The measure of a mother

Photo by Jasmic via Flickr

He walked home from the bus stop on a day when the wind chill was sliding down into negative numbers. Minus nine, to be exact, which sounds cold until I compare it to that day a month or so ago when we hit minus fifty and school was actually cancelled! There’s a little corner of my brain that whispers guilt into my mind ‘a good mother would go pick him up at the bus stop.’ Never mind that he’s nine years old and the bus stop is just a three minute walk around the corner, or that the car would probably only warm up enough to save him a few degrees of wind chill. There’s still that picture in my mind of what a ‘good mother’ is and what she would do.

It’s an occupational hazard of my job, working from home on the computer all day, that I have lots of opportunity to browse the internet. And all over the internet there are parents who are Doing It Right. Good mothers who do amazing things with food, with crafts, with learning, with home decorating, with vacation planning, with clothing their children, with discipline, and with teaching valuable life lessons. I want to be those mothers. I want to be each and every one of those mothers, all at the same time. I want to pose my whimsically dressed children artfully by large stacks of wood that they have chopped themselves at our quaint little home in the mountains where we raise heirloom breeds of animals and vegetables which they sell to support orphans in Ghana. (True story, once when I was babysitting a three year old he slipped out onto the screened porch, picked up an axe and chopped holes in the window screens. I should probably never let my children near an axe.)

It’s taken me just about twelve years to realize that I’m never going to be any of those mothers. (I’ve heard subversive rumblings lately that even those mothers are not always Those mothers.) I live in an average home in a cookie-cutter subdivision without a mountain in sight, my children prefer athletic pants and the same two t-shirts over anything that might be termed ‘whimsical’, and the only plants I’ve been able to grow with any sort of reliability are tomatoes so in that fantasy picture apparently we are subsisting on tomato sandwiches.

But I think that I’m finally starting to come to terms with my lack of perfection. I’m learning that instead of listing the ways in which I fail to be a good mother by someone else’s standards, I need to recognize the ways in which I’m a good mother by my standards.

  1. I let my children take the cushions off the couches and build forts with them. Frequently. Even when it means I don’t have a place to sit. There’s a lot of spontaneity in our home and by spontaneity I mean mess and a bit of chaos, and that’s just who we are. No, it’s not all peaceful and quiet with sunlight streaming over polished wood floors, it’s OUR home. And it will be the place that holds my children’s memories forever.
  2. I apologize a lot. True, on my knees by their bed at night, holding their attention with my eyes, honest “I’m sorry” apologies. For yelling, for not listening, for telling them I wasn’t exactly having a bundle of fun being around them either, for eating their favorite candy bar out of their Halloween stash. So many apologies. Each one a chance for all of us to learn how to do better.
  3. I tell them that I love them on a daily basis. Even when they don’t always (ever) say it back.
  4. My parenting grows and changes. I don’t just dismiss everything I read and hear as something I could never do; if it matters enough to me I try adapting it to our family. Sometimes this is successful beyond my expectations, and sometimes it’s not. And I’m learning that if it doesn’t work it isn’t because I’m a failure, it’s because I am myself, parenting my own children with their unique combination of gifts and quirks. So I try, and I learn and I fail and I grow and our family takes on that character that is uniquely us, beautiful in our own way.  
  5. I share my hopes and dreams with my children. When I lost my bookkeeping job a few months ago I decided to finally pursue my dream of being a writer. Truthfully? It felt awkward telling the boys. I wasn’t sure how they would respond to the idea of ‘mom’s not going to be making any money for a long time.’ But the payoff is that I got to see some really amazing reactions from them, not the least of which has been watching the nine year old suddenly start writing book after book of his own in what I have convinced myself is an attempt to be like me because he loves me.
  6. I’ve stuck it out in the rough times. Post-partum OCD. Parenting during tax seasons and 60 hour work weeks (once with a brand new six week old). Adjusting to life in a new state. Depression. I’m showing my children what it means to navigate as a broken person in a broken world. I hope that I’m showing them what it means to let God’s strength show through our weakness.

I made my son hot chocolate while I waited for the bus to come. A year ago I might have told myself that a good mother wouldn’t give him all that dairy and sugar, that she’d have carrot sticks and hummus waiting instead. And then I’d feel guilty that my children don’t eat carrot sticks and hummus (or carrot sticks and anything, for that matter). Today I just smiled as I made it, stirring it slowly as it heated. Because in a messy, cold, imperfect world, sometimes a cup of hot chocolate is what he wants.

Note: For more posts on Parenting and Imperfection, head over to Beth Woolsey's blog "Five Kids is a Lot of Kids".  I'm thrilled to have gotten to take part in her writing contest and look forward to reading more entries. Plus, she's the perfect combination of laugh out loud funny and thoughtful inspiration, so you should read her whole blog.


  1. Thank you for admitting what so many of us feel. All these moms with all their Pinterest inspired crafts and lunches...and I am lucky if I just get the grocery shopping done! Messy, cold, and imperfect. Hot chocolate sounds perfect to me, too. (And, I will bet our kids remember the delight of hot cocoa on a biterly cold day, longer than they would the carrots and hummus!)

    I found your link on Beth's blog. I am glad to have found you!

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you're here!

  2. SO lovely!! Lovely writing, lovely honesty. Thank you. Honest to goodness beautiful imperfection. :)

  3. You're a Tschetter? I'm a Tschetter. Unusual in itself. Good post. Email me at

    1. Thank you! And yes, that is unusual!

  4. Thank you - just the reminder I needed!! - Mandy <><


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