Hope for the Hard Days

Dear Mamas,

This is a love letter for those days that are ugly.  I know those days.  I live them, too.  I’m not talking about the days that are hard because my children are throwing a fit or misbehaving.  I’m talking about the days that are hard because I am.  When making dinner doesn’t feel like an expression of love, but more like a threat.  Where their idle questions are met with venom, and I just don’t seem to have the reserves to overlook any infraction (real or imagined).

I want to say these words to you for when you feel like you least deserve them.  Because your Mama heart wants to be so much better than this.  And the regret is piling up even as you lash out yet again.  

They Will Come

First, know that these days will come.  That’s not an excuse.  I’m not excusing unkind words or harsh retorts or whatever your ugly days look like.  And, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do about it. I am not saying these days are inevitable.  But, I am saying they are not unexpected.  In mothering, I signed up for their hard days, and my hard days, too.  I will have hard days, and you will, too.  Do not let any beautiful moment shared on social media convince you that you are alone in your ugly moments.  We all have ugly moments.  You need to know this.  And you need to know that they do not disqualify you as a mother.

Keep the Ugly Where it Belongs

Please really know and believe that—that you are not alone, even when you’re at your worst.  Because if you get stuck believing that you are, it is a very short leap to assess your worth as a mother through this one narrow lens.  So, please, don’t extrapolate.  I know how easy this is to do.  The second I have a hard day, it’s easy to conflate that into a hard week—maybe a even a hard year.  The next thing I know I’m just a mess as a mother.  Please, for your own sake as well as your littles, don’t go there.  

Look again at this one hard day.  Was it really a hard day?  The whole thing?  You had no redeeming moments?  No positive impact?  I think if you really, really look at this hard day you’ll find it a hard moment.  Maybe even as small as one bad interaction.  It definitely isn’t the whole of your mothering.  Keep the ugly where it belongs.  Don’t let it bleed into the beautiful crevices of your mothering.  Don’t taint your opinion of your mothering by expanding the ugly beyond the reality of its bounds.

Even Mothers Have Limited Capacity

I'd like to offer one observation that I hope will be some source of hope.  Blame is not helpful, but tools are.  And this is the one thing I’ve learned about my ugly moments.  They come when I’m trying to push through.  I know that I’m worn out or frazzled and stressed.  I know that my reserves are tapped for a million different reasons.  But, I decide that I’m just going to make it happen anyway.  Dinner.  The trip to the store.  The homework help. Whatever it is.  I do it, even though I know that I’ve got nothing left to give it.

And it doesn’t work.  And I know this.  So, when I feel it coming—all that ugly is bubbly up inside, I know I need to retreat.  Regroup.  Take a deep breath.  Take a nap.  Eat a snack.  Call a friend.  Sit down with a book.  

Yes, dinner might be late.  Or it might end up as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  And sometimes it might even mean I miss a concert or don’t create an immaculate craft for their upcoming class party.  Even those are ok.  Ask yourself if the thing you’re trying to push through to complete is going to still be a blessing to anyone if you can only do it with a very ugly attitude, taking down anyone who gets nearby.  In a very few cases, the answer will be yes.  But they will be very few.

Be Gentle With Yourself

When my toddlers were little, I’d never hesitate to remove them from a situation when I saw that they were in over their heads.  When the tantrums started flying I knew it was time for a change of venue.  A gentle removal, a redirection.  I deserve the same gentle touch that I tried to offer them.  And so do you.

So if you’re reading this in the middle of your own ugly moment, or thinking of your last one, be gentle with yourself.  Yes, you are better than what you have been.  This is true.  But you are also not as bad as you feel.  Don’t let regret and guilt choke you.  The one truth that rings through your recriminations is the vision of being better than this.  So, extend to your heart comfort, not judgement.  

Then go back to your people.  Love them with all of your imperfect Mama heart.  Do not underestimate the power of a sincere apology and a very real hug.

Then begin again.  Together.