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Are You a Good Mother?

Parenting lessons born from fear, insecurity and worry

We'd only been married a year, but my husband and I had talked about having a big family since we'd begun dating. At the tender age of 20, newly married and saving for our first house, a new baby completed our dreams.

Everything was going according to plan.

Stacy & JuliaStacy & Julia

My husband wore his excitement like a favorite sweater he had no intention of ever removing. At night, we cuddled in bed reading pregnancy books and magazines, planning and dreaming as he rested his head on my growing abdomen.

We weren't alone in our excitement either. I remember a wonder-filled glance my mother threw my way when she thought I wasn't looking. It was as if I'd just performed heart surgery.

It's all sunshine and roses until...

But all the herbal tea and visions of freshly washed booties and bonnets couldn't warm the chilled quivering inside me. What if I'd made a mistake? What if I wasn't motherhood material?

kids are the meaning in lifekids are the meaning in lifeThe day after I announced my pregnancy at work, I was fired without explanation. My doubts settled deeper. How would we pay the bills, buy the things our new baby would need and what about that down payment to our dream house?

When we announced my pregnancy to family and friends, one aunt turned away and said, "It's about time you had kids. Why should you be happy?" I went home that night, wrapped myself in Grandma's quilt and tried to smother the full-blown panic attack coming on stronger than morning sickness.

What had I done?

If I divulged that I didn't have a clue how to take a newborn's temperature or how to explain to a toddler why the sky is blue and the grass is green, what would that make me? A pregnant woman not fit to be a mother. What if I asked for help and someone laughed at me, or worse, told me I needed professional help? What if my questions led people to think I'd hurt my child?

My fears about motherhood rooted themselves alongside the money worries. What were we thinking? Stupid, stupid kids...

As terrifying as my impending motherhood felt, admitting reluctance to my new role presented far greater risks. So, I pathologically avoided my fear - or so I thought.

An unemployed pregnancy

family love is preciousfamily love is preciousI spent long days in a one-bedroom apartment, waiting for my husband to return from work. Unable to stand it any longer, I propelled myself into motion. I started walking - a lot. As I walked, I compiled lists of how many babies and children I passed. I counted play yards, strollers and bikes thrown haphazardly on front lawns. I peeked in car windows and tallied up infant seats and scattered toys. I even stole sideways glances in living room windows.

As my belly grew bigger, my search for answers grew more desperate.  

I sat at parks and struggled to interpret the interaction between mothers and their children. Did their clipped answers signify frustration or a desire to do the right thing?  Did they wish they'd made different choices? I even volunteered at the Children's Aid society to work with children who'd been abused and rejected. Maybe these forgotten souls held the answers to questions too terrifying to put into words.

Of course, I didn't find the solution in any of the cars or yards or playgrounds.

It turns out, for me, the answer, or where I found it, wasn't what I'd expected. My son arrived two weeks early, careening into the world a very sick child. After far too many hours of labor, I saw his face for only a few seconds before a team of doctors rushed him out of the room.  

But the bond between us hit me like a gale force wind. "Hello my darling, I'll stand in front of a train for you," I thought. No preamble. No warning. It was just there, ripping through me more painfully than any of the labor had. With one glance, I was different. Because of it, because of him.

I still am.

What exactly is a "good" mother?

what is a good mother?what is a good mother?Someone once told me that being a parent is like wearing your heart on your sleeve. Four pregnancies later and a family that fills me with love and daily tests my patience, strength and sense of humor, I agree. But it's not the hallmark, beautiful image I was expecting.

There's nothing perfect about motherhood. Wiping bums and noses is messy but so are tantrums, slammed doors and enough tears to fill the Mississippi. The boo-boos of toddlers give way to the broken bones and emergency room visits of the middle years and then the heartbreak and sheer terror of raising teenagers. None of it, not one single second, is easy.

And it never ceases to amaze me how all that angst is wrapped into a cocoon of happiness and giggles and a shameless overabundance of sunshine.

I've accepted that I'll never be the mother who knows everything or makes all the right choices. But instead of all those choices adding up to fear and insecurity, they've made me stronger. All those scars of motherhood have knitted themselves together into something incredibly beautiful. Like finely etched crystal, my motherhood mantle is fragile and lovely and strong all at once.

kids make life worth livingkids make life worth livingI no longer wait for someone to tell me I'm doing a good job. I know I do a good job, not because my kids do well in school or are fast tracking to be doctors or lawyers. My motherhood grade lies in all the little things they give back to the world when they think no one's looking.

In my world, being a mom is a lot of little things, some beautiful, some messy. And all those little things add up to the answer I was searching for so many years ago. Love. That's it - that's the answer.

And as far as I can tell there are no awards for the best mother or the brightest children (even though some mothers think otherwise). There are plenty of rewards though. And lots of gray hairs, wrinkles and liquor store employees who know me by name.

If I could tell my younger self one thing as she sits on the park bench, it would be simple. "Believe it or not, Julia, if it wasn't for your so-called issues, problems and challenges, there'd be no way you could find your own beautiful path to motherhood. Which, by the way, happens to be much different than your aunt's ..."

our modern familyour modern familyAnd to the aunt, I'd say, "You were right. I didn't find happiness in motherhood. It found me."



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