Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sometimes I'm a Really Crappy Mom

Pin It Today was one of those days. I was not in a good mood. I'm in an even worse mood now, thinking about how it went. I'm all melancholy. I would play sad songs on my IPOD if I could find it.

The blog world is full of posts that are such wonderful, loving, inspirational examples of parenting. I love those posts. They make me cry and they fill me with resolve to be a
better mother, to be THAT kind of mother. And blog world or no, there are a lot of days when I am so full of love for my children that I think I'm going to explode.

But then there are those other days, when I'm filled to the brim with irritation, and every other word out of my mouth is snappish. Days when I'm living in my head, planning something or thinking about something or rehashing something, and my children's interactions with me feel like an intrusion, like an interruption. There are days when I just want them to leave me alone.

Today my son had to repeat himself four times because even though I was looking at him and saying "What?!" - I still wasn't really listening. I was just nodding, vacantly, thinking about other things. He was frustrated with me, rightfully so. It happens far too often. And I wonder if it makes him feel insignificant, if it makes him feel ignored. Because that's what I'm doing. I'm ignoring the hum of noise and activity around me - zoning it out and retreating into myself, into my thoughts.

Abby said, "Mom, could you read me a story?" She was hopeful. "Maybe later," I said, and I knew I probably wouldn't, at least not today. She wandered off and later on, I pretended not to notice that she was sorting through a pile of books, trying to sound out words on her own. (Mother of the freaking year, I am.)

Sarah said in the sweetest, politest tone possible (because that's how she is), "Mommy, may you please do Mad Libs with me?" and for no reason at all I snapped, "Not right now." Without even thinking about it. Without even really considering it. I just didn't want to be bothered. Later, at bedtime she said wistfully, "I wish we would have had time to do Mad Libs," and she wasn't accusatory, but sad. And I felt like crap.

I got really mad at my son at bedtime and I yelled at him, REALLY yelled at him, over nothing. I sent him to his room and heard him crying pitifully and so I went after him. I crawled up on his bed with him and laid down next to him, and told him I was sorry, and that I loved him, and luckily he has a very forgiving heart, because he wrapped his arms around my neck and hugged me. He cried a little more and told me through his tears, "You hurt my feewings vewy much mom." I stayed there with him until he fell asleep, still hugging me, and berated myself for being such a giant turd.

I could probably make plenty of somewhat reasonable sounding excuses - it's not a big deal, everyone does that now and then, but I wonder if that's a cop-out. How many days of loving attention counteract how many days of benign neglect and irritation? How many days of parental emotional self indulgence = children who remember you as, primarily, an inattentive shrew? I don't have a lot of confidence in that kind of math.

I read a post tonight, a poem that wonderful
Emily wrote for her mother. It starts like this:
You are my giving tree;
And I am the greedy—needy—little boy.
You give your shade, your fruit,
Bark, wood, stump,
So willingly.
And I take.

(Go read the whole thing
here - wipe off your mascara first.)

Later she talks about finding comfort and solace in her relationship with her mother. And THAT's the kind of mom I want to be. Not a stomping around, selfish, self involved harpy mother. A soft landing place. But you don't just get that spot because of biology. You earn it. I do have a lot of good days as a mom, days when I read to them and take them to the park and sing with them and play with them and talk to them. But I have what feels like a lot of bad days too. If I'm a good mom 60% of the time, and a calm but inattentive zombie 30% of the time and a really bad mom 10% of the time - what am I earning? Do I want to take the risk that they remember only the good stuff?

Every day I'm shaping their memory of me. I'm shaping our future relationship. Every single day. With every single action.

We are so screwed.


  1. Anonymous4:45 AM

    I had the same day yesterday. Same thoughts.

    When they were babies, I would say, "I don't want to have any regrets."
    Now, I just try to guess what the accusations will be one day and brace for them.

    Overall, my kids are happy, and I love being their Mommy. They are terribly forgiving and determined to love, and I am determined to understand and be understood. But then there are the days like yesterday, when I wonder, like you, what will they remember about us when they are grown?

    What we moms need is a lot of... GRACE!!

