I call myself a “Shitty Mom” at least once a day. Okay, more than that. A few times a day, minimum. That’s vague enough. Definitely every day those nine letters float breezily across my busy brain like a lazy sky-writer sending a message from up high. And then they slowly fade leaving the faintest outline in their place. Or they brand themselves hot, fierce and quick across my forehead, momentarily leaving an angry red scar.
I’m not sure any part of that phrase Shitty Mom even deserves capital letters. It’s more like shitty mom. Or shittymom. Whatever.
I feel like a shitty mom when I don’t walk my kindergartner to his classroom. I need to make my 8.30am exercise class and he knows the way on his own. When I don’t buy my 8th grader the protractor he needs for tomorrow because I can’t face dealing with the Walgreen’s parking lot at rush hour for one protractor, and I thought I’d go later but one thing became ten and I didn’t. When I don’t make dinner every night, or even ensure there is something, anything to eat some time between 6-8pm. When my kids hear me curse, when I yell at them again, when I don’t volunteer for the class party. When I forget to remind my son to wash his face and put on deodorant (seriously?!), or when I tell my daughter her hair looks terrible. I’m like Karen from “Will & Grace”: “Honey, what’s up with that hair?”
Shittymom shittymom shittymom.
It’s okay though. I know I can’t be everywhere all the time. I have four children, each with their own needs, schedules, demands, requirements, tastes in food and personal hygiene preferences. And even if I had one less child, or one child, or one child more (never going to happen) I still wouldn’t be able to be everywhere, be everything, all the time. Plus I have needs and schedules and food requirements of my own – and you know, a lot of the time mine and theirs are not at all compatible. Fish sticks? No thanks. I’d rather have chocolate and a glass of wine.
The truth is, I’m not a shitty mom. I may be preoccupied, always late, mostly impatient, too busy to listen right now, or enjoying my book too much to swim or play with them. But it’s okay, because they are more than okay. They’re happy and healthy and some kind of independent. They get enough sleep every night, their clothes fit, they fight with their siblings and help each other out, laugh, whine, tell stories, and don’t stop eating. They shoot baskets, play soccer, say they’re bored, play Minecraft for hours, and also read and joke around and hang out with their friends.
And some of that happens because of who they are, but a lot of it happens because of who I am. Their not shitty mom.
So I’m rebranding myself. What I am is an Honest Mom. Uppercase Worthy!
As an Honest Mom I know:
A sip of mojito or wine won’t kill you, nor will it turn you into a premature alcoholic. I was having a conversation of my own when you asked if it was water, and I distractedly handed you the glass full of ice, mint leaves and a little too much vodka. Even though you’re ten (or five – it’s happened more than once and to more than one) it’s okay.
I do not have to bring snacks for you wherever we go. It’s perfectly acceptable for your tummy to be rumbly while you play on the slide or climb the big tree at the park. It’s only been an hour since lunch, and you can have a string cheese when we get home. And maybe your tummy is rumbling because it’s digesting.
Speaking of trees, I don’t have to watch your every move as you climb on that one. Or scale those rocks. Yes, it may be a little dangerous. You might fall. Scrape your toe. Even hurt your head, or worse. But you are strong and thoughtful and you can do it. Risky situations teach us to be brave, to know our limits.
It’s not serious if you hear me curse – not all the time, of course, but occasionally. Words are how we express ourselves, and sometimes the evocative F-word is how I express. Your ears are not going to burn off, and usually the words that are accessible are the ones you’re less likely to want to say in a moment of rebellion.
Similarly, it’s not a federal offense in my book if you use “stupid, idiot, shut up.” I’m not advocating mean language, and there are other words you could use instead, but these are words you hear in the world around you, in movies, even read in books, so why shouldn’t you use them?
I do not have to give you a reason for why I say No. Ever. I am your parent and you are the child, and No is No. Don’t ask why. I don’t feel like explaining for the hundredth time why you may not watch your fourth hour of TV. I don’t actually have a reason why you can’t have a sleepover, it just doesn’t feel right tonight so No. I am not going to tell you again about the value of money, and need versus want, and why it’s not necessary to buy that Lego Mixel, those high-top Converse sneakers, that ice-cream cone. Just No. “Because I said so” is a perfectly reasonable reason. Get on with it.
Shitty mom shrugs it off. Sighs in resignation or laughs in exasperation. Is fine with the way it is, but wonders if it could be, should be better.
Honest Mom knows it’s not going to get better. This is the way it is. And for her, and her kids, this is the best way.
Honest Mom owns it.
**With deep gratitude to my Honest Friend Lawrence, who insisted we reframe the conversation. Life-changing.**