I wish I were a perfect mom.
I wish that I didn’t fall prey to being too tired, too hungry, too wrapped up in my own head to be calm, loving, patient, and present for my kids. I told myself I wouldn’t when I was a kid still because I hated how my parents let these things get them down.
I wish I didn’t get angry and want to smack something — even if what I ultimately smack is a pillow.
I wish I didn’t feel frustrated with a child who openly defies me and runs from me — even when I know that child is merely over tired and a nap will fix everything. What is there to be frustrated about when I already know the reason?
I wish I wasn’t human.
Parents Have Feelings, Too
The final statement isn’t true. But really, if all the preceding statements are, then the final statement must be, as well. Humans have feelings — and so do parents. We can’t rise above having normal feelings to become perfect, or even “better” parents. We can’t shove our feelings down and hide them and put on a brave face for our children to try to make them think we are perfect. (Yes, there might be the occasional serious or scary situation in which you need that brave face, but I mean if you are just having a bad day because you are tired or feeling sick or something.)
While we can and should always strive to do better as parents, we can’t accomplish that by hiding our feelings or pretending we don’t have them. Parents do have feelings. They do find it frustrating when their children don’t listen, make a mess, and so on. I’m sure we’ve all run across parents who seem calm in the face of just about anything — and we’ve felt guilty for not being the same way.
We need to acknowledge our feelings and find a positive outlet for them.
It’s okay to feel (and say):
- I don’t want things shoved in my face. Please don’t do it.
- I don’t like being hit. I’m walking away now.
- It makes me upset when you hurt your baby brother. Please use gentle hands.
- I’m tired and I need a rest today. Can we play a quiet game or read a book?
- I’m sick today. Let’s turn on the TV and watch a movie.
- I’m upset about a friend who is hurting. Will you give me a hug?
It’s okay to have your boundaries. It’s okay to be honest about what you are feeling and dealing with. It’s okay to accept your own feelings and to ask others to accept them too.
It’s not okay to judge another mother because she has feelings. Motherhood is messy and full of complicated emotions. Mothers are torn by loving their children and sometimes wanting to strangle them. They’re torn by a desire to be patient and loving, and the itch to scream when things get out of hand. Mothers struggle everyday, because they’re not just “doing a job.” They’re in relationship with these little people, with whom they are charged to bring up as rational, loving, productive adults.
Learn to Accept Yourself First
It’s so true that we can’t give what we don’t have. If you’ve always felt that your feelings weren’t accepted, you won’t be able to accept others’ feelings. If your needs aren’t being met, you can’t meet others’ needs.
It’s an incredibly strange feeling to try to support someone emotionally and physically when you feel entirely drained and unsupported yourself. It sucks at you…and it can tear you apart.
On the other hand, when you feel full and loved and that your needs are met, it’s easy to give to others, to want to give more, to go above and beyond to fulfill others’ needs.
The mother who is accepted and loved and is secure in herself and knows her needs will be met will be able to meet her children’s needs and provide them the same security.
This is not about “me time.” This is not about selfishness. This is not about a need to ‘escape’ the children. This is about accepting who you are and where you are, as your situation currently is. Maybe a little ‘me time’ is a part of the solution; maybe not. It’s more complicated than that.
Mothers need to look back at how their parents responded to their emotional needs. Did they tell her to stop crying when she was sad? Did they laugh when she was frustrated? Did they write off her feelings as “unimportant” because she was only a child?
Mothers also need to look at the interactions they have now. How do their spouses treat them? Their friends? Are they accepting and understanding, or do they reject or judge her feelings? Does her husband come home at the end of the day and criticize her because the house is a mess or because she’s upset and short with the kids? Or does he tell her it’s okay that she had a bad day and help her put things back together? (How he responds is going to be affected by his upbringing and whether or not his parents accepted his feelings. His feelings are just as valid and in some cases men struggle even more because our culture doesn’t like to acknowledge that men have feelings. He needs love and understanding too if he’s reacting with short words.)
