At this moment, my five-year-old is sitting in front of a show I swore my children would never watch. My three-year-old is standing beside him, eating an apple, when food belongs in the kitchen and she should be resting in her room. My one-year-old has finally fallen asleep after an hour of whining, throwing books out of his crib, and taking off his clothes. And my seven-year-old just walked out in the snow to go to play video games at a neighbor’s house, his way around the “we are not a gaming family” rule.
It’s 2:48 pm, and I’m losing at motherhood.
I sit down at the computer and begin to write. I sense my perspective is all wrong, but I can never make sense of things until I write them down. I look around me – at the gusting snow outside, the open book I should be reading for my study group, the cup of lukewarm coffee beside me.
Suddenly my issue is clear. I’m measuring the wrong things.
When the success of my day is determined by who napped and who didn’t, what tv show they watched and where an apple was eaten, I’ve forgotten what mothering really is.
I can so easily fall into the trap of counting wrongs. Who refused to fasten their seat belt today, and how many squabbles have I parsed? How often did I raise my voice? How many times have I picked up (or stepped over) that particular toy? How often have I swept the kitchen floor?
My success as a mother becomes a weird equation of housework and patience and time away from a screen measured against my children’s obedience and engagement and play.
No matter how hard I work, I am always on the losing end of that math.
When I count the wrong things, I quickly feel overwhelmed, frustrated, uncertain, hopeless. I become convinced that my children are destined to a life of crime, with no hope of healthy relationships or meaningful work, because I never quite got all the cranberries off the floor.
You know what? That’s a lie.
Mothering can’t be quantified. Children aren’t an equation, and a balanced home life can not be gauged by who napped on a given afternoon. My purpose is not to solve domestic life like a complex word problem.
This afternoon I didn’t meet any of the standards I’ve set for myself. But mothering is more than a single afternoon. When I feel like a failure, most often I’m counting the wrong things.