I had a birthday this past week. It was likely the most anticlimactic birthday of my 36 years. It rained all day, and my kids were sick and exceptionally clingy and whiny. Roland has been very congested and no matter how much snot I suck out, there’s always more in there. Between that and potentially teething, he is fussier than usual and waking more at night. It’s been a week of feeling exhausted and short on patience on top of a general lack of energy as my body is fighting to stay healthy. Certainly all of this was no help for my attitude on my birthday because by 9 a.m., I had already told my oldest daughter that all I wanted for my birthday was for her to do what I was asking her to do. By 9 p.m., I was sitting eating a piece of cake by myself because I had told the kids they would not be having cake today. I probably shouldn’t have let myself have any cake either because I certainly wasn’t proud of my own behavior throughout the day … but it was my birthday, and I made the cake. Plus, I needed something to go with the giant glass of wine I was downing.
Drowning. I’m flailing my arms around with this whole motherhood thing right now. I’m someone who always wants to do it all. I want to be the stay at home mom who homeschools my kids. I want to have a successful business and support my family with an income that allows me to save for retirement. I want to make all of our meals and hang my laundry to dry on the line. I want to live slow and spend our days going on lots of walks in nature. I want to have time to do the things I did before I had kids, and I want to have time to do things for others. Maybe I’ve gotten too greedy with my desires to want to be able to do it all. Or maybe somewhere along the way I thought that I had to do it all perfectly. Or more likely, doing it all is not even possible. For me what ends up happening is that I feel like a terrible mother, a worthless business person, a boring creative, and a lukewarm lover.
What I have come to realize is that the problem is not that I have failed at all these things. The problem is that there is no space for failure as a part of our life experiences. We are surrounded by images of perfection. In the age of curated feeds and infinite knowledge available with a click, as mothers we are succumbing to the same false realities that gave us poor body images in high school. Instead of feeling shame about our physical bodies, we are taunted to feel shame about our entire lives, about who we are as mothers.
As a mother, I can’t get my kids to sleep through the night, and I don’t play with them enough. I can’t get caught up on laundry, and I am up until the wee hours of the morning catching up on my work. I am not up to date with politics the way that I want to be. I am not sure of the current research about how you are supposed to feed your infant. I’m not going to be the best friend or the best wife, and there’s no way I will ever be the mother I want to be or the mother I think my kids deserve. I am not ashamed of my failures though, for they are my efforts, and I don’t have guilt over falling short. There are definitely ways I can work more efficiently, have more empathy, and use a nicer tone with my kids. I’m working on it, but I can’t do it all, and I’m not ashamed. I’m doing the best I can, and my real life, with the clutter and sickness and whining, is the best possible failure I could ever want. Luckily, there’s always the morning for eating cake, making apologies, and trying again.