To the Terrible Mothers

Photo credit: Marco Ceschi

I know that you think you’re screwing it all up.

I know that your kid should have been potty trained earlier, or you should have breastfed longer, that you should have stayed home or returned to work or gotten her a Spanish teacher when she was two.

I know that all the advice out there makes your head spin, and you sometimes feel like the internet is a rabbit hole of scare tactics and Pinterest perfection and shameful reminders that you’re just not doing it right.

I know, dear mothers, and it’s time that you heard something important. Something that your kids would tell you, if they could, something I never got to tell my own mother, and since those kids might not I will share it with you now.

None of that matters.

Let me back up: I don’t even have kids myself. (Wait, hold on a second, put down your weapons! Hear me out.) I don’t have kids but I once was a kid, the child of a single and incredible mother, a mother who was at once magnificent and also an utter failure (to herself.)

See, my mom screwed up a lot, or so she thought. Her bouts of depression would sometimes have her sleeping all day, not leaving the house, staring at the television screen in a daze. She’d sometimes break down in frustration (no doubt at her wits end with two small children) yelling or cursing, even occasionally raising a hand to my brother and I. She didn’t cook much, and cereal was a four course meal that punctuated most days at our house growing up. I could go on and on, but rather than detail all of the ways that my mother fell short, I bring them up because those things are not the things that stuck.

Her shortcomings aren’t what I took with me to my adult life, or the life I’ve led since she died in her sleep almost four years ago. I know that many of us have mother wounds, but I actually don’t, not in the common sense — because throughout all of that, throughout all of her imperfections and “screw ups” and things she beat herself up for (which she did beat herself up, constantly worrying that we would grow up thinking she ruined our lives) one thing was always consistent: her love.

Unyielding, unwavering, limitless, regardless of who was losing their marbles and when. No matter how much I messed up my own life, no matter how much she was drowning in hers, that love always remained. She was always there, with kindness and forgiveness and utter belief in me: her child. A love that I didn’t deserve, a love that I often didn’t earn, but love nonetheless. It truly is what I remember, what I take with me, a love to end all loves and show me what unconditional really looks like.

I detail her “mistakes” with a grain of salt too, because she was a human, like all of us, and humans drop the ball sometimes.

I had a human mother, a perfectly imperfect mother, a mother who showed me that life is hard and frustrating and chaotic but what matters most is how you love.

So, dear mothers of the world, please cut yourself some slack. Please forgive yourself for the store bought baked goods, the field trip you missed, that time you lost it in Target. Stop telling yourself that they will hate you, that you could have been so much better, that you’re doing it all wrong, because most of us are…we’re human.

You’re showing your children the way through an imperfect and messy world, full of ups and downs and dark days and light: how to make mistakes and then learn from them. The legacy that you will leave, human mothers of the world, will not be one of cereal dinners or breakdowns, outbursts of anger or bouts of depression.

The legacy you will leave is your love.