Every night, I look at myself in the mirror and promise that I’m going to be a better mother. A calmer one. A happy one. I’m going to tune in more and tune out less. I’ll hold them close and treasure every single moment. I will be better than I was today.
Every morning, I fail miserably. The fights and discord, so common among siblings, begin before my eyes are even open. I am not the strong and capable woman of the night before. That woman went to sleep and woke up changed.
In the morning, I am softer, as vulnerable as I will ever be, and filled with wants and wishes and grief so often unspoken. I am the most fragile version of myself, and I break beneath the clash of sounds. The morning quiet falls apart to an argument or scream, the dog pipes up with sharp barks, and sleep leaves me alone in the darkness.
I try to bring calm to the chaos, but no one is listening. My trigger is tapped, and I am a child whose voice is meaningless. I speak louder, and my words are lost to the noise around me. I am both there and here, lost in screams that I can do little but join. I raise my voice, and it finally gets their attention.
They get quiet, but I am so angry at myself for failing again. I am a cycle breaker, but in the morning, I am trapped in the cycle. In the morning, I am not strong enough to break it.
I will go through the day with that feeling of failure sitting heavy on my shoulders. I’ll carry it, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t color other interactions. I am not the mother I should be, and it feels as if my best will never be good enough.
I know that’s the PMDD talking — the premenstrual dysphoric disorder that plummets my mood into darkness and eradiates hope. I remind myself that their neurodivergence, my single-parent status, and my neuro-endocrine disorder are factors that should be considered. I
remind myself that it’s not every single day even though it often feels that way. I reach for perspective, but I am heavy with disappointment. I told myself that I would do better, and I let myself down again.
I try to count instead all the things I get right. There are many. Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that I’m failing more than I’m succeeding, and time is slipping by.
I know I’m not the only parent that feels this way, but it can still be an isolating experience. Parenting is easily the most difficult role I’ve ever undertaken. There are plenty of books out there on parenting, and yet none of us know what we’re doing until we’re actually doing it.
And frankly, most of us still have no idea. We’re just winging it. To make matters worse, we’re surrounded by images of picture-perfect families. We can forget that a picture may be worth a thousand words but can hide just as many secrets.
If you came here to find out how to be a better parent, you might have come to the wrong place — but here are some things that help:
Despite it all, despite every failure, I keep trying. We can’t just give up because it’s hard. I wake up every day and try to be a little better than I was the day before. I try to be the mother that they need, the one I need myself to be. We aren’t striving for perfection — because we will surely fail if we do — but we are trying to be better than we were.
There are days I feel like giving up, but I know I can’t. My children need me, and I need to teach them how to grow into people who keep trying even when it’s hard. I need to teach them what I’m trying to teach myself — that our best is always good enough.
Because I fail often, I apologize often. I take responsibility for my poor choices the way I hope they’ll learn to do. I am accountable for my behavior, and I do what I can to make it right. Taking responsibility isn’t just about teaching them to do the right thing. It’s also about doing what’s right because our children deserve parents who realize that their feelings and experiences matter, too.
Part of taking responsibility involves learning ways to do better. I try not to keep repeating and apologizing for the same mistakes. I do my best to learn from them.
Ask For Help
For a long time, I did my best to handle this alone. It didn’t work. Nothing did. So, I started asking for help. I accessed services for their autism and scheduled regular therapy appointments. I made sure they have the support they need at school.
I also started asking for help myself. I started seeing a therapist. I began to see a team of professionals to ask for help treating my endocrine disorder. I booked my sitter more often to give me necessary breaks, and I spent a lot of time reading the work of parenting expert L. R. Knost.
It doesn’t make us stronger to do it alone. In fact, it likely weakens us right when we need our strength. Asking for help is working smarter, not harder. It’s being resourceful in the face of life’s challenges. It also shows our children that we don’t have to do everything alone. We can lean on a wider network of support.
My children need me to be happy. They need to see it modeled for themselves, but they also need it so I’m capable of being the mother they need. Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s not an optional thing we should do if we can find the time. It’s important to make self-care a priority every single day. We cannot take good care of them if we can’t even take care of ourselves.
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Because I have a disorder that makes my life challenging, I have to be more proactive about self-care. I do what I can to take good care of myself so that I’m not taking my pain and frustration out on the people who live with me. I try to shape a life that involves regular self-care practice and encourage my children to do the same.
I don’t do this part well. I’m trying. I’m trying to make space for the fact that I’ve never been a single parent of children this exact age before. Every year is a learning curve, and I keep trying.
I’m breaking cycles and trying to be a gentle parent. I realize that we all have challenges, and I remind myself that we are utilizing every possible resource available. When I feel like I’m failing, I try to remind myself instead that I’m trying. That’s not failure. That’s how we learn.
I keep promising myself I’ll be a better parent tomorrow, but really, I’m trying to be one right now. I mess up, and then I try again. I keep trying, no matter how many times I feel like I’m failing. I know already that I won’t wake up one morning a perfect parent. I’d like to at least wake up with the morning quiet and feel like I’m a good one. I’d like to remember that I’m doing my best — and my best is always good enough.
Crystal Jackson is a former family therapist who writes across genres to encompass blog posts, poetry, short stories, children’s books, and literary fiction.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.