  2. We all have those days. I find that mine are directly correlated to how much time I spend on the laptop, so I try to make myself leave it in another room. Not easy for a PC addict.

  3. Who the heck is that Emily chick? Can she come live at my house and appreciate me instead?

    I recognize all those feelings. I have them less now than I used to, and I'm trying to decide whether it's because I've lowered my standards or because I've gotten better at paying attention to my kids.

    Lowered my standards. But it's a good thing. The more attention you pay, the more they want. That sounds mean, but it really isn't. It's not fair to promise more than you can deliver. (There! Feel guilty about that!) Now I sort of have a checklist in my mind: read to 5-year-old, 15 minutes, morning and afternoon; pay attention to what 10-year-old is babbling about airplanes, twice a day; smile at very charming 7-year-old, 3 times a day; ignore 14-year-old completely; remind 16-year-old that I am still his mother, once a day....

    I forgot one, didn't I? Oh, the 2-year-old - she gets plenty of attention, but I make sure to squeeze and cuddle her twice a day (truly, I was forgetting!).

    When I start feeling guilty, I run over the checklist, make sure I've attended to that particular child already, and then say, "Not right now," with a clear conscience.

    I sound like a nut. But it gets me off that good mom/bad mom rollercoaster I used to be on so much of the time.

    Try it! Make a list of the basics, make sure you accomplish that, and that's a good, easily achievable day. Then, any day you do more than the basics, is an excellent day. But, see? No more bad days. Not in the equation.

    Well, hardly any more bad days. Life isn't perfect, you know.

    And I can't even imagine how my kids view me. I try to see it, but I can't.

  4. My ratio is more like 30/40/30..HA So don't feel so bad!!!!

    I think we all have lots of days like least thats what I tell myself to feel better. If I thought there were those June Cleavers out there being a great mom 100% of the time, I think I would shoot myself. :))

    Great post!

  5. Me too.
    I shoulda wiped off my mascara before reading this post!
    I'm sorry.....I tell myself, "At least I'm doing better than Britney."

  6. Oh Sue ... I am right there with you. I could have easily written this post. It makes me want to cry, the truth of it all. But ... I have two 15 year old daughters and I often look to them - the older ones - to affirm that I am doing a good job. I am not the best mom - but, I often realize, when I look at them (because 15 years can certainly show proof of something) - that I have done so much good, when I see how loving they (all my children) are to others (teachers, family, friends), when I see how successful they are, when I see how determined they are, when I see how certain they are, when I see how hard they work ... I have often said that some of my problem is what you describe, being in constant motion and not sometimes having time for the kids and becoming irritable, etc... But, I have began to realize that this is not necessarily always a bad thing, as there are lessons in every moment. It teaches children independence, it teaches patience, it teaches them that they can't have everything they want at any moment they want it - it teaches them that a mother in motion is a good thing - it teaches them about life. I am probably making some excuses - because I too feel much guilt - I need to work on my 10% as well - maybe 20% in my case.

    Thank you for this very thought provoking post - I needed it - I appreciate it. Take care.

  7. Hi Sue, I've read your blog a few times, but I don't think I've commented. I'm a good friend of that Emily chick. (She's so great!) I'm not a mom yet, but I am a step-mom (if only part-time right now). And even in my few months of parenthood, I have had some days like this. I think every mom does, even Emily's once upon a time. :-) But here's the great thing... kids seem to forget them. I'm sure my mom had some crazy days too but I don't remember them. And I think that as long as we are aware (and you certainly are) and keep trying to do better, and as long as the good days outweigh the bad, your kids will be ok. If only we were all so forgiving.

  8. You are NOT screwed.
    You had a bad day.
    Today will be better.

  9. Anonymous7:18 AM

    Oh, Take a page right out of my, why don't you!... (crying)

  10. I think one of the biggest lessons I am learning through motherhood is how to be a failure.

    I think it is all about saying were sorry and accepting forgiveness and living with hope. Those bad days are the corrective that makes our hearts more tender. I learn my limitations and try to structure my life to deal with them, and do lots of late night cuddles after exasperating days. Sounds like you did just fine.

