Editor's note: This article by Rachel Martin originally appeared on her blog, Finding Joy. It has been posted here with the author's permission.
Just the other day, in the middle of the day, as the glorious Minnesota sun streamed in my kitchen window — which, by the way should have put me in a wonderful mood — I burst out saying that I was simply a terrible mother. Here am I — the writer of finding joy and intentional motherhood — and I felt like I didn't measure up. That I failed. That I couldn't do it. That I was no good and for sure not a good mother. And I don't know what even brought it up. Maybe it was the trail of cereal on the counter, or the little boys fighting, or the laundry hamper that never seems to be emptied, or the fact that I was just tired, or that I never seem to finish the to-do list much less actually do one of the 743 or something pins that I've pinned on Pinterest.
I felt like a terrible mother. Like I couldn't do it. That I was failing.
You're just a terrible mother. That's what I heard.
It's like a constant whisper in the brain sometimes, isn't it?
You're no good. You don't measure up. You're going to mess those kids up. You are failing. You can't keep your house clean. You can't teach them. You are terrible at this mothering thing. Why did you think you could do this? When are you ever going to get all of this stuff done? Did you realize that you've made macaroni and cheese for lunch two days in a row? Are you ever going to work out again? When are you going to make some fun crafts with the kids? Why don't you ever get the glitter out? You know you're behind, right?
I know I'm not alone. I know that there are those of you out there who think those thoughts, who worry about measuring up, who worry that they're not doing enough with their kids. We worry, moms, we worry. We worry when they should read, or how they speak or if their shoes can be tied by themselves, and if they can't, we get them velcro shoes but worry that they're the only ones with velcro. We worry and apologize when others come over that the house isn't clean enough, or that our projects aren't on the wall, or that they saw the sugar-filled cookies in the pantry, and you're wishing you had made that super healthy granola with chia seeds instead, and then we worry that we served the right food, or if our kids were good and why didn't they answer more politely or hope that we didn't look like a fool when we opened the hall closet and the boots so carefully stacked immediately fell out. And somehow in all of that worry and wonder the words, the lie, about motherhood creeps in.
You're not a good mother. You're terrible. You're failing. Look at everybody else who has it all together. Why don't you?
Those words, those thoughts, are often just lies. You don't have to listen to those words, you know. Funny thing is that I think deep down we all are sitting here looking at our screens and are wondering how the gal who writes about joy and motherhood knew that those thoughts are in our heads. You know how I know? I know because I struggle with this issue of motherhood identity and worth and not letting what I think motherhood should look like really cloud what motherhood really truly is.
I love motherhood. Most days. But too often I let those thoughts, those thoughts that sometimes you might have as well, distort motherhood. Motherhood is already exhausting, truly exhausting, and now you and I are being told that super mom is attainable in 42 easy steps that take just 7 weeks, and if we act now we can get the bonus book with 365 exciting kids meals to make for only three low payments. Super mom, the mom with the perfect hair with the appropriate highlights that makes her fun, trendy and still within her age group, with skinny jeans and cute boots, and a fabulous bag, and a minivan that never has a crumb on it but has nifty organizing systems, who checks her iPhone for only needed things, and never ever raises her voice but cheerfully responds with tell me more and I love how when you paint that half the paint gets on you because you are so creative and well, well, that's a fallacy. Really.
You and I know motherhood is just a tad bit messy. It stretches our brains, pushes our creativity, makes us more patient then we ever thought possible, and makes us question worth with ridiculous thoughts of being a terrible mother because we don't do 1,083 perfect things every day.
Those lies about being a terrible mother — what if you switched them today to words about how much you matter? You see, I was mulling over those words after my 7-year-old refused to do his math and decided that now was the time to start the greatest rebellion a 7-year-old could — and let me tell you sometimes reasoning with a defiant 7-year-old takes some of the greatest strength, wisdom and patience available. And, well, I didn't handle it well. Nothing seemed to matter and my words were met with defiance and then everything decided at that moment to crash. The 5-year-old joined in, the 3-year old escaped, and if I remember right something spilled on the floor and the phone rang. Enough.
Crazy. Those things don't define me as a mother just like your bad days don't define you as a mother either. Bad days are normal. Hard days are normal. Normal, mothers, normal. Life doesn't look like a Pinterest board (I know we've established that but just for remembrance please read the Pinterest perfect real mom).
Life is messy.
Life is full of defiant kids, spilled coffee, nothing for dinner, math pages not done, lots of noise, messy counters. It is full of late nights, relationship struggles, bills to be paid and unrealistic expectations. But let me remind you — life is also full of sweet moments that are often forgotten when those you're a terrible mother moments fill our heads. Moments like the time you rocked the baby to sleep, prepared Food Network-quality great dinners, got math pages and extra credit done, little I love you's, books read, hand-in-hand walks through the store, the time that you said yes to the little thing, sunsets and sunrises, laundry baskets that are completely empty, toys that are sorted and sweet moments of peace.
Remember those in those terrible feeling motherhood moments. Remember.
It's easy to be too hard on ourselves. Especially in those overwhelming moments. So today, right now, I want you to write down the words "I matter" somewhere and put them in a prominent place in your home. On your fridge, on the calendar, anywhere. And the next time you start getting into one of those cycles, I want you to stop what you are doing, walk over there and look at those words. And if you're really wanting to do something extra, list three things on there that you love that you do well.
Maybe you make the world's best pancakes on Saturday mornings. Maybe you listen really well. Maybe you have the most awesome voices when you read stories. Maybe, just maybe, you're one of those cool people who never gets behind on laundry. But you do do stuff well.
Start seeing that, sweet mom who is tempted to say that she's a terrible mother.
Having a bad day doesn't make you a terrible mom. Saying things that you wish you could later take back doesn't make you one (but just be sure to apologize if you blurt something out, or next time, call a friend). Needing a break doesn't define you. Those things don't have any bearing on you as a mother. None. So, listen to me, the next time you hear yourself say that you are a terrible mother you are going to replace it with I matter. Trying is not failing. Having a bad day doesn't make you terrible.
It's just real motherhood.
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If you didn't care about motherhood, then it would be one thing. You see, even having the thoughts, the worries about being a terrible mother truly tells me how much you value being a mother. You care and because you care, you strive to be better.
You can do it. Remember the words, I matter, that I want you to write down on a sticky note?
More than I could ever write.
From me, the mom who writes about motherhood but still deals with her own battles about motherhood, to you, the real mom in the trenches with me. Fighting for each day, loving the moments and being real.