bugger up just about all the rest and they’ll still turn out OK. Relax, enjoy, laugh, giggle, tickle, cuddle, stroke, talk and respect. Don’t let ‘experts’ burden you with their expectations.

  • Posted January 7, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Couldn’t have been better-timed for me:) was going to write something similar today; you said it perfectly; went ahead and wrote and linked to you:) http://melanielora.com/2013/01/done-with-that.html
    You are SO not alone and I love reading what you write.

  • Posted January 8, 2013 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Of course I can relate to this! I was completely blindsided by parenthood at the age of 34 and still have to pinch myself some days to feel that it’s really happening (and my daughter is 17 months already). When I was freaking out in the early days, someone told me that all my baby needed was the love of her parents and that helped me tremendously. Because I didn’t know how to give her anything else but that. I still don’t know if I can, but I’m literally taking it day-by-day. I sometimes feel like my girl is at a disadvantage because I’m not a mom who dreamed of babies and motherhood, but she seems to be doing well so far! :) I guess we’re never really prepared for anything that life throws our way but we adjust and usually come out better, stronger and wiser because of it. Your girls are very lucky to have a wonderful mom like you – don’t doubt that for a second!

  • Kavita
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Gosh, the last two paragraphs just summed up my views of myself as a mother — feeling a tad unsure of myself, taking baby steps as a mother, wondering whether I’m doing the right things AND making a list of traditions I want to start in the new year (so glad to know that someone else, even if it’s just one person, has made a similar list). Yet, I know I’m not a bad or incompetent mother.

    Claire, you are one of the most hands-on mothers I know (OK vicariously know). So, yeah, we’re all alright :)

  • Emmaline
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    This is a beautiful post. I’d just like to respond to say that sleeping with babies is one of the most beautiful ways of caring for them and is done all over the world and I hope you don’t feel pressured to get your babies out of your bed. But also, it’s good to look up the safe cosleeping guidelines – Jame McKenna is a great source.

    I love your openness and reflectiveness about being a mother. All the best!

  • Christina
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    You are absolutely right. Your not alone in these feelings. In fact, you seem to be more present, compassionate and connected to your daughters than the majority of mothers who apprear so ‘together’. That is worth more than any amount of preparation, parenting book or well panned/ decored nursery.
    I love reading you, and yes the motherhood stuff is what I come back for. You inspire me.

  • Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I feel so similar to this, and it’s part of why I bristle now at the term “mommy blogger” and find myself at times loathe to read some. It always makes me feel like I’m not “on top of it” as a mom, and then also a total writing failure for not being able to support my family and Anthroplogie-looking house from my sponsored and profitable “mommy blog” (unrealistic anyway). Also, as a recent transplant to Southern California, I’m still trying to figure all THAT out too. It’s enough to make you just yell “Oy vey!” Love reading your writing, motherhood-related or not. Keep on keepin on, and know you’re not alone.

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