  11. Blogger just ate my comment. Crap.

    I think what I said was, oh, hon, every mom has days like this. It's TRUE. We all do.

    You're being pretty rough on yourself. I think like Blackbird said, today will be better.

    You love your kids and they know this.

  12. Really, Sue? Just realizing that you wanted it to be different makes you a better mom, who will do it better the next day. Maybe only a little smidge better, but you will! Because you want to.

  13. I never understood why my mom hated Mother's Day until I became a Mom: Guilt. And I think she was a great mom. I'm hoping my children will forgive and forget like I must have.

    One thing I've started doing is giving myself a time-out. I first did it after I totally inappropriately blew up at my son. I said I had made a mistake, that I was sorry, and I needed time-out. He totally got it, and loved it! Now if I blow it, he'll say "Mom, do you need a time-out?" and I usually do!

  14. Maybe it was in the air, because I had the same kind of day yesterday. I yelled for no reason, which got me in a cycle of yelling for no reason, and so our day went. I could see their little spirits change every time, and it kills me. I also thought, I hope they only remember the good things and not this meany I am too much of the time. But even if their memories are okay, what if I have altered their personalities & spirits because of how I treat them and they are different people than they could have been. I don't know if that makes sense. I do know I am going to be a better mom today. Thanks for the post.

  15. To echo popular sentiment: We all have days like this. Realizing that it's not a good thing is 80% of the battle, because it gives us the fortitude to make changes and do better next time.

    Your children forgave you. The best thing you can do is forgive yourself. Trying to carry around all that guilt just makes you heavy and unable to live in the now.

  16. Darn, Blogger ate my comment too!

    Oh Sue, I feel for you. I've been there and I know how bad it feels. But if you were really a bad mother, you wouldn't care. Hugs.

  17. Ditto! To everything! Anyday I don't snap at my kids is the best day in the world!

  18. I find posts like this one far more inspiring and helpful than the examples of exemplary mothers. Those make me sniffly and make me want to be better, yes. But posts like this one help me feel like I'm not awful or alone or any of that. The struggles I have are common struggles, part of what the growing process that is motherhood -is-. And that gives me hope that I'm not fundamentally flawed, and I can learn and grow and be a better mom. I think you'll get a lot of comments on this post, full of sympathy and shouts of "me too! me too!" Thanks for giving us the opportunity to see we're not alone. We need that. Desperately. It's why many of blog.

  19. Anonymous10:00 AM

    We're all crappy moms once in a while. Sometimes I yell at my kid and (gasp!) sometimes I even ignore him. Yet he still loves me in spite of my ineptitude.

  20. I like to think that as humans we are bound to screw them up, but God in His graciousness will also send other people who can fix them up.

  21. I am so-o relived I am not the only mom that has crappy days and guilt-ridden nights!

    Thanks for posting this!

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. That was just one day. Today will be better because you will make it so. Don't beat yourself up any more -- go hug those children.

  24. I started writing this same post yesterday. I had one really, really crappy day a few days ago, wherein I ended up standing in front of the mirror, saying to myself, "You Suck!" and watching the tears well in my eyes. Not only do I suck, but I'm also a self-indulgent, narcissistic brat. I'm hoping that the suckiness is partly having to do with small children and the perils of trying to communicate with and take care of them while retaining your identity. But I don't know. This is as far as I've ever been.

  25. Um, sweetheart? You Are Human.

    Now, here's a hint from my book - and Shortman hasn't up and moved out yet, so I figured I'm doing something right....we've made it through 16 years so far.

    Tell them you're sorry, that sometimes Mom's get tired and cranky just like kids do.

    Then stop beating yourself up over it.

  26. I was a bad mom yesterday too. My two-year-old wouldn't stop opening the shower curtain when I was showering, getting the floor all wet, so I picked him up and put him in the shower with me. He stood there a minute, getting wet, and then climbed out and cried until I got out of the shower. And he has a cold.

    I don't think the guilt associated with being a mom is avoidable. All we can do is try to be a better mom today than we were yesterday. Sigh.

