Title from Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”
Sometimes, I feel like a fraud. While I walk around pretending to be an adult, I am unqualified to hold the title. I have a good job, own a house, am married, and am a mother, but it’s all a facade. Lately, I’ve forgotten to do important errands at work, lost the thread of conversations, and even left my wallet at home during a week-long vacation. I feel scatterbrained, navigating my way through my messy house and life.
This feeling particularly scratches at the back of my mind when I think about my parenting skills. How on earth could they trust me with such a precious life? (I’m not sure who “they” are – perhaps a mysterious cabal of tsk-tsking old ladies that write parenting manuals.)
That voice is especially loud when I’ve made some dopey but innocent mistake. One such example happened at my sister-in-laws’ wedding last weekend, held at her fiancee’s family’s house. The plan was to have Sprout at the ceremony, then put him to sleep in an upstairs bedroom. With the baby monitor in-hand, we would be able to rejoin the party and celebrate. While I was fairly confident in this plan, I checked on Sprout about an hour after I put him to bed. Opening the door, I was startled to find the hostess of the party cradling my baby! She explained that her oldest son had heard him screaming and failed to calm him down. She then took Sprout from her son and rocked him back to sleep. Horrified that I didn’t hear him, I swallowed back tears, thanked her, and then almost grabbed him from her arms. Even though I knew that no long-term harm had been done, the drum-beat of failure pounded in my ears.
When an incident like that happens and Chris tells me, “You’re a great mother,” part of me can’t accept it. It feels like he and the rest of my family are trying to allay my insecurity, just saying it to make me feel better, regardless of the reality.
So it was reassuring to overhear my mom bragging about my parenting skills to my in-laws over Christmas dinner. I took Sprout to the living room to put him to sleep while everyone else stayed in the dining room. I don’t know how the subject came up, but I caught pieces of a conversation about our parenting. In it, I overheard my mom say, “She’s so selfless” referring to me more than once. Hearing it second-hand made it so much more real than if she said it to me directly. There’s a parenting technique of “gossiping” to your spouse or children’s toys where you tell them how great the kid is so that they overhear you but you aren’t directly addressing them. I doubt my mom was doing that on purpose – I’m not three years old – but it had the same effect. Hearing that my little slip-ups haven’t tarnished my overall parenting was a relief.
Now, when I screw up – which is of course, inevitable – I’m going to try to hear my mom’s proud tone instead my judgmental one. I would never say the things I think to myself to someone else, so why do I judge myself that way? Instead, I need to approach my failings with the same grace and patience I try to extend to others.
I also need to remember that parenting – and life in general – is a learning experience, which inherently involves failing. Last week, I said to Chris, “I don’t feel at all like an adult. I certainly didn’t graduate adult school.” To which he responded, “Well, yeah. Do you know what happens when you graduate adult school?” After a brief pause, I replied, “You die?” Considering the alternative, I don’t want to graduate quite yet – I still have plenty of learning to do.