If you have ever been in or around a group of moms, you have likely experienced what I like to call “the assessment period.” It is the phenomenon especially prevalent when moms gather together, the default mode we have to immediately look around and take inventory: how are the other children our son’s age developing? What snacks did that mom bring? Did she give her child the flu shot this year? Which little girl has a meltdown first and, perhaps the weightiest of all, what will her mom do about it with everyone watching? (Or maybe it is just me who feels that pressure. All the time.)
The assessment period is our fact gathering. It is the way we learn who does what and why other moms make the choices they do. No one talks out loud about the assessment period: it is a silent observation and intake for each of us as we categorize ourselves and our children. But we all, in some form, have our own version of it, and what we are all looking for in the process is the same. At every turn, on every play date, on school field trips or over simple conversation about a child’s health or development—each one of us is looking for evidence that we are a good mom.
My children are three, twenty months, and one month. Each separated by no more than a year and a half. That is a lot of children in a short time, I know this. And likely because my littles and I are a traveling circus at this stage in our lives, I have begun to experience the strangest phenomenon: I have felt the need to justify my crew wherever we go. When others have asked how old my kids are, I offer disclaimers first, such as “I know, my husband and I are crazy…” or “well, we didn’t expect to get pregnant so quickly…” When someone wonders if we are done having children, I say, “oh yes, absolutely.” I answer these questions with the assumption that the asker has already made up her mind about the kind of mom I am. I suppose that she has put me in a category that I don’t want to be in, so the first sentences out of my mouth immediately work to make sure she doesn’t silently think I am, oh, I don’t know, irresponsible or something.
But here is the thing: my husband and I wanted all three children with all of our hearts, and we knew exactly what we were doing to, God-willing, get pregnant. I know that three children means we are outnumbered but, truthfully, I actually do not know if we are done. It is impossible to make that decision when a newborn still sleeps on your chest.
What on earth is wrong with me? Why do I often have trouble standing by my family as we are, too worried about being misunderstood by others? I think it must be that at times, I’m missing my mom-fidence.
You see, confidence is one thing, but mom-fidence? As Forrest Gump might say, “It’s this whole other thing.” If Webster’s would just add it to the canon, I believe it would look something like this:
1. belief in oneself and one’s abilities to raise children.
2. self-reliance in the face of long days, partners that travel for business and multiple bedtime routines completed alone, tandem dentist appointments for two or more children, and the like.
3. assurance in one’s capacity to love unconditionally.
4. reliability on the goodness and well-intentioned motivations of other mothers.
When I lack mom-fidence, things get crazy. I start to worry about who in my life thinks I already had one-too-many children, as if they had a say. I lie as I am putting snacks on the table and mention things like “oh I never feed them goldfish, these are leftover from a birthday party this weekend.” Or, by any means necessary, I insert total non-sequiturs into conversations about my kids, just to make sure everyone knows I AM EDUCATED, DANG IT! When I’m in this place, two things happen: I assume the worst motivations from others and, even more damaging, I start to value my reputation over my children’s hearts.
Now I don’t claim to have much advice to offer on this journey of motherhood, but I will offer something I believe so strongly to be true: when we start worrying more about our reputation than what our children need from us, well, that’s a walk into crazy town that none of us have time for. Mom-fidence gives us permission for something different.
When someone asks us a question about our family, we tell the truth. I’ve been practicing my own honesty, and instead of projecting insecurity about what anyone thinks, my answer is becoming much more simple: “Yes, we had three kids in three years. It’s totally crazy and so much fun. We might even have more!” That’s mom-fidence.
When we pour goldfish into the snack bowl while super-mom puts out carrots (that her children actually eat), we say “Oh my, you must tell me how you got your kids to eat carrots!” and build her up like the rockstar snack-packer she is. That’s mom-fidence. (And everyone knows well and good the goldfish did not come from a birthday party over the weekend so no sense in lying about it).
And when other children develop faster, behave better, go to a more expensive school or get selected for the team our son did not, we applaud, we ask genuine questions, we learn from others, and above all, we go straight to our children’s hearts and put all of our attention there. The ability to look at all of those things and make them not about us, that’s mom-fidence. When you really think about it: when your daughter is irrationally upset at Target, what she does not need is for her mom to explain to onlookers that, “she never does this!” What she needs is to know her mom has boundaries, yes, but right at that moment, it’s just you and her, working it out together, and that there is no tantrum too big for a hug at the end. That’s mom-fidence.
In the end, mom-fidence believes something very, very important: we have everything we need to be incredible mamas to the children we have. We can do this well when kids are sick, when days are crappy, when backpacks get left at home. We can learn from and appreciate the methods of others but our own and our best will be enough, they will. And we can parent our children with the knowledge that us mamas, we really are on the same team