  27. Anonymous12:51 PM

    Oh how often I have days like that - and I am left wondering - what is wrong with me that I can't seem to get beyond my selfishness that turns to meanness - and I hope, I pray, I trust, that God is big enough to fix whatever I've screwed up in their lives. I know He did that for me, so surely He'll do it for them.

  28. Well, the fact that you think about that makes you a good mother. Because I think that the truly "bad moms" are the ones who DON'T second guess themselves, who DON'T think that maybe they crossed the line a little. Every mother has bad days. We just get the guilt to go along with it.

  29. Okay- you are awesome! And I could have written this post (well not that good stuff at the end...just the 'bad mommy' stuff) It is somewhat comforting to know that I am not the only mom that makes mistakes.. but I think the key is saying sorry- and resolving to be better. It doesn't serve our children to be perfect and 'on' all of the time... they also have to know that there are 'bad mommy' days, too! Overall - I am sure you are a great mother- and the fact that you are worrying about it- proves that! I am so glad I am not alone. It is hard.. and some days I feel sooo... guilty I just want to dissapear...

  30. I love what b. said, "I'm doing better than Brittany" that is the best...poor girl!

  31. Hey Sue. Like everyone else who has commented here - I can relate. When you said he was asking you something and you were looking at him and saying 'what?' but not hearing?? I do this all the time, it has almost become a joke with my kids - they'll say, "mom is zoning out again." Sad but true.

    Give yourself a break. It seems like us moms (& our families) expect us to be super-human. We are just people afterall and there is no one looking out for our every need like we are doing for our families. We have times when we are just on overload and need some 'down-time'. Where to find it is the question. In the past, I would always say I didn't have time to take time for myself. I couldn't imagine just taking off and getting away for even a couple hours, but when I started FORCING myself to just get my purse and walk to the car....then I realized it wasn't so hard. Their world did not come crashing down and they actually enjoyed the time w/o my crabby attitude.

    The overwhelming feeling of being a mother are more normal than people admit, I think. For me, periodic breaks are a necessity or I am NOT a good mother at all. It just took me a long time to realize that it's okay for my kids to know that I am a human that needs a break too.

    Sorry so long, but this topic touches my heart - very tough part of being a mom for me.

    Hang in there, Sue. They will remember all the good stuff you do, no doubt.

  32. I feel that same way a lot. Today a little even. I think it will all come out right in the end, though. I've been a little awful to Aidan today and he to me, but I know we're good because even though I was being awful to him he still wanted me and not his daddy when something went wrong. I think we need to have a little more faith in our children and their ability to forgive and understand us. They are closer to God than we are, afterall.

  33. realizing you're human is humbling. But that's life and you chalk it up to experience.

    I read Emily's awesome post yesterday too and she's so right. Now that I'm grown I don't remember any of the times where my mother wasn't mother of the year, because in my mind she's perfect. I say as long as you try your best and your kids still love you you're doing good. And to echo B. at least you're doing better than Britney.

  34. Thank you for this post.
    I was wondering if you have ever felt that blogging about being a mom ever got in the way of just being a mom?
    Sometimes I feel like my wanting to write about my experiences is getting in the way of ... having the experiences. But writing is not completely effortless for me like it is for so many bloggers.
    I compromise by writing anyway, because I do enjoy it, but not spending as much time on it as I would like for it to be as good as it could be. A perfectionist I am not.

    I was just curious, since your posts are so well-written and engaging (I haven't read you very long, but you're obviously well-loved) if you felt like the effort you put into your writing ever seems to get in the way of the effort you put into parenting. This post is, really, what every mother experiences on some level, I know. Thank you again.

    (And so sorry for droning.)

  35. CRY! I've so been in your shoes several times and I wonder how other people manage to be sane, calm, rational, reasonable, loving, giving, mothers... Or maybe those mothers don't exist and they're just not as open with the realities of some of the day to day STUFF. Either way HUGS, you're not alone!

  36. "Every day I'm shaping their memory of me. I'm shaping our future relationship. Every single day. With every single action."

    Holy crap.

    If you live under that kind of constant pressure, you are going to snap, and your kids' memory of you will be a view through a tiny window into a padded cell.

