Dear daughters of mine:
You don’t know this, but I end every day glancing at you after you fall asleep, wishing I had done it all better. Wishing I had hugged you more, been more patient when you lost your noggin over the love bugs that were uncatchable, said yes to playing tag one more time, looked you in the eyes when you asked me questions instead of being lost in my adulting brain, ignored my phone in the afternoons when you need me most, and cooked the sort of meals that you’ll talk about with homesickness, instead of always grumpily making the same old stuff in rotation like a side order chef in a washed up greasy restaurant.
You also don’t know that I wish I could go back to the day you were born and whisper in my own ear: Everything hard here is temporary. Put the books away. Get outside. Strap that babe on your back and see the world. Take deep breaths. Stop trying to schedule anything. Talk to your friends and laugh about things other than children. Smell that sweet baby head. Hold her tiny fingers. Don’t worry about sleep training or food introductions. Don’t think about how you’re doing it all wrong. Sleep when they sleep and fuck the dishes. Say no when you’re tired and yes to a sweaty, drooling nap with her. Pause the world and do this one thing wholly. Mother her wholly. Don’t just be a great mom, be a present mom instead. You’ll be a much less great mom when you do that, but far more serene. Stop buying so much stuff and gear. Turn your tv off and get off of facebook. Exercise every day, but don’t try to change your body. Sweat to sweat and to feel alive. If you are depressed or suicidal or even just a little low, crawl to the safest friend and come up with a plan of action, quickly. Don’t wait another moment. Say no to people who don’t support you mothering wholly and find the people who do. Don’t compromise on that. Read to her. Pause with her. Teach her humanity through your curiosity and ownership of self. Awww, fuck, just chill out. This is all temporary and someday you’ll want it back - even the shitty parts.
Sweet child, I am still learning to grow up too, which is not something I would recommend to you if/when you decide to become a mother. But, it’s here and I’m doing my best. I promise to take ownership of my errors, to not give in to you when I feel guilty, to hold my lines on my self and hold you to yours. I promise to drop the victim in me who wants everyone to know how hard I work and wants you to know that I need a break. I promise to surround us with strong women and graceful men who will be your guides as you grow up. I promise to listen generously to you and to stop worrying how I look to other moms. I won’t take personally your bad days or murky hormonal moments. I’ll let you make mistakes. I won’t tolerate your compromising who you are for anything or anyone. And, I’ll get muddy with you any time you want.
I pray you remember me not as a good mom. I pray you know me as an imperfect human who taught you to be curious, compassionate, self-forgiving, fierce, and unapologetically authentic.
And, even with all this said, I’ll still always come kiss your head in the middle of the night, glance at your sweet translucent skin and your messy hair, and wish I had done just about everything a little better that day.
Dear Fellow Mom:
We live in a mom-blaming culture. It all comes back to mom, doesn’t it? You see a kid at school who is having a bad day and immediately we think: I wonder what is happening at home? What did Mom do or not do to make that kid freak out? I know you do it. We all do. The whole damn world does. Therapy lives and breathes on the failings of mothers. And while we all need to do better and get more whole, I suggest we collectively stop blaming ourselves as mothers and start blaming the container.
Think about it: Most of us walk into motherhood as zygotes of self-actualization. Shit, we still think being married is about merely being in love (ahahahah). We still think that motherhood is hard, but that we’ll do it better than all the other moms we met before we got pregnant. My kid will eat vegetables, we think. My kid will read novels by age 6 and enjoy screenless days on end, we decide. My kid won’t be mean at school or a jerk as she goes through puberty, we conclude. We also think we’ll be able to handle work/life/love without too much hassle. We have no idea that the container of modern momdom is about to suffocate the crap out of our idealistic and deserved values.
This container asks you to birth and raise a human while stuck in a house with NO OTHER older, smarter, more rested women to help you. Nope, just you and Kathie Lee Gifford on the Today show and a mind-numbing, apocalyptic Facebook news feed to get through. Plus, most of us still have jobs and careers or at least dreams of such that suddenly fade away into the ether as soon as we begin gestating. And our spouses then understandably and deservedly lose their minds because suddenly they are being asked to be provider AND sister wife at home when all they can think about is how much they miss being able to say: Hey, I’m gonna go shoot some hoops after work before I come home.
I know you, like me, are sitting behind a veil of actually living in a way that is truly free as a modern mom. I know even though it's 2018 and even though there's a strong feminist message all around, you have co-opted unconsciously some rules about what it means to be of value. These rules include being a MILF, eating perfectly, denying sleep deprivation's true catastrophic effects, ignoring depression, and acting like your child's needs (special or otherwise) are completely manageable. I know you quietly let the ways you fail those rules seep into your daily self-talk. You're afraid to talk about it how much that self-talk bullies you, though, because in a world of Oprah and Brene Brown and all this freaking glossy wisdom, you give yourself a hard time because you still can't get there. You still can't feel better. You still can't feel powerful. You still can't have a positive self-image. You still end your nights in self-destruction mode, but you wake up and decide to fake it all the same. I'm here today to say that it's not your fault. The work of self-forgiveness is hard as hard gets. There's no book, no quote, no podcast, no TED talk that will get you there. Heck, even a good therapy session might not get there. First, we have to put proper blame in the container, release ourselves from co-opting whatever is oppressive in there, then we have to summon the strength to crawl out of the container, and then we have to find a way to live without it. This is hard. And it's supposed to be. Welcome to the jungle.
I am officially letting you and you and you and me off the hook. I am forgiving myself. Today and every day. This system is jerry-rigged for the total annihilation of female fierceness and I won’t participate. I have a lot of work to do on this front, as do you. It’s been 37 years of acquiring this language of self-flagellation and it’s going to take some time to peel it off my bones. I know you will be doing the same. And I can’t wait to watch you flail and to pick you up with laughter and ease when you need it.
See you here in May - the month of Mother’s Day and MommaStrong’s 6th anniversary - where I forgive myself.