Before I had children I had this image of myself as a mother. I’d be part June Cleaver and part Gloria Allred. I’d make sure my kids were well fed, well groomed, well mannered, and well prepared to make it in the world, and then I’d don my cape and mask and go out and save the world. But somewhere between baking cookies and stopping the bad guys my plan fell apart. Today my children are age 7 and 11 and I feel lucky when they leave the house wearing a jacket. I hate to admit it, but I’m no Super Mom. I’m not sure I ever even had a chance.
Before my children were born I read dozens of parenting books and talked to people who had children. The books were great, and my friends with kids were fantastic liars. All I ever heard was how beautiful and special it was to be a mom. How your heart is walking around outside of you. How you could never imagine living your life without your beautiful, precious children. I bought the story, hook, line and sinker. I put a down payment on the dream and couldn’t wait for my chance to be a Super Mom too.
I decided I was going to go the route of natural parenting. You know… natural homebirth with no painkiller, carry my child around on my hips for the first year, nurse it for 3 years, homeschool the little darling, teach it about organic gardening, and sleep with it cuddled up against me in my bed for as long as it wanted to stay there. That’s what was best for the child, and I wanted to do everything right.
But the reality of my sojourn to motherhood was so different from the dream. When my first child, Emily, was born, it was after a 36 hour Pitocin-induced labor. Yeah, I had a doula and we did some hypnobirthing which was fantastic, for the first 31 hours. After that I couldn’t stand the pain any longer and I asked my husband, Steve, to find an ax and put it in my head. I was done. When the epidural man got to my room, I offered to divorce my husband and marry him if he’d have me.
My plan to be a stay at home mom was put on hold. At the time that Emily was born, Steve and I were barely earning enough money to put food on the table. So instead of spending every waking moment with my darling baby, I went to work, and let my mother take care of my baby. I was sad. This wasn’t how I wanted it to be, but it’s what had to be done.
One by one all of my parenting dreams went out the window. Emily slept in a crib in her own room. It was the only way we could all get some decent sleep. I nursed her for 9 months and then she lost interest and self-weaned. She hated the sling and spent most of her time in her bouncy seat or play pen instead of in my arms. I never did plant a garden. I was a working mom and found it difficult to give my baby and my career the attention each needed in order to grow. So I did the best I could and never felt adequate to either task.
After three years, things were a little better financially, but we still weren’t in a position for me to stop bringing in my income. Then I got pregnant again. Although we had planned to have another child eventually, this little spirit came unexpectedly. He was a welcome surprise for sure. I had a difficult pregnancy though. I had pneumonia from month 3 to month 8. We all struggled to keep up with the demands of our life, careers, parenting and the challenges we were facing.
When Kyle was born (5 hour labor, phew) I decided I had a second chance to be Super Mom. We packed up our little family and moved to a new city, far from family and free childcare. We were earning enough money to live off of, but not enough to get ahead and buy our own home. Unfortunately, we moved to a rental home that had toxic mold and we all became very sick, including my sweet little 6 month old baby. Doctors told me he probably had cerebral palsy, and that he might never walk and certainly would never run or climb. I don’t think I ever cried so hard as the day the doctor told me that.
I was a mom on a mission then. I put my career on hold, working just 2 hours a day to maintain a small income. We got Kyle enrolled in the Nevada Early Intervention program which provides free therapy for children who are “damaged” physically or mentally. He had a physical therapist, a speech therapist, and a case worker who came by weekly to work with him. They gave me exercises to do with Kyle and I did them diligently for 3 hours every day. It was hard, and it was heart breaking believing that even with all the therapy he might never be “normal.” I kept at it though.
We moved to a new home without mold and we started to see massive improvement in his development. He didn’t walk until he was 22 months, and he couldn’t eat solid food until he was 16 months old. However, slowly and surely he eventually caught up. When he turned 3, the Nevada Early Intervention Program tested him and asked me to attend a meeting to hear the results on whether he would need further intervention once he entered the school system. I was surprised to find so many people at that meeting. Apparently, my son was the only child ever to “graduate” from the Early Intervention Program in Nevada and the counselors wanted to meet the mom who accomplished it. He was deemed caught up to his peers and would not need any further therapy. I was given a lot of credit for working so hard with Kyle, but I assumed it’s what any mother would have done.
As the years progressed we finally started to pull ahead financially. Steve and I both switched our careers to do something that was more aligned with our hearts and passions, and that’s when our income began to really soar. But it came with a price. We were not the hands-on parents we wanted to be, teaching our kids about life, the universe, and everything. We all ate dinner at different times, and the kids often made themselves toast or cereal while they waited for one of us to be available. Emily was often in charge of Kyle because neither Steve nor I were available, even though we were all in the same house. There were only rare trips to the park, dinners out, and trips taken.
I settled. I accepted that I didn’t have what it takes to be Super Mom. I was more Roseanne than June Cleaver. I worked a job I loved to put food on the table, and when I was with my kids I gave them my full attention… it just didn’t happen as often as I thought it should.
Today, Steve and I are separated, and I am living as a single mother with two kids. I thought working and raising two kids was hard before, but nothing prepared me for life as a single working mom. I now spend my time evenly between work and parenting. I have precious little time to date, but I do get out occasionally with friends. I love my career and I love my kids, and I’m still learning how to be a good parent.
But I’ve given up on the plan to be Super Mom. I’m just happy that my kids have food in their bellies, a roof over their heads, clean clothing to wear to school, and they sometimes shower without me having to prompt them to do so.
I don’t consider myself a great parent. I’ve known a few, and so I know I’m not even in their league. When I’m frustrated with my kids I yell. Sometimes I even cry. A few weekends ago I was recovering from tooth extraction surgery, where I also developed a nasty sinus infection. I could barely care for myself let alone my kids. The house was a mess and the kids were fighting horribly. I was at the end of a very short rope. I just sat on my bed and cried. Right in front of them. Kyle came over with a tissue and started catching my tears. Emily said, “Here Kyle, give me a tissue too. I’ll take the right cheek and you take the left.” And so I sat on the bed while my beautiful, compassionate children wiped tears from my cheeks.
Kyle gave me a hug and said, “Don’t worry, Mama. Everything is going to be alright.” I looked him in the eye and said, “You know what? Everything already IS alright. I love you guys so much.”
And so I’ve discovered that it’s not how many nights you ate dinner together at the table, how many performances and plays you managed to get to, or how many times you tucked your child into bed. I think, in the end, what matters most is that your children know they are loved unconditionally. My kids know I love them.
So maybe, just maybe, there is a sliver of Super Mom in me after all.