This post is part of a series called “Motherhood Mantras.” To read more about the series, and the full list of writers, click here.
It’s now past Mother’s Day, and Ive been stalling out on writing about my motherhood mantra for some weeks now. As always, I’ve put a bit too much pressure on myself to come up with a mantra that actually fits with my life and family, one word that captures it all. The previous posts have been so encapsulating. A couple of days ago, I asked my husband if my mantra is “F*$# it!” or “Time for a Beer.” He looked at me with raised eyebrows.
The truth is that I have many mantras, as each day of parenting requires a new and different phrase that helps me get through this roller coaster ride. As with others, I too have reminders about my house of the things I need to pay attention to, and one of them hangs in our boys’ bathroom and grabs my attention on a regular basis. It was a hand-me-down from my sister, a mother I truly admire, and is titled “How to Truly Love a Child.” It’s a long list, but the one thing that catches my attention every time I look at it, is the phrase…
Truly, this is a reminder I need again and again in my house. Boys are LOUD. Kids are LOUD. And they seem to get louder as they get bigger, so things are pretty loud around my house. Not only that, but it takes three or four times of repeating before they actually listen (if I’m lucky), and it is terribly hard not to get into the habit of raising one’s voice on every consequential repetition. Now, I am often amazed as I look back on my own childhood and rarely remember my mom yelling. Perhaps I’m in denial, but it seems she was able to raise 4 kids to my 2 without raising her voice nearly as much as I do. And the truth of the matter is, yelling almost never works. Whispering is often more effective. So I am trying – with deep yoga breaths and counting to ten and sometimes stepping outside to calm down – to yell less.
Which comes to my next mantra, a counter-point to the first:
Because even amidst the desire to yell, there is joy to be found if you just relax and lighten up. For instance, the other night, my youngest left the dinner table to use the bathroom and shouted to us still at the table: “Momma! My pee is SILVER!” (Silver??? My husband and I mouthed to each other, shaking our heads.) Our little guy returned to the table so proud as he said, “That means I’m well hydrated!”
Or that evening before our Good Friday services when I was getting my children settled in the nursery (thankfully the nursery care worker had not yet arrived.) The boys had started arguing – apparently one had said a naughty word. (Mom! C said the “F-R” word!!) When I looked at them quizzically they began shouting it at the top of their lungs. (Let’s just say it did NOT contain any “R” and it did NOT seem funny at the time, as I imagined the serious church-goers entering to survey the cross.) Needless to say, I channeled my mother and quietly threatened washing their mouths out with soap.
Just as important is laughter on those days when you feel like crying, like the day I forgot my then-three year old’s “Thanksgiving Feast” program at the preschool which is IN THE BUILDING WHERE I WORK. I had taken that morning to work OUT of the office, and was enjoying the ambiance and fares of our local Starbucks, thinking, “I really should do this more often.” It was well over by the time I realized and rushed there, after having sobbed my whole way to the church, imagining my little guy alone amongst all the other parents gushing over their kids with photos and smiles as they sang “I’m a little turkey…” wondering where his mommy was. I sobbed for hours, maybe days.
I laugh now at each of these, and many more crazy instances. My husband often tells people that our home is a “gong show,” in the sense that there are bizarre and hilarious goings-on every day, and we have to laugh or we’d cry at the craziness of it all. So we do, we laugh a lot, as much as we possibly can and more. And the thing is: we just can’t take it all so seriously. They are good kids (mostly) and we are good parents (usually) and they will be JUST FINE, even with the swearing and wrestling. God is watching out for them and I trust that She is able to make up for all of my flaws and more.
And so, it seems, one of the hardest things I have to endure is my own standards, my own imagination, my own crap. And so the last thing I tell myself over and over is:
“You are Not Alone.”
I remind myself at least once a day of all the things my mom or other people’s moms did that we would never do now, (ala smoking cigarettes while pregnant, forgoing carseats, a glass of wine while pregnant…) And I figure: I turned out reasonably well. I also stand on a firm belief that the women I meet who talk about parenting as just one joy after another with no hint at fear, frustration, loneliness or suffering are either crazy or lying.
Not only do I have to remind myself this when I am at my worst – yelling and frustrated and very impatient; but I have to remind myself this as I look at other mothers, who seem on the surface to have it all together. “You are not alone,” I think, “most of these people have been yelling at their children to hurry up all morning too. And the other ones are on prozac.” You are not alone, there are other working moms in the world, shouldering all that you do. You are not alone, mothers for generations and in all cultures, fear the world for the sake of their children, ache when they are apart from them, and all people wish they had more hours in every day to accomplish all that needs to be done. You are not alone…
On my best days, I find myself connected with moms throughout the generations as we move through our days trying not to totally F%$# up our kids. (And remembering they’re going to end up in therapy anyways, probably blaming everything on their mothers…) On my best days, I find myself channeling my own mother, who parented with grace and strength four people who have turned out uniquely their own, and wonderfully capable; I find myself channeling my sister who is one of the best and most honest mothers I know; I find myself channeling my friends who are mothers, who parent with grace and wit and humor and yes, patience.
On my best days, I find myself connected to the God who longs to gather her children in her arms like a hen gathers her chickens, and I know that I am hemmed in by a God who loves me in spite of, even because of my unique flaws, and that no matter what I am loved to my core. And I try to remember on my hardest days:
“Yell less. Laugh more. You are not alone in this, ever.”
Julie Emery is the Associate Pastor at the Larchmont Avenue Church and mother of two loud, squirmy, audacious boys, ages 6 and 4. She is married to the man of her dreams, who keeps her laughing more than anyone, and who is a stay-at-home-dad completing his Psy.D. Along with laughing they are currently rooting for the Rangers in the NHL playoffs (since their beloved Red Wings are out), biking around Westchester County, NY and loving life. Julie blogs irregularly at The Rev and the Boys.