    Lighten up :).

  37. You guys - thank you so much for all of these comments. It means so much to me, truly. You are all so compassionate and kind and REAL.

    Sandy, you are right in a way of course, but also - that's the whole problem. Most of the time I think I don't take it seriously enough. I just let things slide, let things go, allow myself the latitude to be as honery as I want to, just because. Because I'm the mom and I can. Behavior I wouldn't tolerate in my kids, I tolerate in myself. And I shrug it off, "I'm doing my best." But a lot of times I'm really not. A LOT of times.

    I'm really not one of those high stress parents who helicopters around their child, but the reverse is bad too. I also don't want to expect to little from myself either - give myself an excuse for not really trying. And do I want to stay the same, or become someone better? If I'm not a patient person in general, does that excuse me from trying to become one? Does that even make sense? I'm tired, so I'm not sure if I'm making a whole lot of sense.

  38. Oh, wow. I so appreciate your words today. I'm not going to try and make you feel better - I'll just tell you that I understand. And that you made me cry.

  39. I'm not gonna lie. This post left me sobbing. Especially the part about Abby sounding out the own words in her book.
    I think I was sobbing because I can relate to this post so well. I also suck at parenting about 40% of the time.
    But I'll tell you this much--the fact alone that you're worried about this PROVES that you're not a sucky mom. Sucky moms never realize that they stink...let alone worry about it.
    You're thinking about your you're a good mom.
    And so am I.

  40. It was the Mad Libs line that got me. Ouch.

    But still. I don't think that every single action counts, that what we're aiming for is total availability. If we really were perfect mothers, it wouldn't be good for our kids, because we don't have perfect kids. Sometimes the shared selfishness balances out, has instructive value.

  41. Military Spouse - Thank you for the compliments. Writing posts takes no time at all, it's the commenting that kills me. I only write posts at night, but I get the urge to blogsurf and comment all the time, and I need to get better at only doing that when the kids are sleeping. I'm working on it.

    You know, I don't know why everyone who stops by here is so kind to me, I am a huge twit most of the time. But I am so grateful for it. I know I just said this, but really, thank you. You all have such huge hearts.

  42. Bub and Pie, welcome. You are right, we can't be totally available doormats. That isn't healthy either and I think kids need alone time in order to learn to play and to learn to use their imaginations. I don't want to raise a kid who needs to be entertained all the time. I just don't know where to put the line. I don't know how to recognize when what I've done is enough. What is a healthy amount of mommy/kid time? When am I drawing a good boundary and when am I just being selfish and lazy?

    My mother and I have really struggled with our relationship until recently, and maybe it's because I know how harshly I judged my own mother that I am worried about how harshly they will judge me.

  43. Anonymous6:59 PM

    Sue, dear, it is amazing to me that with all the stress, uncertainty, and pressure you are under right now that you are not a TOTAL BASKET CASE ALL of the time. Instead, you are a caring, loving mom trying to do your best for your familY, with the love and humility to realize that sometimes your children want a little more than you are able to give at the moment. Your good mothering is reflected in your children, who are amazing and wonderful but not perfect yet. You have given your second daughter a love of reading and enough skills that at preschool-age she is actually able to sit down and figure words out for herself, hardly something to feel guilty about!! Mothering is both a blessing and a trial. You are doing a great job.

  44. I thought that alot when the kids were little, that I was not doing my best. But somehow, you know what? Just like me, the kids remember the best parts. Not me yelling, not the messy house, but the fun, the joys, the things we loved to do. If my memories have faded into sunshine edged summer days filled with laughter, so have theirs.

  45. I tried to comment earlier, but got some error message. That comment was better, but I will still say this: I think you are a great mom. Your kids think you are a great mom. They adore you. That's why they want to play with you. You are allowed to have a bad day- or twenty. Or a hundred. Especially if you let them have ice cream or something.

