It has been 2 years since I wrote this post, and 3 since the death of my mom. There is something about the anniversary of life changing events that brings about reflection. I have tried, each year, to carve out time for myself to really stop and consider how all of this has changed me. And today, I wanted to share my thoughts with all of you, whom I have shared so much of my parenting journey with thus far. I am posting again anonymously, though many of you will probably know who I am if you have followed Hellobee for a while.
Time is strange…my mom’s sudden death seems simultaneously like it happened yesterday and a million years ago. My life has changed in so many ways since then; my daughter was not yet born, and my son was practically a baby himself. Now we are leaving the toddler years behind, and my oldest will be starting Kindergarten next fall. We have been through chronic health challenges, a million ear infections, surgeries, and a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder and possibly other things as well with my son. I have gone back to work, tried again to stay at home, and went back to work again. We built a new home, moved to a new town, and have gone through the process of becoming a licensed foster family. And through all of that, it is so hard to believe that there is this big gaping hole that will forever exist in the memories of my children where their grandmother should be. My mom constantly talked about how fun my son would be when he was 3 (that was her favorite age when my brother and I were kids) and as that year came and went for my son and my daughter approaches that precious age herself, it is another reminder of what our family has lost. Sometimes my son will see a picture of his grandma, and will ask who she is, because he was too young when she died to have any lasting memories of her. It catches me by surprise every time.
And while the death of my mom is tragic, equally tragic for me is the loss of ever getting to have a supportive loving parent. It wasn’t really until I was in therapy that I gained the courage to look at my past and mourn the loss of the childhood I should have had, and of the family life that I should have had, but didn’t. My mom loved me the best way she knew how, but that came with serious limitations. My mom’s best was not always enough.
Perhaps because of this, as a person who constantly strives for excellence and perfection in every area of my life, I constantly find myself doubting my decisions and abilities as a mom. This is especially difficult when my child’s special needs sometimes manifest as out of control behaviors that are often condemned in our society as a lack of sufficient parenting. I live in a state of feeling constantly judged as not being good enough. This is also something I have talked about in therapy, and my therapist shared a term that I really love: “good enough parenting.” I love this concept…that perfection is not required of us as parents. That it is okay to just be “enough” for our kids. But still…in the back of my mind I always go back to the fact that my mom did her best, and it wasn’t enough. What if my best isn’t enough either.
So today I am sitting here, wrestling with these conflicting ideas in my head. What does it mean to be a “good enough” parent. What does that look like? How do I know if I am good enough? Can we really know before our children are grown? Is there even one definition of what “good enough” really is?
I don’t know the answers, but for me I think it helps to really lay out what it is that being “good enough” looks like for me:
- My children have a mother who is capable of self reflection and course correction. The simple fact that I am able to sit here and consider whether or not I am doing enough is in itself a sign that I am. I am able to see my imperfections and take steps to improve. I am able to prioritize self care so that my children are able to have a mom who takes care of herself.
- My children know they are unconditionally loved. My children know I am there for them, always. In the midst of even the most overwhelming tantrum, my son knows he is safe in my arms and will immediately collapse into a hug. When I yell, I apologize, and my children are learning that it is okay to mess up but it is also okay to say you are sorry.
- My children are safe, fed, and have opportunities to play, learn, and grow. My house is not always perfectly clean, the laundry is often in a pile on the floor, and there are always more dishes to do…but our basic needs are always met. My children have the security they need to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
- My children are kind to others and have a spirit of generosity. It is okay if I am not always in a perfectly cheerful mood. Overall, my children have parents who model kindness and generosity for others, and we see this often in their interactions with others. Of course they still have selfish moments…don’t we all? But overall they have such kind hearts.
I am not a perfect parent. My children misbehave. Sometimes they watch too much TV or eat too much sugar. They whine and throw tantrums (and to be honest, sometimes so do I). They were also not fully formed adults from birth, and I need to remember that the tantrums and misbehavior are my opportunities to teach, not an indication that I am not good enough. I think as parents we are often harder on ourselves than is really warranted. And if I am being honest, society is far harder on us than is warranted as well. I think taking time to clearly define what success as a parent really means to me helps to clarify all of the ways I really am good enough for my babies. And I am willing to bet that if you are reading this today, you are more than a good enough parent too.