Several months ago, I saw another blogger share her “best practices” as a mom. She started with this introduction:
“Yes, in a world full of Mom Guilt, and Constant Realization of How Far I’m Missing the Mark, there are actually SOME things that I do really really well. Some of these things come very natural for me. I don’t have to make a rule of thumb for them, or remind myself to do them, they’re just inherent in who I am, and therefore they just HAPPEN.”
After listing off some of her own best practices, Hayley encouraged her readers to do the same. I LOVED the spirit behind her invitation, but when I sat down to make my own list, I got stuck. All I could come up with were areas of motherhood where I am messing up.
Here’s a glimpse at just a few of the Mom Fails that made my list:
- I am impatient (but hypocritically demand patience from my son).
- I am selfish and often put my wants and desires before Charleston’s. I almost never share my ice cream.
- I am not a Pinterest mom. I don’t plan big parties or create cutesy crafts or even come up with fun, clever games and activities to occupy our time.
- I’m not good at getting on the floor and playing with Charleston. (I do it, but I’m awful at it.)
- I struggle with being spontaneous and going with the flow.
- Ironically, I also struggle with sticking to a specific schedule, especially with naps and mealtimes.
- I haven’t been able to provide Charleston with a sibling.
- I say no to almost any activity that involves dirt or will create a mess.
- I don’t model healthy lifestyle choices.
- I often get stuck “in my head” and have difficulty being mentally present and fully engaged.
- I have poor fine motor skills which makes me bad at tackling things like combing hair and trimming nails. (Thankfully Luke’s got those covered.)
- I’m not naturally security-minded and taking care of safety issues doesn’t come easily for me.
- I am incapable of multitasking.
- I have a hard time getting out of my own comfort zone, which means we don’t go on as many adventures or try as many new activities as we “should.”
- I don’t always have a joyful attitude toward parenting.
That’s quite a list. And the diary version of my Bad Mom Inventory was much, much longer, but I had to cut my public list short before I collapsed into a vulnerability coma.
Luke would say that I’m going out of my way to find fault with myself. He’s right, in a way: as a card carrying member of PA (Perfectionists Anonymous), I am hardwired to hyperfocus on my own shortcomings. I don’t usually feel like a good mom, so I search out evidence that will validate these feelings of inadequacy. The list above seems to bear out my belief, and then some.
I do think there’s value in identifying areas where I’m falling short, because it helps me to form a plan for improvement. But I don’t want to nestle so far into my shortcomings that I buy into the identity of a terrible mom. If we aren’t careful, we can start to live out the messages we tell about ourselves, even ones that are unhealthy or untrue. So, for the sake of my son and for my role as a mom, I think a perspective shift is in order.
I won’t ever claim to be a perfect mom, or even a great one, but when I look hard enough, I am able to discover one or two best practices of my own. It’s hard for insecure me to admit that I might actually be getting something right, but in order to redeem my own self esteem (and possibly inspire you, too), here we go. . . .
1) I read to Charleston, and am teaching him to love books. If there is one area of parenting that I’m particularly proud of, this is it. Thankfully, this one comes easily to me, since books are such a big part of my own life. We read numerous books per day, every day, and I put thought into the books we choose to read, making sure that they are equally educational and entertaining. I use all of my best voices when reading aloud, and I incorporate quality discussions into our reading time. I’m also pretty good at spinning a tale of my own when we need a story and don’t have any books on hand. (Charleston gives me a story prompt, and we go from there!)
2) I am confident in my feeding practices. This one does not come naturally, but given my own issues with food, it’s an area I’ve worked hard on getting right. After doing tons of research and meeting with feeding experts, I’ve adopted the division of responsibility: I decide what and when Charleston eats, and it’s up to him to decide how much he’ll eat. I encourage him to listen to his hunger/fullness cues, and I try to abide by what he says his body is telling him. (In other words, I don’t require that he finish his meals, nor do I withhold second helpings if he says he needs more.) We eat all of our meals sitting at the table as a family, and when we’re at home I provide healthy foods, incorporating a protein, fat, grain, dairy, and fruit or vegetable into every meal, and using snacks to fill in any gaps. I serve few processed or sugary foods, but I try not to make a big deal of restricting “fun foods” when we are traveling, at a party, or eating out.
3) I encourage Charleston’s questions and do my best to answer him honestly and completely. We spend a lot of time talking and listening; sometimes I guide the conversation, but usually I leave it up to him. I try not to sugarcoat difficult issues or use dumbed-down language. I label emotions (his and mine) and don’t dismiss them. As much as possible, I talk to Charleston with the respect and vocabulary I would use when talking to an adult.
4) I keep things real. I don’t try to hide my struggles or shortcomings, I’m transparent with my emotions, and I apologize when I mess up. I model that it’s okay to have hard feelings, but not to use our feelings to justify poor behavior, and I show him that it’s okay to make mistakes, but that we always need to make amends.
5) I keep our toy situation under control. Charleston has plenty of toys, but not an excessive amount. This is partly for my own sanity because I can’t stand clutter, but it also benefits Charleston. He thrives with having a limited number of toys because it forces him to get creative with his options and actually play with all of his toys rather than becoming overwhelmed by them. I’m selective about the toys we choose to bring into the house; we have very few electronic toys and lots of free-play options, like a train table and tool bench. I also cycle out quite a few of his toys so that they aren’t all accessible at once
6) I give Charleston choices and options. This is Toddler Parenting 101, but it really works. I frequently give him two options (both of which I am totally okay with). Examples would be “would you rather wear the tractor pajamas or the monster pajamas?” or “Would you rather brush your teeth sitting on the counter or standing on your step stool?” Sometimes I use this for disciplinary purposes, such as “You can choose to listen the first time, or you can spend some time thinking about it in your room.” These options give him a sense of agency while also allowing me to have some control over the situation. It builds trust and respect, and is teaching him how to make decisions.
7) I’ve got the documentation part of parenting down. This is probably more for my benefit than his, but it is something I’m good at. I take a zillion pictures, write down every funny phrase and milestone, record his daily habits and interests, and write a detailed love letter and life update to Charleston every month.
8) I am intentional about my parenting. I read books, talk to other parents, listen to podcasts, and take stock of what’s working and what isn’t, all for the sake of being the best mom I can be. Being a mom is my full-time job, and I treat it as such. We spend almost all of our time together, and I do the best that I can to invest in Charleston in all that we are doing, whether it’s running errands or cleaning together, playing, or snuggling on the couch. I talk about what we are doing, and ask him questions about our activities.
9) I love Charleston A WHOLE LOT, and I let him know it. If loving your child is all that is required to qualify as a good mom, then I’m the cream of the crop. As cheesy as it sounds, my heart overflows with love for Charleston, and I tell him that every chance I get. I smother him with hugs and kisses, never turn down requests for a few more minutes of cuddling, and even discipline out of love. I’m sure Charleston will look back at his childhood and see the countless areas where his mom screwed up, but he will never, EVER have grounds for doubting that he was loved.
10) I have entrusted Charleston into God’s hands. As much as Luke and I love Charleston, we could never love him was much as his Heavenly Father. I pray for Charleston every day, throughout the day, asking God to care for Charleston’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs; to guide his future; and to give me wisdom and guidance during the time that Charleston is under my care.
Well, look at that. I managed to come up with a fairly decent-sized list of pretty great practices! Now it’s your turn: if you are a mom or dad, what are some of your best parenting practices? Let’s unite in celebrating our wins!