Don’t feel guilty because you have feelings. Don’t feel guilty for feeling angry, irritated, frustrated or other negative emotions towards your child. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to share those feelings. There are safe ways to share them (not screaming, smacking, or shaming). It’s okay to acknowledge to yourself that your feelings weren’t really accepted as a child and that it is okay to accept them now. It is okay to say “Mommy is feeling really frustrated that we’re not getting these toys cleaned up. Can you come and help me, please?” It is okay to say “I was really upset that you pushed your brother. I love both of you and I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” It is okay to share.
When Your Feelings Matter, Theirs Do Too
Kids have strong feelings just like we do. Many adults have received the message their entire lives that they shouldn’t feel a certain way or shouldn’t react a certain way. Adults have gotten messages like:
- Don’t be angry, it’s not going to change anything.
- Don’t be sad, it’s over already.
- Don’t scream in excitement, it’s rude to those around you.
- Don’t be frustrated; these things happen sometimes.
- Stop crying; I can’t help you until you can tell me calmly what is going on.
The second parts are mostly supposed to make the person feel better, but the first part is telling the person it’s not okay to feel the way they do! They’re also saying that their reaction is inappropriate (crying, screaming, laughing). Their feelings and need to express them is thwarted.
Adults come to believe that these messages are “normal” and even “right.” They pass them along to their children. They say things like:
- Don’t cry, crying is useless
- If you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about
- Don’t yell at me in anger, that’s disrespectful and I will punish you
- Be quiet, the neighbors don’t need to know you’re excited
- Calm down already!
- It’s not worth being frustrated about
These are all dismissive statements that tell the child it’s wrong to have these feelings and to express them. Which leads to adults who cannot accept and appropriately deal with their own feelings nor accept them from others.
When you, as a parent, feel that your feelings are valid (and they are!), then you can accept the feelings from your children too. Instead of the above statements, you might say:
- Let me hold you while you cry. When you’re ready, you can talk about it.
- Are you feeling tired or sad? How can I help?
- I’m very sorry that you’re angry. Please don’t yell at me.
- That’s great that you’re excited! Let’s practice some “silent screams” and jump for joy!
- What is upsetting or exciting you? How can I help?
- What happened and why does it frustrate you? Can I help?
Here, the person’s feelings are being acknowledged and their expression is permitted. Boundaries are still in place though, i.e. “Please don’t yell at me.” Most will feel mollified by a simple and respectful request, whereas “I’ll punish you if you yell at me” only brings more anger and frustration.
When mothers know it is truly okay to feel, to admit their negative feelings and reactions in a safe space, to be who they are, there is so much relief for them. Mothers need to share the ups and downs of motherhood and stop pretending they have it all together. They need to say what they are thinking without fear of judgment or shame. They need to be free to be themselves. When they can say and do what they feel, they can let go of the negativity, feel validated, and move on. They feel lighter and more positive just for knowing they’re not alone in feeling frustrated or angry sometimes.
And when mothers feel validated and understood, they can turn around and bring this to their children. When a mother knows that she can vent her own feelings to her husband or a friend later, she finds it easier to accept her child’s feelings in the moment. She’s more sympathetic, more understanding. Her children become more sympathetic and understanding to each other, to her, and to those around them. They find it easier to cope with the world at large because at least one space — home — is safe.
Let go of the Mommy Guilt, ladies. It’s okay to feel angry and frustrated. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to want to hit something (and even to punch the wall or a pillow). It’s okay to want to scream. It’s okay to have complicated and messy feelings about motherhood and your children. It’s okay to be human.
Find a safe space and share it. Find a friend, your husband, your mother, or even a private journal if you have nothing else at this moment. Write it or say it and don’t feel bad. Don’t try to be PC, don’t try to justify or explain it. Just allow yourself to feel it, and then, when you are ready, move past it. It’s okay.