Last week, as Mark and I drove through downtown Salt Lake City, I saw a woman on the street corner holding a sign. It read, “I’m a single mom of three kids. Please help. Anything will help.” Beside her was a stroller with an infant carrier, and at her other side were two small kids. Immediately I felt upset. How could she stand out in the cold with her kids like that? What brought her to this point? They shouldn’t be subjected to this.
But then I immediately felt guilty. It wasn’t my business what brought her to this point. I had to believe that she was doing what she had to to provide for her children. If standing out in the cold winter air on a city street corner begging was her best option, then she definitely needed help. I quickly grabbed my wallet and pulled out all the cash I had on me. I don’t know exactly how much it was – somewhere between $11 – $20, I’d reckon. Mostly ones. I jumped out of the car (we were at a red light) and ran over to her. I pushed the money into her hands and said, “I’ve got three kids, too. I wish I could do more.”
I was a little taken aback because she looked really angry. She didn’t thank me, just gave me a curt nod and pocketed the money, looking straight ahead. Her other hand gently rocked her stroller. I ran back to the car.
I thought about her for the rest of the day. I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes. What if some horrible thing happened that forced me to take my kids and stand on a street corner to beg for help? Mark brought up the point that she might not have been what she seemed. She could just as easily been a hustler taking advantage of moms like me who would want to help. But I doubt it. The look in her eyes was one I know well. It wasn’t anger she felt toward me, as I’d originally interpreted. It was shame. She held her head high and looked straight ahead because she was trying to keep her pride. I can imagine how difficult it would be to feel there are no options left but to beg. As a mother, I know that if I had to do it for my kids, I would. I would do whatever it took to keep them safe and fed…
So often, as mothers, we are put in situations that mean we have to advocate for our kids. We are sometimes called pushy or hysterical when we demand that doctors take a second look at our sick children. We are looked down on for the choices we make in how we feed our kids, what vaccinations we choose (or don’t allow), how overprotective we might be at the playground. Being parents means we constantly worry about our kids. Their health, their happiness, what they’re learning at school. It’s a constant fear that any one of the balls we’re juggling is going to fall down and we’ll have let down the people we most care about.
I personally agonize daily over what things I’m doing or not doing that might be setting the stage for later failure. Our hurried mornings mean I often send the kids to school without their hair being combed or with dried snot across their cheeks. My very very picky eaters get given cheese and crackers in their lunchboxes instead of fruit and veggies. I let them choose their own clothes (all second or third hand) and dress themselves, so they often look a bit disheveled. Looking at my children, you would be forgiven for thinking they’re a bit ragamuffin.
I don’t really fall into any specific category of mom. I don’t really know or care too much what the parenting books say – I use instinct and common sense, as well as the odd bit of advice I’ve been given through the years. I let my kids figure things out for themselves, and I try not to get in the way of their progress. I yell at them when I’m stressed, and I don’t always give them the one on one attention they deserve.
I feel like a failure. It’s true. So much of the time I feel like the world’s worst mother. I guess we all feel like that.
Last night, as I lay in bed holding my four month old son in my arms after four solid days and nights of him being sick with RSV, my husband looked at me and said, “You’re such a good mom.” I’d been stressed to the max about Chester being ill and my inability to get anything done because he needed so much attention. And in those five little words, I felt all the love and support from him that I could ever need. It bolstered me.
I thought back over the last two weeks. Mark and I had had food poisoning, and I still took care of the baby. Dex and Dan had both had a tummy bug, and I still took care of them and the baby. Dex was off school for two days. I had barely had any sleep in over a week, and I still took care of the baby. I cooked and cleaned and packed lunches and prepared breakfasts and stayed up late and got up early, all while taking care of the baby. I had been covered in vomit and diarrhea, necessitating five or six changes of clothing a day. I’d been to late night urgent care twice. It was all part of taking care of the baby.
It was motherhood. It was what I’d signed on for. And hearing my husband tell me that I was a good mom was worth every single minute of it.
My friend, Amy, texted me recently. She’s been watching her friend’s child for a few hours after work every night in addition to her own two year old daughter. She said to me, “I don’t know how you do it with three. It’s like double the people but a hundred times the work!” Her words resonated with me. I thought about it for a second before replying, “I’m sure it’s easier when it’s your own.” And it’s so true. Because kids are the hardest work there is. But when the rewards are so great – the kisses, hugs, the “I love you, mommy”s – you can’t help but feel that it is all so very much worth it.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re doing a good job. And sometimes it’s up to us to reach out to another mom we see doing a good job and let her know it. Can you imagine how much it would mean if we all supported each other and stopped judging? You just never know who needs to hear kind words and supportive comments.
I’d love to hear your stories about how you have supported other parents or had someone support you unexpectedly. Please feel free to leave a comment.