Recently, I sat on a park bench with a friend trying to get our kids to eat a wholesome snack. A mom of three, she had come prepared; as she shook up a bottle for her newborn, she used the other hand to swiftly remove several snacks in tidy plastic bags for the toddlers. Crackers, cheese sticks, yogurt pouches. Two of each, so both kids could snack away without envy. I gestured in the direction of the Halloween-themed pack of Goldfish crackers I’d tossed in my tote on the way out the door, the only snack I had on hand and joked, “I’m such a bad mom.”
I was being funny, but later I looked back at the moment and wished I hadn’t said it. Though it wasn’t the first time I’ve been (joking or not) hard on myself when judging my status as a mom. From running out of diapers to missing an enrollment deadline for dance class, I have written myself off as “such a bad mom” way more times than I can even count or recall. And that day of the bench snacks it kind of hit me: Underneath the joke is a nagging lack of confidence that I really need to work on. Which is why I won’t be saying it anymore.
Because here’s the thing: As the saying famously goes, kids don’t come with a user’s manual. When we came home from the hospital with our 4-day-old daughter born via emergency C-section, my husband and I looked at her and from one piece of expensive baby gear to the next before turning back toward each other and asking, “What now?” It took us a while to get in a groove, but we found it slowly. With each month and milestone that passed, we would learn something new and have to scratch an old method in favor of an updated version.
All along my husband has taken this educational journey in stride — he learns by messing up and he’s able to laugh at himself without judgement. When our daughter was really tiny and he figured out he could only get her to stop crying by being in constant motion, he bundled her up, strapped her in a carrier, and set out on hours-long walks so I could get some headspace. I remember marveling at his confidence. “Well, what if she gets hungry and starts crying?” (I was breastfeeding), I would ask. His response? “We’ll come home.” Well, duh.
But as an overprotective and overly self-critical new mom, I feared taking her anywhere that might end in tears. I worried people would look at me and judge me for having a baby outside in the cooler months. I worried I would be thought a bad mom if we went even 10 minutes past our 2-hour feeding window. Worried, worried, worried. My husband, as a dad, had (and still has) a different reality. If he messes up, or pushes the limit, he reels it in and does something different the next time. He’s made plenty of mistakes, of course, but I’ve never once heard him say, even jokingly, that he’s a “bad dad.” So what’s up with me, then?
I won’t do the easy thing and blame “society” or mom culture, but I’ll go out on a limb long enough to say, I think we moms in general are too hard on ourselves — and each other — these days. The fact that there was a movie released this year called Bad Moms says a lot about the pressure on moms to be perfect, even though it was a comedy. But moms are just humans and by definition will never be perfect. This doesn’t mean we’re bad, just flawed.
There are bad moms out there, sure. Moms who neglect or abuse their kids. Anyone taking the time to read this post, let alone joke about themselves being a bad mom, is probably not one. You’re probably just like me: a human being trying to raise other human beings with solid morals, healthy bodies, and happy hearts. It sounds simple, but it can be tough stuff. We will make mistakes. We will pack too few snacks or miss play dates. Our kids will catch colds and our produce will sometimes go bad before it gets eaten.
It won’t always be little stuff like under-stocked diaper bags or showing up at practice with the wrong shoes in hand. There have been times when I’ve yelled at my daughter and cried later on about what a bad mom I am. Then I see the joy all over her face as she reaches for me after her nap and remember that I’m not a bad mom at all. I’m a good mom who had a bad moment. It wasn’t the first bad moment and it surely won’t be the last, but I’ll never call myself a bad mom again, and it isn’t just about me anymore.
I am raising up a little girl who will make mistakes in her life. She will forget things, break things, and speak harshly or out of turn. She will be defeated, get a bad grade, lose a friend. Her life will not be perfect. I need to raise her with the confidence to know that she is not defined by her mistakes; instead that she grows from them.
I don’t ever want my daughter to think that she’s a bad friend, person, or mom — and she’s learning from me. I want her to know that I have enough confidence in myself to accept my flaws and errors, learn from them, and move on. That I don’t judge myself or define my success as a mom or a person based on the bad moments. That’s why I’ll never call myself a “bad mom” again, even as a joke. My daughter deserves better than that, and I realize now, so do I.