I wish I had been able to reply to you right then. After you spoke to me, I was sick and anxious and on the verge of tears, and too humiliated to string any words together. I tried to find you later, after I could process what you’d said. I looked for you everywhere; the woman in the long coat, hat, and dark sunglasses. But you had disappeared. So this is what I would have said to you.
You’re probably right. I’m sure there was a better way I could have handled the situation. I realize that dragging my screaming son across the floor because he’s freaking out and won’t come with me doesn’t look like stellar parenting. I assessed the situation and decided that pulling him along with me would be better than just leaving him to scream and possibly destroy things. According to you, I made the wrong call. And according to you, my behavior is setting him up to be an abusive boyfriend and father. I think that’s sort of an extreme conclusion, but I suppose I can see where you’re coming from.
All you saw was a ten-second snippet of one of my poorer parenting moments. Now let me tell you what you don’t know.
What you don’t know is that I am trying my best, every damn day. I was so proud of myself today for making breakfast and getting the boys ready; for cleaning the house with them, and doing puzzles together. I was proud that I got us out of the house for story time at the library for the first time since we moved here, because I knew it was garbage-truck themed and I knew the boys would be so excited.
What you don’t know is that a few months ago on a day just like this, you would probably have found me lying on the couch, sobbing, while my children played on their own or watched tv. You might have found me slowly pacing the house in a numb stupor, trying to find a way out of the thick, dark, heavy fog in my head. I was doing my best then, too—even if I couldn’t manage to bathe them all the time or brush their teeth twice a day, I was functioning as well as I could. I made sure we were all taken care of and well fed. I was in survival mode—but that was all I could manage at that time.
What you don’t know is that it is hard for me, just like it is for every mom (and dad). It is hard for me to get out and do things. It is hard for me to play with my children—medication hasn’t fully taken that thick haze away. Many times I feel detached and distant; and on bad days it’s nearly impossible for me to connect with anyone at all. It is hard for me to find the energy to make it through the day with my sweet boys sometimes because I am so damn tired, all the time.
What you don’t know is that there some days I am so keyed up and anxious that I am constantly one tiny step away from absolutely flipping out. What you don’t know is that I hate this about myself, and I want so badly to be more loving and more patient and more involved.
What you don’t know is that there is nothing you can say to me that I haven’t already said to myself. I live under constant criticism in my own head. I constantly worry that I’m screwing everything up, and that others are judging me, every moment of every day. I try to push those thoughts away, but seeing the disapproval and judgment in your face today just confirmed that once again, I screwed up. So, I’m sorry. I apologize to you and to my boys. But I swear to you, I am trying.
What you don’t know is that I love those two little boys so much. I’m not the peaceful, engaged, patient mom I so desperately want to be. I’m not the amazing mom they deserve. I’m not even of half of that woman. But I don’t need anyone to tell me that. I am keenly, painfully aware of all of my failures; of all of my shortcomings. I do appreciate your concern, and realize that I don’t know your background either. Maybe you’ve dealt with things that make the concerns you brought up very legitimate.
But let me give you some advice now. When you see a mom struggling, I can assure you that she doesn’t need one more voice telling her that she’s doing everything wrong. What she really needs, in that moment of difficulty, is for someone to say, “Hey, it looks like you’re having a really hard time today. But you know what? You are doing great. Keep it up, mama.”
That’s what I would say.