28 January 2014

Judgy Mom Angst

Years ago, when I was still vacillating between wanting kids and being utterly horrified by the thought of inviting one (to say nothing of two!) into our lives, I was talking to Cassie about my indecision.

"I think you'd be a really great mom," she told me.

"I mean, yeah, I know I'd be a great mom. I just don't know if I feel like doing it."

So said the sage, judgmental, well-rested 28-year old Mandy. Yes, there’s a generous share of hubris in that attitude and those remarks, but it's also true that people way more sucky or less capable than me have managed to be adequate, decent, or even good parents. Why shouldn't I, awesome being that I am, be able to knock this parenting thing out of the park, you know? (Do you hate me? Fair enough.)*

Matt and I did not arrive at the decision to procreate lightly. We thought about it and discussed it and poured over how we'd make it work. Once I was pregnant with Charlie, we read up on parenting strategies and talked about what kinds of parents we wanted to be, what our priorities were for our children, how we'd handle discipline, how we'd approach food, etc. I'm happy to be able to say with confidence, too, that almost two years in--tiresome years though they have been--we've rocked it. We communicate really well, we research, we're pretty consistent, we've established routines that have helped our kids to know what to expect and to go through most of their days happy and carefree. We're reflective enough to be able to identify a problem and seek advice or alternate solutions, and we're flexible enough to change our strategies if something's not working.

So, yeah, 28-year old ever-judgmental Mandy was right. I'm a great mom. Matt's a great dad.

But shoot, if you think 28-year old Mandy was critical, just wait until you see how hard the judgmental 32.75-year old Mandy is on herself. What former Mandy knew in her brain but couldn't see fully through her youthful, just woke up from a coma nap lens, though, was that it's such a long haul, and there are going to be days that are disgraceful flops. (By the way, this isn’t some post where I’m begging for affirmation from people about how they think I’m a good mom. I mean that’s nice and all, but I’m enough of a cocky asshole to know I am. But let’s keep it real, right? Even badass moms have appallingly bad days.)

Saturday was one of those days. Saturday is my solo-parenting day because Matt works all day. On this particular Saturday, I'd gotten around four hours of sleep, I was recovering from being sick, I'd stupidly allowed three glasses of wine to accidentally pour down my throat the night before. Angry with Matt over what ended up being a major lapse in communication, I spent the first four hours of my day stewing, fuming over how I wanted to ruin his life. While I kept the babies properly diapered and fed and everything, I failed to be present with them. I went through the motions and just tried to get through the day with as little child screaming as possible. I yelled a few times at Charlie, which I try really hard not to do. I went through the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru and then drove around town, passing waffle fries to Charlie in the back just to keep him quiet. I held Matilda (um, like all day because she was teething and fussy) without really enjoying her or looking at her or providing the nurturing that she really needed. I let Charlie play on the ipod too much. I played on the ipod too much.  I was there physically, but I wasn’t really there. Instead, I allowed my anger and my selfishness and my bad attitude to win. And win they did—pretty much until bedtime, when Charlie and Matilda’s sweet selves finally conquered my bad attitude. By then, though, I’d wasted a whole day that could’ve been great.

I’m sad when I think about Saturday. I’m sad because I wasn’t the kind of parent that I want to be; I was the kind of parent that I would totally criticize. And it wouldn’t just be my former, childless, abundance of time and freedom self who would do the judging. No. Now I’m even more brutal because now there are high stakes. There’s a real-life Charlie and a Matilda who need a good role model to teach them how to behave, two wonderful kids who are fast approaching second and first birthdays. It’s becoming very real to me that time just goes by too fast, and every day I squander with my selfishness is a day I lose forever.

So then what do we do when we have a sucky mom Saturday? Well, since time machine technology has yet to be perfected (I mean, seriously, though. 2014 and still no time machines or flying cars? C’mon, technology people!), the only thing I can do is try to learn from it. I felt guilty Saturday night, felt like I needed to punish myself for having been sub-par. My self-flagellation took the form of folding laundry and scrubbing the bathtub and bathroom floor. Maybe if I woke up Sunday morning with a fresh attitude and a clean house, the day would be better? Fortunately, it worked and Sunday rocked my socks off. I enjoyed my babes, changed my attitude, and decided it probably wasn’t in anyone’s best interest for me to ruin Matt’s life.

Sunday > Saturday

For the last few days I’ve been trying to extract the nugget of wisdom from my weekend. Is it “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a good mom most of the time”? Is it “There’s always tomorrow”? Is it “Everyone’s fighting their own battle”? No, not quite.  Sure, those are all true, valuable lessons, but I think that what this sucky Saturday taught me is to reconcile my own nature (for better or worse) with my parenting goals.

It’s my nature to be super critical. It’s what makes me good at my job, good at keeping up our house, and what drives me to improve in a host of areas in my life. I’m judgmental toward others and I’m judgmental toward myself. There’s this general attitude that judgment is always destructive, that criticism is mean, that we should never judge anyone or be hard on ourselves because that’s not nice, because then we might not get a shiny trophy at the end of the day.  But I wonder how we’re supposed to improve if we’re not willing to identify faults and then pledge to get better?

What I'm choosing to take away from my terrible Saturday is a renewed promise to myself and to my family to strive to improve. Always.

This parenting thing is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work being the kind of parent you wouldn’t hate.

*This is the type of remark that I make and then ask Matt, "I mean, am I wrong?" He then channels the Coen brothers and says, "You're not wrong. You're not wrong, Walter.  You're just an asshole."


  1. "It’s hard work being the kind of parent you wouldn’t hate." Might be the best parenting insight I've ever heard.

  2. Amen. I have enjoyed following your blog because you are so honest and forthcoming about parenting and family. Very refreshing (and funny)! Thank you.



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