The question rings in my head all the time. It is there with every assessment of a mild cold, every attempt at discipline, every decision about school, and every dinner table rule-concession. It hovers like fog in the morning, except it never, ever burns off midday. This thought, this plaguing uncertainty that always keeps me about three steps behind full confidence in my parenting.
Am I doing this right?
The doubt settled in early, about the moment I held a slippery baby fresh from my womb on my chest and tried gently to get her to drink. I looked at my mom, at the doctor, and at my best friend and insecurely asked, “Is this right?” It came back when this same girl got her first fever at six weeks old and I called the pediatrician to tell him all the things I was trying to give her some relief, all the while begging him to answer, “is that right?” And lest I ever get too cocky in my own estimation of baby-rearing, there’s a new rash, a new sleeping issue, a new attitude, a new independence, a new word, a new childcare, a new stage, and then a whole new child who does everything different than the first and I’m over here looking at all the mamas around me and I’m always, always wondering, am I doing this right?
My husband and I are expecting our third child now. It’s important that you know my oldest will be about two days shy of three years old when this third bundle of love joins us. Yes, three babies in three years. And whatever reaction you’re having right now, I’m fine with it. Yes, we know how these things happen. No, it wasn’t an accident. Yes, we will be busy. And any other question the rest of the world wonders, I’ve probably asked it in my own head already. But mostly, even with my own family and the spacing of our children, I absolutely have asked myself anew, are we doing this right? I wonder every day how on earth I will grocery shop or which of my friends will still want to be my friend when I ask them to watch THREE children so I can go to a quick meeting. Just as the reservations about my ability came bundled with that sweet first baby to call me mama, they hang around in the same way as we prepare for the third.
But there is something else there, too. Like two sides of the same coin, it came into my life holding hands with that first moment of doubt. But very often, it is even stronger. It’s joy. Being a mama brings me so much joy. In ways that I still cannot articulate with the written word, I love these little faces so fiercely. They make me crazy sometimes, but gosh, I cannot imagine a day without them in it.
My grandfather died very suddenly this week, and we spent the last few days with my grandma in her home. I looked at my grandpa’s chair, I walked down the stairs to the kitchen that I will forever remember him cooking bacon and eggs in, and I stared at the dozens of pictures of family my grandparents have always had in their house. My memories are not of a perfect family, certainly not of one that always got it right. But there is joy in every part of how I remember my grandpa. I think about his life and I know that no one would say that he did it perfect, but I am certain anyone who knew him would say he did it right.
So why all this hesitation in my own life? Why am I insecure at every turn? I don’t have perfect answers and I’m not sure I ever will. But the more my family grows, and the more I see life give and take away, the more I learn to stop measuring everything with someone else’s logic, to stop searching for the one right way to be a mama because there isn’t one right way to be a mama. But joy, well that may be the one thing that can make almost anything right. It’s bigger than hesitation and stronger than fear. It’s beautiful. And in fifty years I hope it is what my own children and grandchildren remember.
When I hugged my grandmother goodbye, she put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Katie, you have a beautiful, happy family, and you are such a good mom.” I smiled and wanted to immediately tell her “oh, grandma, that’s so nice but I have no idea what I’m doing.” But I didn’t. Instead, I let her words land in my heart. When a mother of four, a grandmother of eleven and great-grandmother of three looks in your eyes and makes a heartfelt statement like that, there is something about it that makes you believe her. So I’m going to try to.
I know motherhood will forever be a gig that I can only half-master. Maybe that is perfectly ok. Because it’s also the only gig that brings me this larger than life joy even as it totally exhausts me. So, you will never hear me say, “I got this.” But as long as I let joy be the most remarkable thing about our home, maybe one day I’ll really say “I think I’m doing it right.”