I decided if I could find beauty in the strength I have found through adversity,
I could tell my boy I wholeheartedly believe his scars mean he was brave, and strong is beautiful.
Do you ever find yourself wrestling shame about how you parent?
Guilt has a way of creeping up on you just as you find a moment to pause and catch your breath, right?
Are you inclined to spend your precious "free time" beating yourself up about everything you "should have" done differently?
Since the start of the new school year, I’ve been wrestling more guilt than usual. Through this recent transition, I’ve argued with my kids over things like weather-appropriate outfits, what color cup the apple juice will go in, how many bites of breakfast are eaten, and why they must brush their teeth or do homework.
I am sure any parenting expert would analyze my complaint and say, “Don’t argue with your children. Ignore the negative and focus on their strengths.”
I’ve got a master’s degree in positive psychology, so I basically eat, sleep, and breathe the science of happiness. I'm quite good about focusing on "what's good," but when it comes to motherhood, I sometimes find “positive” is impossible to reach for, and I've just got to SURVIVE.
For a myriad of reasons, September's just been a tough month. While there are a thousand things I can do better (or differently) on any given day, the most important "parenting skill" I’ve adopted over the years is SELF-COMPASSION.
I'm doing the best I can. Aren’t you?
Phew. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. Our shared vulnerability might not have solved anything, but I do feel just a little bit better.
That's why at toddler drop-off this week when a mom confessed how "poorly" she had handled her morning shuffle, I replied,
“Me too,” followed by, "Hang in there."
We shared a brief conversation about our struggles in parenting strong-willed and sensitive children. Since I’ve been at it longer than she has, I left the conversation wishing I had given her some sort of useful concrete advice.
That night, she sent me a text that said, “Just want to let you know our little convo today made me a better mom this afternoon. (prayer hands) Thanks. (kiss)”
Since my mission is to help moms foster resilience, I’d love to claim this is an example of how well my “advice” works, but I can’t take credit for anything other than meeting her imperfection with a confession of my own. I do this a lot in the trenches of motherhood, because I’ve found “Me too” brings me comfort.
My first "Me too" experience happened when I was lying on a stretcher in defeat after three days of prodromal labor, a 15 hour induction, 2 hours of pushing and was facing a cesarean to bring my firstborn into the world. The doula I hired to support me in the “natural childbirth" I desperately wanted leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Me too. My baby was breach, so I didn’t even have a chance to labor.”
Then, when I was struggling through my first postpartum time, and was too ashamed to admit this truth, the online forums and books of other women speaking the shame-filled truth of postpartum disorders were solace.
I sometimes find it hard to admit how weak and scared I was back then. But you know what? All these years later, when I hear, “Me too,” about someone suffering postpartum anything, I put another bandaid of self-compassion on that old shame-filled wound I still carry.
Knowing how powerful two simple words can be, when I saw another mom struggling to get her child up off the floor during a colossal public tantrum, I made it a point to find my way to her and say, “Me too.”
In moments like these I am simply paying forward the kindness of moms who said, “Me too” about my family wide lice infestation or when I backed into a basketball hoop in the school parking lot in front of a crowd at dismissal.
I think it's important to note that you don’t even need a specific "Me too" connection to support another mom who might be wrestling shame. I learned this when I found myself in an ICU Burn Unit with my then toddler son. The morning after his injury happened, two of my girlfriends walked into our hospital room to offer support.
They were stoic until they caught a glimpse of William, but the sight of my small boy wrapped up in bandages from his head down to his fingertips simply took their breath away.
The horror they couldn't contain amplified my shame and I tumbled down the rabbit hole of rumination about how I was the "worst mom ever" for not preventing the accident. That's when my friends unanimously insisted,
"You are most definitely NOT."
While neither of them had ever walked in my "mom of an injured child" shoes, they offered up countless stories of the “almost accidents” they "got away with" followed by,
"None of us are perfect. Today, you just aren't as lucky as we have been."
These confessions of imperfection are what gave me the confidence I needed to stand up to a social worker later that day. She was scrutinizing my parenting values and very strongly implied I was a "Bad Mom."
I not only lived to tell the tale of this incredibly shameful parenting moment, but believe I am a "Good Enough Mom" despite my mistakes. This has a lot to do with knowing I am not alone, and the strength I've gained from that motivates me to find the courage I need to say, "Me too."
No, I don't find it easy to admit, "I've failed" to a judgmental world that demands and expects perfection. I started leaning into vulnerability and telling my WHOLE story, because William carries scars from the accident I failed to prevent, cannot fix, and he cannot hide. For his sake, I made it a point to own the scars I could have hidden in the depths of my heart.
I decided if I could find beauty in the strength I have found through adversity, I could tell my boy I wholeheartedly believe his scars mean he was brave, and strong is beautiful. Those battle scars of resilience permanently tattooed on William's body are the reason you've found me here, sharing my truth about resilience and motherhood.
More than four years have passed since William was injured and in this time I've pulled myself out of countless moments of guilt and shame with self-compassion. I've also adopted a positive narrative about the plot I did not like, but could not change. This gave me hope that I could heal from the guilt I carried and write a beautiful ending to a difficult experience.
I've also been encouraging William to explain his injury and quench the curiosity about his scars, which manifests through seemingly insensitive questions like, "What the heck is that!?" While comments like, "Lava boy!" or "That's disgusting" sting us both, I notice that kids (and even adults sometimes) say things without really thinking about how hurtful it can be. Giving William the words he needs to explain his scars and say, "They mean I am brave," has been a work in progress; but Tuesday, I got a call home from his first grade teacher.
During a "safety" lesson, the class was discussing pictures about injury prevention. They moved through the general stuff like "wear a helmet" and "look both ways before you cross the street." But when they came to a photo showing a pot of boiling water on a stove, William raised his hand. His teacher told me he proceeded to tell his story and even rolled up his sleeves, then pulled down his collar to show his new class ALL of his scars.
Apparently, after William’s brave confession, about five kids said, “Me too,” and then revealed their own smaller scars to let William know he is not alone.
I am not sure there are any more words to leave you with today other than gratitude:
I'm grateful for the "Me too" moments that have given me the comfort and strength I've needed to endure nearly a decade of motherhood.
I'm grateful that my boy is thriving despite his scars, and that he's finally experienced the power of "Me too."