As of March 11, 2014, I have been a mother for a full decade.
“Mom” is the only job I’ve ever had at which I have felt successful. Unless you count being a student because I don’t count it. Now that I’ve been at this job for ten years, I figured I might as well offer up ten bullet points of interest on what I think makes me a successful parent. I am by no means an expert but I am a happy parent living with three amazing children. I must be doing something right.
1. I am a rock star super human being.
I have given birth, non-medicated, at home. Twice. Until home birthing, the most challenging physical feat I’d ever tackled involved surviving the mosh pit at one Lollapalooza or another. But five years ago, after giving birth in my bathtub, I decided that I am way stronger than I ever dreamed possible. And it was that home birth which inspired me to start running a few years ago. And now I work out nearly every day. I don’t do amazing things like push ups or chin ups or burpees. But I exercise. And I can run. And walk a mile with ankle weights and hand weights. I mean, I have endurance and strength that I never had as a child or as a teen. I am strong. I am powerful. I am wonder woman. And I’ll never tell myself that I cannot do something ever again like I did before I pulled those home birth stunts. It is my hopes that my children will see me challenging myself and never giving up… and that they will do that themselves.
2. I Treat Myself and Celebrate my Victories.
When I do something of which I am proud, I let people know about it. I talk about how proud I am of the workouts I accomplish. I tell people that I wrote a play and maybe I’m a little braggy about it. I lose 12 pounds, totally change my diet, and start working out regularly… you’re gonna hear about it (because I totally did). It is my opinion that our kids need to hear the positive inner dialogue we have running inside of our heads. I want my kids to hear the kind things I have to say about their mom. I grew up with a mother who never talked herself up at all. And I grew up never feeling very good about my mom or myself as a direct result. How can I expect my kids to have positive self-talk if they don’t know what that sounds like?
3. I cannot be selfish about important things and still be a good mom.
It’s okay for us moms to be selfish once in a while. It really is. You are tired and you have had a long day? Order that pizza, sister. You have your eyes on a new pair of Converse and you have a little birthday money set aside for them? Get yo Chucks on. The kids want to watch ahead of you in “30 Rock” while you are in the room? Send those brats packing if they can’t wait to Liz Lemon it up when you are free to do so with them. But ladies, once you have children, there is no excusing excessively selfish behavior. Smoking? Drinking regularly? Eating crap? Being lazy? Being abusive? Being useless? None of these things are ever acceptable but once you have been given the incredibly important assignment of raising kids, you need to step.it.up. If you are ashamed of who you are, chances are, so are your children. And they will be spending a lot of hours complaining about you in counseling years from now. As my pal Liz Lemon says, “Shut it down.” Shut down this nonsensical operation and get to turning yourself into the amazing mother you can and should be. Yes, I just mentioned Liz Lemon twice in this point. Because I’m awesome.
4. I cannot have it all at once and still be a successful mother.
For a while after my mother died, I spent a lot of time thinking that being a mom wasn’t enough. While breastfeeding and diaper changing are extremely important duties, the days can become dark when those duties are all one does for days, weeks, months, years on end. When my daughter was about 18 months old, I went a little crazy and decided to start an alternative to a mom’s group that I had been a part of. With a slight nudge from my husband, we’d turned what was supposed to be moms getting together to make art into a full-fledged non-profit arts organization. This was at a time before I’d learned to say no to him. Needless to say, that fell completely apart, nearly destroyed me, and was a total disaster. However, it did teach me one important thing: I will have to wait a while before I can have it all unless I want to be a totally crappy mom. So, now that my kids are all walking, talking, feeding themselves, and wiping their own bottoms (most of the time, ha) I am able to focus a few hours a week on things like exercising or needle felting or writing these extremely important blog articles for you to read. But it took about ten years of being a mother, and two promotions, for me to “earn” this free time. And man alive, have I earned it. So when I do spend some time working on things that are important to me, I don’t feel bad about it. Because I’ve put in the time. The vacation days have been stock piling. I’m going to start taking a few “personal” days here and there.
5. I will screw up. A lot.
I have made mistakes. I have spanked one of my children once. I have threatened a spank. Threatened grounding. Gotten super mad because a child wouldn’t let me try to pop a white head on her face. I have made idiotic moves in my marriage. I have carried resentments. I have refused to forgive. I’ve been anything but Christ-like at times. But you know what? None of us are perfect. And the fact that I can admit my faults and try to do better, means I’m doing alright I guess.
