In Praise of Mediocre Mothering (& A Warning To My Kids)

I’m 11.5 years into this gig and I still suck.

Hi, I’m Charissa. A mother who doesn’t have her shit together.

I’m floored by my inability to love and care for my brood of chicks.

I assumed it would come more naturally, like a mother hen I suppose. From the moment I cradled my first crying newborn son in my shaking arms, I anticipated those supposed “motherly” instincts to rush in and rescue me from the overwhelm of knowing this child’s well-being is kind of my responsibility.

Yet, here I am, still waiting for my warm wings to cover my children protectively, for the know-how to hit me. When will all the pieces click into place? Will motherhood ever feel like I thought it would- not easy per se, but at least flowing from some innate part of my heart?

Nothing about being a mother feels instinctual, unless you count the seething anger I sometimes feel bubbling up from who knows where. It comes easy and without warning. Wild, feral almost.

Again, I understand those are loaded words, but it’s honest.

Most days, the shame of my so-so-nurturing skills lulls me to sleep at night because I’m simply exhausted from trying my best.

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I’m reading a book right now called Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning. The author, Tom Vanderbilt, acknowledges the feelings of frustration, self-doubt, and fear of failure that accompany our foyer into a new activity.

Ah, yes. This sounds familiar.

But am I allowed to claim my beginner status in the realm of mothering?

If my math is correct, 11.5 years of practice, let’s see…puts me at about 100,000 hours. This far exceeds the debated 10,000-hour requirement for being considered an expert and even the 10-year rule.

I glance up toward the heavens in disbelief…technically, I could be a mothering expert. The label is laughable. I scoff at the thought of such a glowing title.

I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing something, deficient in that certain loving hormone I’ve forgotten what it’s called, lacking a certain lesson I should have learned earlier, or maybe I was just never cut out for this whole romanticized role from the first place.

Why do I remain a shaky, trepidatious surfer trying to catch her first wave? Will someone share the secret to ascending this mother ladder, so I can experience the confidence that comes from consistent growth and noticeable improvement?

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Alas, it is here where I admit, and feel free to join me if you need to, I think there’s no hope for me. I will always be a mediocre mother.

Because here it is: I bowed out of the Best Mother competition a few years ago.

For me, it was when I stopped homeschooling. It was a turning point in how I mothered. I gave up on my obsessive need to give them a perfect, cozy childhood. The decision felt like I was settling. Sending them off into the public school system felt like the first domino in a series of many second-rate choices I’ve since made.

The bar lowered.

Although, I will probably always have a hankering to steep myself in books and podcasts and the wisdom of the matriarchs further down the line because…

I want to learn! I want to do better! I want my children to have happy memories of our time together! I want unconditional love and total acceptance and warmth to fill our home and our lives! I want them to be confident, to walk their path, to do what they love without fear, and leave an indelible mark on our world.

Yet, I can’t deny this primal fear lurking in the background of my mothering escapade- what if my mediocrity fucks them up?

In a myriad of ways, I hope I can clearly communicate this fine print to my innocent brood so they know what they’re working with:

“Here’s the thing kids, mom might not advance beyond the bunny hill on this mountain or the whitewater where all new surfers catch the baby waves. She might not have the capacity, the know-how, or the inherent competency to offer you a dreamy childhood filled with all the gentleness, freedom, and memorable experiences you deserve.

I might be out here for a loooooong while, attempting to learn balance, paddling, timing, and pop-up for the rest of my damn life.

The progress will be glacial (as my PT once described the healing journey of my shattered ankle bones) and the graduation will never come. In fact, I’ve declared, to hell with any milestones, you have a mother who’s making her own way.

Follow me if you must. But know this- I will make many a wrong turn. I will go down the one-way streets, cross over the manicured medians, and end up in completely wrong countries. Breathless, a bit lost at times, but enjoying all the expansive views!

Consider yourself warned kids.”

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In Beginners, the book I referred to above, the author makes it clear that being an amateur will most certainly make us feel vulnerable, self-conscious, and foolish. AGREED! But alas, those who welcome their inner dilettante, who rail against our culture’s over-emphasis on reaching expertise are the ones who will find freedom and creativity, who will unearth new levels of curiosity, playfulness, and exploration.

Amateur, in the original context, signified someone who loves. Hmmmm….I think…this sounds a lot like a mother. Someone who loves.

And therein, lies the key, I think.

I’m not supposed to climb any ladder, reach new heights or speak beneath bright lights about my depth of knowledge and clarity on being a mom. I am only here to be a novice fool in the art of love.

Every day feels like tentative first steps. I’m a toddler making a slew of second-rate choices in this whole silly act of motherhood. It doesn’t come without its scrapes and bruises. It takes both immense concentration and total surrender, plus heaping doses of stubborn willingness to just keep trying no matter how many years tick by and hours I accrue.

Love is the objective- the adventure we’re on together. There are no experts out here, just learners with a lust for LIFE.

Follow me as I fall in love.

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If you need further encouragement:

-Jessi Klein’s book: I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife & Motherhood

It’s relateable, and hilarious, and you’ll nodding your head the whole way through. This is easily one of my favorite books on motherhood I’ve ever read mainly because it’s not advice just a conversation with a friend about the insanity of it all.

-And of course the book Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning by Tom Vanderbilt

Although I haven’t finished it yet, it’s been refreshing to be reminded I don’t have to have this thing figured out. Fill in the blank with whatever your thing is. I’ve always resonated with a more exploratory perspective on life.

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