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Lesson from a "Perfect" Mom

Updated: Feb 8

My Mother just retired, and the other day we threw her a surprise party at her boss’ house. I knew it’d be a big night for her, but I didn’t expect it to be such an emotional, full-circle kind of night - for me. 

When I was in high school, my mom’s boss passed away abruptly, from a brain tumor. I remember the story of how they discovered it. He was a surgeon, and one day in a surgery, his hand started moving in different directions from where his brain was telling it to go. A pretty inopportune time for such a discovery :/. He passed not long after that. I remember my mom spending days in bed, trying to cope with and make sense of it all. He was her best friend.

Her new boss was a spring chicken, a young physician who had a new wife and baby. I know this was complicated for my Mom, as her last boss had been at least a decade older than her. But he needed a babysitter, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to step down from my terrible job as a server at Friendly’s.

I fell in love with those kids, and watched them off and on for about 10 years. It was my first experience caring for newborns on my own, learning things like how to rock a baby to sleep and when it was okay to lay them down, based on whether or not their eyes were still the slightest bit cracked open. I was oblivious to the amount of work it took to raise them outside of my shifts. I remember naively, upon meeting their third newborn baby for the first time, asking the Mom, "so do you think you'll have another?" She understandably looked at me with that now recognizable postpartum blank stare.

They had 2 baby girls, and then a boy, each a couple of years apart. I think because the girls were always partnering off playing with dolls and toys together, the little guy and I became buddies. He was so much fun, and I could tell he really loved the 1-on-1 attention I had the energy to give.

They always seemed like the picture-perfect family - they ate all organic food and composted the scraps, had 1-hour per week screen limits, lived in a beautiful home, and all the kids played instruments. And you could really just feel the love in the home.

So now that I’m raising my own little ones, I think of them a lot. I'm not nearly living up to the standards they set as parents - and yet still, I think we're doing okay. But being in their home and seeing the kids so grown up in all these sweet photos made me question, are we really? Will my kids grow up and put their arms around me in pics when they're teenagers? And be silly with me in a photo booth? I don't know that I would've done that with my parents, at that age.

At some point on Saturday though, I asked the mom, “how does it feel to have kids who are grown up”? Two of them are in college now (one traveling abroad in Barcelona, and the other in law school), and their youngest about to embark on his own college journey. I guess I expected her to say something about how proud of and happy she is with how well they're doing. Instead, she said with a look of reluctance, or perhaps hesitance, “honestly, I look back and wish I would have just relaxed and enjoyed it more.”

I was a little shocked. Here, a woman I look up to and think has done everything right, admitting she feels like she screwed up. My heart broke a little for her, but also for my future self, because I, too, am always fighting this feeling of time slipping away. I, too, worry I'm moving too fast and not taking the time to absorb these years with my small children enough.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since she said it. On one hand I'm grateful that there’s still time for me to heed her warning, and to slow down. But I also wonder: do we all end up feeling this way, regardless of how this time with our kids is spent? It seems no matter who you talk to, they say, “enjoy it while you can”, and the ever popular, “don’t blink”. 

So, is it even possible to relax enough into parenthood, so that we end up satisfied with the amount of time we got out of these early years??

I’m starting to think the answer is no. Maybe the truth is just that life is incredibly short, and there's nothing we can do to make it feel longer and more memorable. Perhaps we all end up wishing we had done more to "soak it up". Maybe all of my clients who wish their parents would stop judging how wound up and anxious they are all the time, are missing the fact that their parents are just projecting. They wish they, themselves, would've slowed down and fully absorbed their babies every move, every first word and every new stage, while they had the chance.

The night of the party, their son arrived at home from a ski trip, and for the first time in like 13 years, gave me a huge hug. He got to meet my three sons for the first time, and I felt unexpectedly complete. Maybe its because he remembers me, and that gives me hope that my kids will remember the closeness and fun we're having these days. But I also think this 17-year-old kid who now towers over me, doesn't realize the gift he once gave me - the confidence that I'd someday be an okay Mom.



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