Courtesy of Liza Wyles

In The New Year, Don't Promise To Be A Better Mom

“I am the worst.” This is something I tell myself far too frequently, usually after I’ve snapped at my kids and regretting the way I spoke to them. In that moment I vow, like a million times before, to suck less. However, that’s not a viable solution. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why resolving to be a better mom doesn’t work. I have broken this promise practically every time I’ve made it, so I think it's time for a new strategy altogether.

I can’t resolve to just “be better.” I can, however, break down that daunting goal into small, reasonable tasks that, as they are accomplished, help me to at least feel like I’m improving my mom game. I am not able to be “better” at handling my tween daughter’s backtalk, but I can at least try to not fly off the handle in response to her disrespectful tone. Being better is such a vague and subjective, goal. My “better” doesn’t look like another mom’s “better,” so in the end, how will I ever know if anything I do is better than how I was previously performing?

My desire to be better is deep-seated. My whole life I’ve been seeking praise, and motherhood is another arena where I could try to “compete” to be the best. Luckily, a few years into the mom gig I realized how damaging that mindset was. Being a good mother took love and the truth is, there is no way I could improve in that department. I could not love my children more. I am rooting for their success. I just have to back off the idea that some level of superior parenting is the only way the kids will achieve it.

So, as we're collectively staring a new year in the face, I refuse to pledge to be a better mom. I vow to be a more patient mom. A more present mom. A mom whose love for her family extends to herself, instead.

You Are Under Enough Pressure

Can we just stop pretending that it’s no big deal to take care of a living human being who is completely dependent on you for everything? Even if you have a partner or co-parent, the daunting task of raising a good person is enough in and of itself, and definitely without adding more hoops to jump through as a “better” parent.

You’re Setting Yourself Up To Fail

Every time I set goals for myself, I’m just laying the groundwork to fall into a pit of despair. Being “better” is a ridiculous goal, because it’s literally not actionable. I can’t wake up and just be better. I can do some things better, like taking a beat to respond to a petulant child instead of screaming my head off. I can try going to bed just 15 minutes earlier so I don’t start the next day already defeated by exhaustion. I can stop berating myself for forgetting to pick up a grocery item, or having to pay for rush shipping, or eating crap for three days straight. I am allowed to make mistakes. If I can remember that, and not set insurmountable goals for myself as a parent, then I can start ticking off the tiny, doable tasks that, collectively, will truly make me a better mom in a more sustainable way.

It Won’t Bring You Joy

Working has taught me this lesson. I have been “better” and gotten raises and promotions. Those title and salary bumps felt good, for a little while. Then I was sucked back into the cycle of chasing another carrot. This was because my goals were to just be better, make even more money, and raise higher on the corporate ladder. None of those things had any emotional stakes. They were material. It’s only when I got out of that cycle and returned to what I loved most about the jobs I’ve had — doing the actual writing and producing, and not overseeing a team of people doing that creative work — that I found true joy in my occupation.

It’s been the same about parenting. Just wanting to be noticed for my amazing parenting skills is not any kind of satisfying goal. Who is that benefitting, other than my ego? Finding the joy in the parenting is the key (and the trick) because kids make that really, really tough. Especially when they don’t clean up their Legos.

You Are Already Better

I judge people sometimes. I can’t help it. It makes me feel better to see another mom dealing with her kid who’s having a tantrum in the cereal aisle when I’m at the supermarket with my kids who, at that particular moment, just happen to not be having fits. In that moment I feel superior.

However, I know it’s short-lived. I know that my kids could break into a raging argument at any second. Still, for a brief period of time I can truly say to myself “I am better.” Until I hear a crash, see my kids wrestling on the floor, and suddenly become “that mom.”

"Better" Is A Relative Term

I can point to a bunch of women I know and claim I’m a better mom than they are (because I make my kids do chores.). According to me. However, they can turn around and name reasons why they’re better parents than I am (because their kids cooperate at bedtime). In the end, we're all correct.

“Better” is not a true measurement of successful parenting. It’s just another way we can beat ourselves up or build ourselves up, depending on that day’s self-esteem levels. “Better” infers that parenting is a competition, that someone is going to “win” at motherhood. That mentality does none of us any good.

