By Amber Leventry/ The Next Family
Even during my worst parenting moments, I will not call myself a bad parent. It not only diminishes all of the good parenting I do, but it's just not true. I am not a bad parent, but I am far from a perfect parent. Some days, on the really, really hard days like we had recently, I didn't think I knew how to parent at all. Having young kids is tough, but usually the whining, crying, food throwing, and messes quickly transition to giggles, hugs, and goofy toddler behavior. The days can drag on, but happy hour is always right around the corner and bedtime is the light at the end of the tunnel.
The other day, I saw no light. From sunrise to sundown, the day was a mess. I was moody, my partner had very little patience, and each of our kids seemed to want nothing more than to stick to their individual agendas. And they wanted to do so with our undivided attention. The math doesn't add up on these days. Three kids needing mama's full focus at once will never get it, even when there are two mamas in the house.
But I don't know if even our attention would have helped. Our oldest was endlessly defiant, one of our twins was especially clingy and seemed to cry more than not, and our other twin wanted nothing more than to do what his big sister was doing, even if his safety was at risk. My partner and I could not get the bare minimum tasks accomplished, and we threw our hands up to doing anything other than surviving the day.
But then they were all asleep. A day's worth of clean up, laundry, and next-day prep needed to be done. Even while doing chores, it is time my partner and I finally have to carry on a conversation without interruption or clipped answers. Not true after that tough day. In our own way we tried to unwind but did so quietly. Her nerves were still frayed and her mood was still edgy. My ears still pounded from the onslaught of crying and screaming they endured. My body ached from being tense all day. Sometimes the silence was broken when we asked the other questions like, what should I have done in that situation? How should I have handled that differently? How could I have been better in that moment? Why did they all seem so unhappy today?
We didn't have the answers. If we had known, maybe our day would have been better. Some days are just a test of wills and questionable situations. And this day of parenting was one of them.
Yet, when I finally made my way to bed, I stopped to peek on the kids like I always do. With some humor, but all honesty, they really are perfectly beautiful when they are asleep. But that night I felt a pang of guilt with my usual burst of love for them. I wondered what they were dreaming about. After a day that felt miserable and endless to their mamas, I hoped they were not recalling the number of times we said no, enough, or stop. I hoped they weren't hearing our voices be too gruff. I hoped they were not longing for more cuddles and smiles after a day that had few.
They probably were not. They were probably thinking about what my partner and I eventually reminisced about well past a reasonable bedtime, even by parents' standards.
It took until almost 1:00 a.m. to remember the look on Ryan's face as he wore his big sister's bike helmet and ran as fast as he could across the yard to show off his new fashion item. It took hours after they were all asleep to remember that Eva hit a Wiffle ball over and over again while I pitched to her. And it took too long to remember that Ben sweetly threw the tennis ball for our dog, only to stop to squeal when the neighbor dog stuck his nose through our picket fence posts.
I hoped they were dreaming of these things and not the frustrated looks on our faces while we negotiated bedtime routines.
I hope they dream feeling happy and secure. I hope they can feel the strength of my love for them even in their dreams. And even on days when it is hard for their mamas to see the good, I hope it is all they see. At the end of each day, I know I am not a perfect parent and will never have all of the answers. But if I know my kids feel loved, even during the rough days, I will try to fall asleep each night with the best parts of each day in my mind. The best parts of their days don't make me the best parent; they keep me motivated to start each day with good parenting and give me the strength to parent better during the times when my best is mediocre.
Amber Leventry is a writer for The Next Family and lives in Vermont with her wife and kids.
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