Dear Tired Mama: You Don’t Have to Be Good
written by Wendy Wisner
Today I woke up in darkness. It was almost 7am, but these autumn mornings can be dark. And cold. So cold you don’t want to get out of bed.
But I had no choice. I’m a mother. I don’t get to decide these things anymore. I followed my 3-year-old into the den where my 8-year-old was watching a YouTube video on the computer. I turned on the TV, then fumbled my way through tea, oatmeal, Facebook, getting cranky children dressed, fed, and out the door.
After I dropped my 8-year-old off at school, it was just me and my little guy. I had planned to take him to the library for storytime, but a wave of fatigue swept over me. I was getting my period, it was Friday of an impossibly long week, and I just could not do it.
I couldn’t get our lunches together in time to head out the door. I couldn’t strap his squirmy, octopus body into the car seat. I couldn’t tell him to sit still during storytime, then wrangle him out of the library, and rush home to put him down for his nap—all so he could wake up on time to pick up his brother from school.
Sometimes just doing one small thing like taking my son to the library feels like too much. But instead of taking that in stride, instead of just chalking it up to a crappy day, I start to question myself: Am I depressed? If I skip out of things, am I lazy? Do I do enough “activities” and “socialization” with my kids? And if not, what does that mean for them, for me, for their futures?
As all these thoughts flooded my brain, my son was sitting on the floor playing superheroes. Batman was zooming into the Batcave. Wonder Woman was stuck in Dr. Freeze’s freeze-chamber.
“You have to play!” he said to me.
“But we are supposed to go to the library this morning,” I said.
“I want to go LATER!” he screamed.
I knew then that if we really did go to the library, I would now have this added layer of struggle—getting him to stop playing and get out the door. I looked outside: it was shaping up to be a beautiful sunny day. The red and orange leaves seemed to sparkle; the day beckoned me outside.
But I just really wanted to stay home: my mind and body were telling me to rest. And yet, I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t just cancel; I had to barrage myself with more questions: Don’t you know you’ll regret it if you don’t go out today? Don’t you need the Vitamin D? It’s good for you! It’s good for him! Don’t you want to be a good mom?
That last question was the one that stopped me in my tracks—because that was the crux of all my angst. I was putting undue pressure on myself to be GOOD. A good mother who does good things for her children every day no matter what. A mother who makes the healthy choice. The mother who takes her kids outside. The mother who takes her kids to the damn library.
Why on earth do we mothers do this to ourselves? Why was I getting myself worked up over a one-hour activity that meant almost nothing in the grand scheme of things? I know I’m not alone in having these ridiculous thoughts—these nit-picky, obsessive questions running through my head.
We all just want to succeed at this mothering thing. We want to know that we tried as hard as we could. That we did right by our kids. We want so much to be good—good mothers, good women, good wives.
As I sat in the living room with my son, I remembered the first few lines of a poem I have always loved. It’s called “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
And there I was sitting on the couch with my son—my love—his small back resting against my legs.
“Come down, Mommy,” he requested.
At first, I hesitated. My cramps were starting. The couch felt good.
My son said, “But all my toys are on the floor.”
I slid off the couch. We played. It was too late to go to the library: my son didn’t care anyway. He curled into my soft belly as we played, swinging the superheroes in the air, making them rescue each other from the villains.
I didn’t have to do much to make him happy. Even my half-hearted attempts at play worked for him. I didn’t have to be good: I just had to be there—sitting on the floor in my yoga pants with all the holes, my ratty pink sweater, unwashed hair, sleepy eyes.
You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to struggle, to strive for some illusive perfection, some idealistic notion of what it means to be a mother. You just have to be yourself.
To your children, you are perfect just the way you are.