I am about to enter my twelfth year in this parenting gig. These twelve years have brought overwhelming joy, as well as excruciating anguish. It is simply the nature of having our hearts walking around outside of our bodies. As with any job, we have good days and bad days in parenting. But parenting is a job unlike any other. For me, parenting sometimes feels like one big experiment. In so many walks of life, outcomes are tied to actions. Do X and you will get Y.
Not the case with raising tiny humans.
If you do X, you could get Y. Or you might get Q or C or the number four.
You just never know.
Parenting is the only thing that I can think of where you try something, and then wait twenty years to see how everything turns out. With no do-overs. Am I oversimplifying? Of course. Exaggerating? Maybe a little.
But even twelve years into parenting, I still doubt myself. I keep waiting for a permanent sense of competence that never really comes. Oh, sure, it comes in fleeting moments with a sweet Mother’s Day card or a kind word from my child’s teacher. “Yes! I’m doing something right!” I think.
It’s just that that confident feeling…doesn’t last. The decisions we make for one child might not work for the next child. One child might receive a new diagnosis that throws us off. And that oldest kiddo….every time my oldest enters a new life phase, that feeling of doubt comes raging back like a hurricane. Because it’s new. We’ve never treaded these waters together before. And kids can smell fear like a drug-sniffing dog at the airport, so I try to appear as if I know what I’m doing here.
Spoiler alert: I don’t. This is not to say that I don’t hold some firm values and beliefs about what is and isn’t right for our family, because I do. There are always some non-negotiables. However, there is still a good bit of parenting that I believe requires an open mind. And an open mind requires listening to conflicting arguments. It’s in those moments of trying to gather information that I long for an owner’s manual for each of my individual kiddos.
How long should I wait before taking my asthmatic toddler to the emergency room? That wheezing is terrifying. Exactly how strange is it that my middle child still rubs my tummy for comfort? Did he experience some sort of trauma in utero that I am not aware of? My oldest wants to do ALLLLL the things, but how much is too much? I absolutely want her to be engaged in her community and pursue her passions. On the other hand, that has to be balanced with her own stress level, as well as our family’s stress level.
That motherhood competence feeling I’ve waited twelve years for? I finally realized that it’s never going to come. And if it hasn’t come for you yet, either, it isn’t because there’s something wrong with you. It’s because you want to be a good mom. And you’re not alone. My new standard of motherhood competence is not the absence of doubt, as overpowering as it may be sometimes. My new standard of competence is simply trying to consistently do better. To be more patient, more intentional, and to see more clearly.
What attainable standards of competence have you set for yourself?