Someone Else Will Always Be Better

I just take what I learned in school: someone was always smarter, friendlier, more popular, taller; the list goes on and on. Same scale applies to where you see yourself among mothers. When I’m not constantly comparing myself to other parents, I feel a lot better about my mom skills. I’ll never be the best, but I also know I’m not the worst, so I need to focus on being satisfied with just being me.

You Risk Not Being In The Moment

Courtesy of Liza Wyles

If you’re always looking for a way to be better later, how do you actually enjoy what’s happening right now? I used to roll my eyes at the phrase “be in the moment,” because I was so focused on my to-do list; all the things that had to happen in order for life to be right. That made me feel like I was chasing a dream while running in place.

One night, I was reading with my 9-year-old daughter before bed. She had the book propped up on her stomach and she wanted to read to me. Usually, bedtime is the sprint before my night starts: a race to get the kids to sleep so my husband and I can eat a quick dinner, wash dishes, read school notices, sign permission slips, make the next day’s lunches and snacks, and maybe zone out for 45 minutes before going to sleep. My mind, at bedtime, is racing. I’m cataloguing everything that has to happen before I can finally have a few minutes of downtime.

But there she was, engaged in a story, reading out loud, with enthusiasm to her mother. Me. If I didn’t stop thinking about all my chores and start being in that particular moment, I was going to miss this most spectacular event. There are always tasks and crap to take care of. Getting them done doesn’t make me a better mom. What made me a better mom, on that particular night, was wholeheartedly listening to my daughter read to me, and feeling the vibrations of her voice on the pillow under my head. That night is now solidly planted in my mind as one of the best memories I can recall of being someone’s mother.

You’re Discounting Whatever You’re Doing Right

There is always room for improvement, but if I’m constantly looking for ways to be better I’m pretty much ignoring everything that I’m doing just fine. It’s like what I’ve read in some parenting books: don’t just tell kids what they’re doing wrong. Catch them in the act of being good. It takes practice, and I’m still terrible at it, but it is enlightening to take a second and notice something that is working out well. My go-to moments of unabashed happiness are when my kids know put their shoes and coats away without being asked, and that they don’t get out of bed (regularly) at night. Reminding myself of those wins helps when I feel like such a failure for getting my kids to sleep a few minutes later than planned, or when they need a million reminders to put their dirty clothes in the hamper.

You Might Lose Sight Of Something Important

When I try to make myself a better mom, I’m only looking ahead at an imagined future. I’m not focusing on what’s directly in front of me, and if I don’t take care of the “now,” how can I possibly make things better for what lies ahead? I’ve always idealized the future, as if things just out of reach were going to be better.

So, rarely do I look around and say, “Wow, this is pretty good, what’s here, right now.” I need to do that more. Even if it’s the tiniest, most insignificant stuff, like when I realize it’s been quiet the past four minutes because both children are engaged in activities, that don’t involve screens, and are happily amusing themselves without whining for me or about each other. Losing sight of a simple parenting victory like that because I’m too busy making fantastic plans for the future cheats myself out of that rare “yay for me” feeling.

It Puts The Onus Completely On Yourself To Make Positive Change

I know I give myself too much credit as a parent. Like it’s all on me for my my family life to run smoothly. That is not only narcissistic, it’s completely untrue. I know how I came to feel this way, and it’s been something I’ve been working on for a few years now. I have a predominantly Type A personality, which makes me want to be in control, and the mere state of parenthood is that you have to let go of so many things. But as someone who grew two babies in utero, breastfed them for the first two years of each of their lives, and who manages the educational, social, medical, and wardrobe aspects of our kids’ lives, it’s hard for me to step down from my self-assumed “boss” role. I am fortunate enough to be married to a wonderful partner who is deeply invested in raising our kids to be the best humans possible, and who takes on so many aspects of parenthood that are not second-nature to me (like the weekly library trips to stock up on new books, or the patience of teaching the kids the intricacies of a new cooperative board game).

I am not in this alone, so if I feel we need to be doing better, it’s not solely on me to make that happen. In fact, what actually happens is that my husband either directs me to areas where we really need to be better (getting the kids to stop arguing with us), and away from the stuff I too easily obsess over (like the messy piles of library books everywhere).

Being better is not something I should be imposing on myself, if I am not willing to enlist help. We all need help. And the best help is when I’m reminded that the kids are mostly just fine, and I should take pride in how much I haven’t messed up already.