Each morning, I'm confronted with the awful possibility that I'm a horrible mother. OK, maybe I'm not horrible, but I am struggling. Struggling to stay afloat in a sea of parenting challenges I have no idea how to handle. The worst of it happens when I drop my 5-year-old off at kindergarten. We've made it to school by the skin of our teeth, after a rushed breakfast of whatever cereal isn't stale in the pantry and a frenzied panic that she didn't brush her teeth after we're already out the door. My daughter's preschool breakdown is on display for all the other parents to see. I mean, she really lays it on thick, clinging to my leg as if I'm leaving for months, protesting loudly that she doesn't want to go in, sobbing with abandon. Because that's what I'm doing to her. Each morning, I glance around at the moms and dads whose kids seem to have no problem whatsoever saying goodbye. Are they looking at me thinking I'm as horrible of a mom as I feel? And why is no one else struggling like me?
This mother's disclosure was just the reminder I needed that all parents struggle. Some struggles happen out in the open for everyone to see. Some happen behind closed doors.
It's with the conviction I'm the most unsuccessful mother to ever dare to have a child that I skulked into Starbucks after drop-off one recent morning. I'm standing in line, my heart heavy, my mind flashing back to the emotional scene back at school, when the woman ahead of me recognized me from, you guessed it, my daughter's award-winning performance. "Mine is so independent she doesn't even look back!" she told me, smiling. Was this mom trying to pour salt in my already painful wound? But a beat later, she asked, "Does yours refuse to go to bed at night, too?" And soon, she was confessing how bedtime at her house has her losing her mind.
As I listened to my fellow mom describe the hell she goes through trying to get her little one to stay in her bed, I felt a sense of relief settle over me. While I couldn't relate to bedtime being such a nightmare, this mother's disclosure was just the reminder I needed that all parents struggle. Some struggles happen out in the open for everyone to see. Some happen behind closed doors. Whether it's bed-wetting, a child refusing to eat, or chronically talking back, there's a moment during every mom or dad's day when they have no clue how to do this parenting thing.
I left Starbucks feeling much lighter than I had when I'd gone in. Inside the coffee shop, I'd gotten more than my morning caffeine jolt; I'd also received much-needed reassurance that I'm not alone. And while I felt too shy to tell her in person, I want this mom to know that I'm so, so grateful to her for opening up to me. I can only hope to pay it forward to other struggling parents by sharing my story and helping them feel less alone.
PS The next day when my daughter melted down at drop-off, I wasn't nearly as self-conscious about what other parents might think. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw more than one knowing glance.