Last year, I read a book about mass incarceration in which an attorney was asked why he spent so many hours working to defend men on death row. His answer? “These men are not their worst moment.”
Those words have stuck with me. But I typically use them for other people… if a family member makes a passive-aggressive comment, it was just a comment. If my neighbor doesn’t smile when he sees me, maybe he’s having a rough day. It has only recently occurred to me that, if this is true for other people, maybe it’s true for me, too.
Last week I found myself doing my nightly ritual of lying in bed, replaying my not-so-greatest hits of the day in my mind. My “mommy low points” of the day. I hadn’t always responded graciously. I had been on my phone too much. I fed my kids a sugary granola bar as a snack (again). I didn’t read out loud to them. All marks against me. All making me the worst mother on the planet.
I turned and began my case against myself to my husband (he’s heard this a few times). He listened as I prosecuted myself, presenting evidence of my terrible parenting ad nauseum. Finally, he said, “OK, so tell me all of the horrible things the kids did today.”
“Well, they’re just kids. They’re learning.”
“Right. And you’re learning, too. If they ‘aren’t defined by their worst moments’ as you always say, shouldn’t that be true for you, too?”
You mean, I’m not a terrible mom because I didn’t feed my children all organic foods today? Or because I threw away the toy they were arguing over instead of patiently coaching them through the life lessons of sharing?
I know most of us have heard that “who we are behind closed doors is who we are” which is true in the sense that we should always be trying to improve who we are because it’s good for us rather than just to impress people. But sometimes, it’s okay to call things what they are. If I made a sarcastic comment, that’s all that it was. It doesn’t mean I am a condescending, sarcastic mother who is ruining her children. If I feed my kids boxed mac and cheese for dinner, then that was what I did. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about my children’s health.
Yes, always be improving. Yes, love your children. But do not define yourself by your low points. That means you are totally negating your high points. You wouldn’t ever do that to your kids. Don’t do it to yourself.
Kara Garis is a cloth diapering, baby wearing, semi-crunchy mama to two active boys and a baby girl. She lives with her husband in Oklahoma and loves running, cooking, traveling, reading and teaching herself how to braid. She blogs very infrequently at karagaris.blogspot.com.