My firstborn angel firecracker, Emerson Violet, turned FOUR on March 15. And to shamelessly turn to mush for a second, I cannot believe it. It’s wild to me, the passage of time, made visible in a small growing human. As Doug keeps saying, we’ve officially earned our undergraduate degrees in parenting, and what a true and cute way to put it, that sacred season we’ll never relive again. #4yearsdown #14togo #JK #ParentsForever
Since birthdays just never stop in our house and I still have a Mom Feels hangover, I’m staring at this professional newborn photo with whatever is the next level of heart eyes. In addition, I keep replaying a conversation I had with my sister last week, a raw and overflowing reflection on my current feelings and fears as a mom.
We were seated in the darling café of the holy temple of girl-mom heaven that is the American Girl Doll Store at The Grove in Los Angeles. I still don’t have a blueprint for how we’ll keep handling birthdays, but generally I find myself alternating between the big, vibrant, themed, Pinterest bashes with all the best friends, and smaller, intimate gatherings with some ride-or-die loved ones we can count on one hand. I like the mega-parties but appreciate the low fanfare, too. Our special family day in the “big city”—as we call any major metropolis thanks to Angelina’s Big City Ballet—was exactly what this year called for on the actual date. Just me, my mom and my sister, even a babysitter for Hadley so our attention could be on Emerson without the stress of a nap schedule.
Sitting there at our personal tea party, I observed my little woman, proudly dressed as Moana (naturally). Birthday girl gets to be queen. In that moment, she looked blissfully lost in a domain all her own, slicing a bite of her mini frosted cinnamon bun with a fork that looked too large for her hand, but that she managed to handle just beautifully. A strand of her blonde, fine hair was twisted into a braid, a feat I can’t always achieve with my strong-willed sweetie but had somehow conquered that morning. Maybe she knew March 15 was a birth for me, too; the delivery of a brand-new self I would meet in the Transformational College of Motherhood.
While I gazed at her braid, that distinct well of emotion we know only as moms bursted forth from the pleats of my heart. Love, responsibility, panic. Wonder at how far I’d come as a mom, but also how far I still had to go. In the safety of my mom and my sister, the questions tumbled, unfiltered, as Emerson offered a bite of bun to her doll.
“She’s just so amazing,” I exclaimed, quietly. “Look how sweet she is. I just want to give her the best life. Do you guys think I’m giving her everything that she needs? Do you think she’s happy? Do you think that I’m doing a good job? Sometimes I get so scared that I’m not.”
“Steph,” Heather responded, affirming, compassionate. “It’s so much simpler than you think.”
It’s never not a great thing to have a licensed therapist as your sister. My seasoned mom nodded, too.
“Really. Haven’t you heard of the psychological term, ‘Good-Enough Mother?’”
I remembered I had. “Tell me more.”
“It’s real,” she said. “A legit theory backed by tons of research and coined in the 1950s. There is no such thing as a perfect mom; only a ‘good enough’ mother. Kids actually benefit from their parents’ imperfections. They just need you to be ‘good enough.’ It’s all they need to thrive and survive. If you’re present, if you’re attuned to her needs, if you’re listening, if you mirror her expressions, emotions—you’re doing an excellent job. If a mom strives for that, even misses the mark sometimes, she’s doing mothering right.”
My pinched shoulders unfurled. Exhale. Relief?
“It’s so much simpler than you think, Steph.”
She knew I had to hear it again.
I looked at my firstborn once more, the girl who’d completely transformed me. She peeped up from her own magic American Girl world, tilted her head, glowed up at me with her whole sunshine face.
As if to say, I love you so much, Mom. I’m happy. I’m going to be more than OK.
How would I remember this wisdom from Therapister? My brain turns almost everything into an acronym, so quickly I knew.
Be Present. Attuned. Listen. Mirror.
I had everything I needed to be a good mom, right there in the palm of my hand.
The next morning at MOPS, at the conclusion of session, our ever-anointed prayer coordinator shared these, of all verses, to lift up our stressed-mom spirits:
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
Isaiah 49: 14-16a.
Coincidence? Nah. I always prefer the term miracle.
Even when I’m weak, He will carry me with His palms and their scars.
I remembered a scene from the movie Room:
“I’m not a good enough Ma.”
“But you’re Ma!”
“I am. I am.”
If you haven’t seen Room, you should! It’s one of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations ever created. In summary, a young woman is kidnapped, imprisoned and abused by an evil man. She becomes pregnant. Despite their hideous circumstances, she raises up her son in a cocoon of beauty and life, right there in their torturous prison. This scene is from the end of the movie, after the mom’s recovery from attempted suicide, following the years of pain, incarceration, and at last, escape. In a moment of total self-doubt and vulnerability, after she’d done the worst, her son responds with adoration and grace.
Because she was just that: good enough. Her frailty, strength, personality, optimism and fortitude. That’s why the film is so powerful, showing the ability of a mother—every mother—to nurture a life, shield from harm, inspire and love, foster imagination, instill hope and bravery, even in the bleakest of circumstances.
Ma lost her temper. Ma grew anxious. Ma didn’t always know what to do.
But she was present. She was attuned. She was listening. She was a mirror so her sweet son could see.
In the end, Ma was a hero.
These words, good enough, have already been a powerful mantra for me in combatting lies.
I struggled deeply in the early days with both of my girls. I felt anxious, lost and depressed for so much of that time. Did I fail them as innocent newborns who needed more?
You cradled them, sang to them, nursed them, died to yourself for them. Through your own fog, you introduced them to this world with the life-defining clarity of unconditional love.
In the Target checkout line yesterday, Emerson threw a completely demonic tirade in the checkout line because I refused to buy her both the Belle nightgown and the Minnie-rella Disney Junior DVD. (I can be such a jerk.) The whole store stared. My blood pressure elevated. I took a deep breath, retorted in rage, nearly burst into tears of my own. Was my kid spoiled rotten? Did I overreact? Will I ever know firmly what to do in those situations?
What did that sweet mom say to you while squeezing past your pandemonium, you blocking the whole massive exit way with your overfilled cart, down on your knees at eye level with your upset daughter to teach her a lesson? Sweetly, generously: “You’re a great mom.”
Remember when you thought you were patient and strong? Hahahahaha.
God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Motherhood feels daunting in a whole new way as we foray into the Big-Girl years. I’m often overwhelmed by the calling before me, watching Emerson’s tangles turn into braids, scribbles turn into forms, curiosity turn into intelligence. Seriously, how does 4 seem 14? Especially as tantrums turn right to the stuff teenage nightmares are made of.
But through my brokenness, limitations and doubts, can shine optimism, courage and light.
It’s all there in the palm of my hand.
“I’m not a good enough mom.”
But you’re YOU.