Have you ever thought of yourself as a bad mother? I know I have. In fact, “I’m a bad mother” is a like a tagline that accompanies all my parenting mistakes. Despite knowing that parenting is challenging and I couldn’t possibly be expected to get it right the first time (especially as I don’t research things to learn – I’m an experiential learner), I still beat myself up when parenting does not go as expected.
I can remember almost weekly instances of calling myself “A BAD MOTHER” since my oldest was born 10 years ago. I took him outside without a hat? I’m a bad mother. I yelled at him when I found him irritating – bad mother again. Didn’t tell him to look both ways when crossing the street? BAD MOTHER! In fact, my friend and I were going to get matching t-shirts that said “dumb mum.” “Oy” as she would say.
It seems as a species we are wired to beat ourselves up over our decisions and actions. We forgive others but we do not forgive ourselves.
I have also realized that calling myself a bad mother serves no purpose. In fact, it does incredible damage.
I was reminded of this again this past weekend.
My children’s dad asked me to parent the kids for him this past weekend.
He asked me on Wednesday. I was flooded with work and was determined not to work on the weekend.
My answer should have been a clear no. I already had plans for the weekend, I was so looking forward to having some time and space to get recharged. “No” seemed so simple to say.
Yet it wasn’t.
No was on my lips (or the tips of my fingers as I started to reply to his email request) but something stopped me.
What stopped me?
This thought: “I’m a bad mother.”
Imagine not wanting to be with my kids!
Their dad was asking for help. How could I even contemplate not supporting my co-parent?
How could I put my interests before my children’s?
Yup – it all screamed BAD MOTHER!
And so instead of saying no I said yes.
I cancelled my plans and told myself that the thoughts rattling around in my head about the time I needed were selfish. I am selfish and bad mother.
I’m wondering if you can guess what kind of weekend my children and I had.
I will simply say, not good.
It all started to go south when my youngest called me at 2:30 on Friday from school. He had a tummy ache.
I knew he did not. I knew it was an emotional tummy ache. He does not like last minute change and just switching up the parenting schedule is enough to give him an emotional tummy ache. What’s the saying? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Yes, he needs time to process change just like his mum does.
I had been planning to use all the time until I had to get them from after school care to get my work done and I just lost 3 hours of very efficient work hours.
I was thrown into a situation that I did not have time to emotionally prepare myself for.
I got to school and the first words out of my mouth to my seven year old were “Do you really have a tummy ache?”
Well – as I heard the words come out of my mouth I heard the tagline that fast approached on their heels.
“I am a BAD MOTHER”
And then I spent the rest of my weekend with my kids taking out my terrible mood on them.
And that is how our weekend went.
And then I beat myself when they left by calling myself a bad mother yet again. I had been bad. I had not said no to their dad even though I knew better. I knew I needed that time. I had been bad in so many ways. I thought I had shaken that people pleasing tendency of mine but clearly I had not as I had said yes when I should have said no. How could I have not learned this lesson by now? BAD, DUMB, STUPID ME. You get the picture.
I added the tagline “I am a bad mother” to every single decision I had made and every action I took this past weekend.
When did the lightbulb go off?
When the kids were gone and I had time and space to process my thoughts again.
I cried as I realized how I had beaten myself up all weekend.
I cried as I realized I still had work to do and didn’t want to do it as I felt sad and terrible.
Then I started to write and I realized something.
I realized I had just gotten some life-changing proof.
I had just gotten first-hand confirmation that I had to retire my I’m a BAD MOTHER tagline forever.
As it dawned on me what I had learned this past weekend I started to feel grateful.
What was I grateful for? My crappy weekend.
I looked back on this past weekend and said “thank you incredibly crappy weekend.”
I am going to remember you always crappy weekend.
Weekend – you were the nail in the coffin for the tagline “I am a BAD MOTHER” and all the other taglines I use to beat myself up with.
Thank you weekend.