I’ll say it: There are days I think I’m a horrible parent.
It’s not something I admit lightly. It hurts to type it. Sure, there are days I rock the whole mom thing like a champ. But more often than not, I’m beating myself up. I can’t shake the feeling that sometimes, work gets the better version of me – the patient person, the team player, the rational, calm and cheerful me. My husband and kids seem to end up with the end-of-the-day, tired, cranky me – who’s worked too much, still has laundry to do, dinner to make, homework to help with, kids to drive to [fill in the blank] practice and a pile of dishes in the sink. It’s not fair to them – and the guilt sets in.
I’m a pro at doing the guilt thing. I’m not sure if it’s from a lifetime of being the daughter of a Cuban mom, being a practicing Catholic, or just the last decade of being a mom who works outside the home.. But I’ve got guilt down to a science. (Guilt, by the way, pairs nicely with a pint of cherry vanilla ice-cream and a glass of pinot noir.)
The other night was a great example. I had to discipline my son, Luc. Admittedly, we started the night with the deck stacked against us: we were all “hangry” (hungry angry). It was the end of another marathon day. Luc started fighting with his sister, and I sent him to his room without dinner. As he angrily left the table he grabbed a handful of food and shoved it defiantly into his mouth. I told him in a not-so-nice way not to bother coming back down. It wasn’t my best parenting moment. Over the next 20 minutes, Luc began scribbling notes and throwing them downstairs. The notes read things like, “Not apologizing. Just hungry. Send food.”
I finally went up to his room when his last note explained why he felt his punishment was unfair. Through tears, he said the words that broke my heart: “I know you don’t love me.” As I began detailing all the things I do for him to show I love him (I can dish out guilt too!), I broke down and cried. I was overwhelmed with sadness and exhaustion. I told him I couldn’t hire a plane to write in the sky how much I love him. I show my love by how hard I work for him – and our whole family. “It’s not a perfect way to say, ‘I love you,’” I said, “But it’s the best way I know how.”
I promised I would try harder to choose my words more carefully, but admitted to my son that we all make mistakes – even moms and dads. “We’re all just works in progress,” I said.
Those words stuck with me, and I find solace in them. I’m learning as I go and it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s a permission slip to not have to be perfect all the time, but not permission to give up trying to be the best version of me for my family. It’s a lesson I hope my children learn too.
As I considered HOW to be the best version of me at home, I wondered if I need to be more thoughtful in the way I approach my home life. Maybe I need to be more “professional.” What if I treated my husband and children with the same kindness and respect that I give to my co-workers? What if I did just that one small thing? I imagine it will make a big difference, so I’ll give it a try. Who knows? Maybe ice-cream and wine also pair nicely with the feeling that I’m winning.
Anna Acquaviva works part-time as a Manager of Strategic Communications for one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four young children.