05/10/2013 05:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Priceless Mother's Day Gift to Myself

Aidan Donnelley Rowley

Parenting people is the hardest thing I've ever done. Hands down. There is no instruction manual to turn to, no foolproof lists of Always and Never, no one-size-fits all cloak to don and fight the good fight. There is no right way to do this thing I am doing and so many of us are doing.

Here's the thing: In an effort at control, we write books and we buy books and sometimes, if we can find the time, we read these books. And these books say things. Suggest things. And if we are not strong when we are reading these books that are written so eloquently and packaged so prettily, if we are feeling soft, we might feel insecure. And there is nothing wrong with these books per se; some of them are insightful and excellent and, hey, I could see myself wanting to write one someday. But.

Here's another thing: Being self-deprecating about our parenting efforts has become "trendy." We are quick to document our less-than moments online and elsewhere. And I am complicit in this, all of this; I'm thinking of the time I let my one-year-old taste my Diet Dr. Pepper and then photographed her holding the bottle and posted it to Facebook with some clichéd Mommy-of-the-Year tagline. Sarcasm is rampant. Self-loathing, practically en vogue. But there is something more serious, less cute and less snazzy underlying our culture of quips and jabs and witticisms: Insecurity, guilt, confusion, fear.

All of these things are part of the landscape of parenthood. All of these things play a role in our everyday. All of these things keep us up at night. All of these things inform what we do and what we don't do, who we are and who we are afraid to be. All of these things are the things that could unite us if we let them, if we actually dared to talk about them.

But instead, we too often keep it light. We snap pictures of symmetrical, sunny moments, of pigtails and smiles and first days at school. Instead, we fill our spaces and silences with banter about sleep and snacks and strollers and field trips. Instead, we dance, and skillfully too, around the harder, nameless stuff -- the stuff that makes us shake with worry and spin with wonder, the stuff that makes us real.

The other day, I had coffee with a friend and she said something: "I'm a terrible parent." Those were her exact words. And I waited for the punchline. There was none. I looked at her as we fiddled with our straws and said, "You don't really believe that, do you?" And she shrugged, and we smiled, and there was an almost scripted bartering of humor and chit-chat, a collective fleeing of what could have been a good, tangled conversation about parenthood, about life.

Look, there are not-so-good mothers out there. Mothers who drop the ball in sad and egregious ways, parents who put themselves first in unforgiving ways. Parents who might, or definitely, qualify as terrible. But my friend, a whip-smart and wonderful, if neurotic, person and mother is certainly not one of them. She is a good parent. And she is trying.

And this is true of so many of us, maybe even most of us. We are stumbling and fumbling, wandering and worrying, but we care deeply and love profoundly, and, at the end of the day, that very long proverbial day, we are not perfect, but good. And we are trying.

So, moms, as the day all about us approaches, let's do ourselves a favor and abandon the caricatures and cut the crap. Let's stop teasing ourselves and calling ourselves names. Let's stop undermining our own efforts, broadcasting our marginal failures. Instead, let's look each other in the eye -- actually, metaphorically, virtually, lovingly -- and talk. Talk about this thing we are doing, this impossible and amazing and elusive and wildly important thing we are doing. Let's say words that feel hard and raw, but words that mean something and might just get us somewhere. Words that are indeed a gift.

As a start, let's maybe just say a few.

I'll go first.

I am a good mother. And I am trying.


For more of Aidan's words, visit

Are you hard on yourself as a mother? Do you forget to celebrate the things you are doing well? Have you noticed a theme of self-doubt and self-deprecation in the mothers around you? Are you willing to type the following in the comments: "I am a good mother. And I am trying."?