6. I must be willing to bend my own rules and make exceptions.
My husband and I don’t have a lot of rules in our home. We are pretty liberal, open-minded parents. We let our kids watch tv shows that, “No one should be watching” (yes, I heard that from a friend’s child about a specific show recently). But we are pretty strict when it comes to certain food matters. We are particularly strict about food additives such as dyes, preservatives, etc. However, occasionally, we bend or entirely break that rule because we place an emphasis on fun and experience in our family. Having a bag of Skittles in the afternoon at home isn’t exactly a special experience, in my book. Attending a circus for the first time and enjoying some of the cotton candy is though. Buying some cheaply decorated cake with artificial color for a birthday isn’t a unique or remarkable opportunity. Visiting Honeydukes at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and buying your very own container of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans is totally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and will produce a great deal of fun memories. See the difference? So, while we have a rule about food, we also break that rule when the experience it could offer far outweighs any potential harm it might do to our children. I hope they will carry this mindset with them into adulthood.
7. It’s less about being perfect and more about how I respond to the mistakes I make.
I have to apologize to my kids at least once a week. Maybe I should do it more often? I have a hard time telling when I’ve said or done the wrong thing. But there are times when I’ll get this gnawing feeling in my stomach that tells me I’ve been a real pain in the rear. I guess that’s called guilt. So I will acknowledge that what I did or said was wrong and ask for forgiveness. From my children. For some reason, so many parents don’t see it as necessary or even appropriate to tell your kids that you are sorry. To me, it’s essential. Without my ability to apologize, I’d be less of a mother. Without it, my kids and I would have a relationship driven by fear rather than one based upon love and mutual respect.
8. Be funny.
Today my daughter was trying to watch something on her tablet (with headphones) and the other, MALE, people in the room were being noisy. She said, “Hey guys, I’m trying to watch something. Could you be a little quieter? Well, not you, Mom. You aren’t making noise. I said, “I could start.” I began slamming my fist into the table, making whooping noises. A reference to the time that Kramer was trying to get Joe DiMaggio’s attention at Monk’s. She giggled, then guffawed. “Mom, you so funny” she said in her laughter. Maybe it’s true that I am funnier than most folks. But I believe that’s not because I have a natural talent for comedy (Oh how I wish that I did… maybe I do? Maybe?) and it’s more about the fact that I have very little filter. Nothing embarrasses me (nothing except when mean people call me out on my lack of social skills over the phone, at church… yes this stuff happens to me). My kids tell me that I’m the funniest person they know. I’m told DAILY that I’m soooooo funny. I keep them laughing. They keep me laughing. And when you are laughing, there’s not a lot of room left for arguing or crying or rude words. So I’ll keep being the big clown who acts out inappropriately and who isn’t afraid of a little, or a lot, of bathroom humor. Because it’s fun. And who doesn’t want a fun mom?
9. Share your experiences.
For my 36th birthday, I treated myself to two second row tickets to a Cyndi Lauper concert. And I took my 7 year old daughter as a date. I don’t think she enjoyed herself, to be honest. She was fighting an infection at the time. But I don’t regret taking her for a second. One day she’ll be able to say that her first concert experience was with her mom and she’ll remember the songs (she really will, she has them all memorized) and she’ll remember the drunk lady beside her. She’ll remember sharing that with me. How happy I was. How special it felt.
Recently my son became obsessed with this graphic novel series, “Amulet”. He talked about them and talked about them. Finally he asked me and his sister to read them. His sister started them. Now I’ve started them. It makes him so happy to share this passion with us. I am happy to oblige by taking the time to read them.
A few weeks ago we took a trip to Orlando, Florida. Our family had an opportunity to visit Universal Studios. We were especially excited about the Simpsons area of the park. Enjoying lunch while sitting in front of a Jedediah Springfield statue while singing along to “Do the Bartman” with my fellow Simpsons fan kiddos was something I will remember for the rest of my life, fondly. It was a precious moment to just stop, take it in, capture a mental photograph, and think to myself how wonderful it was to be sharing such a magical moment with them.
10. Scary stuff will happen. Try to keep it together. And use it.
All of my kids have had surgery. One of my kids has had cancer. My marriage has nearly ended. I’ve battled postpartum “crazy as all heck”. The past few years have not been a picnic in the park. But I’ve learned that I’m stronger, not only physically, but emotionally too. I can make a comeback. I have endured so much heartache that at times I thought I would literally die from the pain. However, I have managed to recover from the heartache and use it. I’ve used it to fuel writing. I wrote an entire one act play about my family’s experience with cancer. Most importantly, I’ve used these experiences to change my perspective. I can see so much more clearly now. Colors are brighter. I appreciate life so much more. I don’t take for granted that I’ll always be here. So I work. Hard. As if today was going to be my last day on this planet. I am so thankful to have my entire family, well, and under one roof. If we’d not been through so much, I’d not be able to appreciate it the way that I do. For this ability, I am thankful.
It is my wish that you can learn from my experiences as a parent. Maybe you can take something away from this article. Something that will be game-changing. However, I realize that most of us have to learn for ourselves. And that until you wake up one day and realize that you’ve been doing this parenting thing for ten years and perhaps you should reflect upon this milestone in a sentimental manner, you probably won’t even realize that you are already your own parenting expert.