  46. Thank you for this post. I know I struggle with this, as well. The one thing I do is tell my kids that I am sorry, I am human and I make mistakes too. Doesn't mean I don't love them, because I do. I tell myself it gets them ready for 'real life', as people aren't always pleasant and understanding and teaches them how to forgive those that they love. Rationalizing, I know :)

  47. When I'm being short tempered and not patient and all of those things I hate, I try to take the next day to do sweet things with my kids. I read a couple of chapters from a book called Stop Worrying and Start Living. The best part I read focused not on the mistake itself, but on how to fix that mistake. So now when I'm feeling down on myself I try to move forward. It's helped me not to dwell on my negs so much.

    As for your kids, they'll love you no matter what. My mom lived a stressful, unhappy life and didn't really seem to like me (ugh, that sounds worse than it is). I always knew she loved me though, and now as an adult I understand exactly what a little stress will do to a mom. Bottom line, if you love them - and you do, they know it.

  48. "You are being mean to me" is what I have heard several times over the past week. Sometimes I just blow it off and then other times it breaks me heart. I know we all have our days and moments. I just hate it when it has been one of those days and I go to bed feeling so crappy about my mother skills. It is really hard for me to find the balance.
    I think you are a great mom who does know how to find that balance. I think on "those" kind of days we all just need a hug to remind us that it will be okay. It is a good thing that children are so forgiving.

  49. Anonymous6:43 PM

    Here's the thing, I think it's good for kids to grow up knowing everything isn't unicorns and rainbows.

    Not only that, I also believe hearing the words, "I'm sorry" from an adult--particularly a parent--is a pretty powerful learning experience.

    I read something wonderful from Patricia Holland (at least I think it was her) regarding using the blessings of the atonement to heal our families. I have a lot of hope riding on that. I ask for it on a regular basis.

  50. Dude. I think this every single day of my life. I do things like this every single day of my life. I am routinely ashamed of myself and alternately, I realize that I am a hypocrite in all things. I'm already on anti-depressants and in therapy.

    There is no hope for my children.

    But oddly enough, it was good to read that I'm not alone.

  51. Anonymous7:51 AM

    I have an 18 year old son in college and working part-time while living at home and sponging off his parents. I have a 16 year old daughter who is wonderful most of the time but very opinionated. And then there is the princess, 9 year old who is the peacemaker in the family. Yesterday morning was one of my Jekyl and Hyde days. I went to the gym at 4:30AM, which is supposed to relieve stress, but who is stressed before the family is up? Got home to find that my daughter was running behind. I was talking to her about her driving to which of course she responded in I know everything kind of way. Then I was telling my son not to use his debit card because there was no money in there and he has to smart off. The next minute I am crying over my deceased Uncle who used to mix syrup and butter. I told them I was a bit hormonal to which my 16 year old raised the eyebrow and my husband was the brave, or I think stupid one that said, A BIT??? Anyway, I think we all have our moments and I really can't wait to see the damage I have done to them when they have kids of their own! Thank God for grace!

  52. We all have those days. I have them *so* often. I look around and all I see is fabulous parenting, and I think I'm falling way short.

    But I tell myself that everybody has bad days. It isn't just me. Everybody ignores their children, yells at them, treats them unfairly sometimes. It isn't just me.

    The blogosphere has really helped me believe that. Because it's full of posts like yours here.

    Every day, we do our best. Some days we fall short, but we pick ourselves up and try again the next day. I was away when you wrote this post - but I'm sure the next day was waaay better.

    Chin up! :)


  53. this post served its purpose. directly after reading it, my beloved daughter came downstairs asking when i was going to put her network card in. i politely told her i'd do it tomorrow (well it's 10pm, she should be in bed) and then motioned her over for a cuddle. :)

  54. ps now she's hogging my blanket on the couch, but i'm deliberately not too bothered about it.

  55. You seem so adamant about comments and I am diligently reading your blog from start to finish, so I thought I would contribute. I don't have any kids but MAN I love my mom, even if she definitely wasn't (and still isn't) perfect. I guess the point is...if your kids are anything like me they'll forgive you for telling them to go away when they're being annoying. I myself was an annoying child, so I know this to be fact.

    Anyway, here I am at work trying not to cry all over my desk because it will reveal the fact that I am reading blogs instead of designing things. THANKS. :)