The kids and I stopped at the park on the way home from our bike ride yesterday. My younger son had some bubbles in his pocket, so he pulled the bottle out and slowly began to fill the sky with happiness. His brother and sister ran, jumped and clapped the bubbles between their hands. As the kids laughed and played, I sat contentedly on a nearby bench letting the warm afternoon sun wash over me.
A little boy who had been playing on the nearby slide came barreling over to join in the fun. My son showed him how to blow through the bubble wand, and soon the boy was scattering bubbles across the park. A few moments later his mom appeared and began apologizing on behalf of her son.
“I’m so sorry!” she gushed. “He’s only two. I hope you don’t mind that he came over!”
I shaded my eyes with my hand, and looked up at her. “No worries,” I smiled. “They’re all having fun together. Bubbles are like the ultimate olive branch among kids.”
“I have so much to learn,” she sighed, plopping down onto the bench beside me. “I didn’t bring any bubbles or toys with us. I have a seven month old as well, and she doesn’t need any toys, so I always forget. I guess I’ll know better for next time.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I said gently. “There’s no right or wrong way to go to the park. Most kids are happy with some sand and a stick.”
“I guess you’re right.” She paused, thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Your kids are really well behaved. They’re sharing so nicely with my son, and they’re really happy and polite! How do you do it with three? You make it look easy, and I’m here struggling with only two!”
I was so surprised by her comments that it took me a moment to answer. How and when did I become that mom that other people look at and think, “Wow, she’s really got her shit together!” I could remember not that long ago being a new mom myself and looking at all the other moms at the park who seemed so at ease, their kids playing perfectly without the need for constant supervision. I remembered feeling so overwhelmed and discouraged, thinking maybe I was doing something wrong, and wondering if it was ever going to get any easier.
“I struggle every day,” I finally admitted. “My kids scream and fight, and they often hold each other’s toys hostage. Sometimes they play nicely together, but sometimes I feel like I’m raising a pack of wild animals. It’s hard, and sometimes I cry, but every day I learn a little bit more, I become a little bit wiser and a tiny bit more confident. I used to compare myself to other parents, but after a while I realized that I was never going to be anyone other than me, so I stopped caring about what everyone else did.”
The kids came running up to me then, and I took a moment to tousle their sand filled hair before continuing. “It will be the same for you,” I said, wiping a streak of dirt off my youngest’s cheek. “As your kids get older, you’ll gain more experience, you will develop your skills as a mom, and before you know it, you’ll be right here where I am, sitting casually on a bench watching your kids play.”
I paused to sip on some water, and to let that sink in. “Don’t get me wrong,” I continued. “You’ll still be slightly stressed, pretty damn tired, and you may drink a little more wine some days than you should, but you’ll have mastered being able to look totally chill when you take your kids to the park.”
The other mom laughed, then said, “No one has ever been that honest with me before. You’ve given me more hope than you’ll ever know. Thank you for that.”
“My pleasure,” I said, and I meant it. Too often we avoid talking about how hard parenting actually is. We are all in this together, and it’s okay to share our stories, and to reach out and ask for help. We all struggle and feel like a failure from time to time, and that is completely normal and perfectly okay. It’s how we learn and grow, and it’s how we become better parents.