Like most parents, I wake up in the morning thinking today I am going to do a perfect job of parenting. I am going to be loving, kind, and smile all day. I am going to have cookies on the table when they get home from school. Warm cookies. With cold milk. In a spotless kitchen. And I won’t raise my voice all day.
Like most parents, that goes out the window in about five minutes. Six, if I’m lucky, but only because the kids aren’t awake yet.
By the time I go to bed at night, all I can think about are the times I failed that day. I remember the cookies that I never found time to make—partly because the cookie sheets are all still dirty and I never managed to get the dishes washed either.
Sometimes it’s easy to think I am going to ruin my children with all the mistakes I make. How will they survive without warm cookies and cold milk? Will they be forever damaged if they can’t find a clean cup? Will they be scarred for life if I have to speak firmly (my euphemism for raising my voice)?
One day I forgot to send an art shirt to school with a child. Another time I had them make their own sandwiches for lunch because I was busy trying to finish up a project. And everyone knows what the house is like just before dinner when Mom is trying to get food on the table before everyone self-destructs from hunger, which in itself brings out the worst behavior in everyone.
It’s easy to think of all of the ways we have failed. Parenting isn’t easy, and it can quickly get overwhelming. But did I really fail all day? Didn’t I do something right in a day completely full of busyness and obligations? Isn’t there some evidence I really did try to be a good mom amidst the chaos?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I did lots of good things with very few mistakes thrown in. That art shirt? I drove it to the school in time for art class. (Ok, I may or may not have held it out the window while we drove so that it could dry, but it got there.)
I read a story to our three preschoolers. In fact, I read three stories. That ought to count for something. After that, they put together a “reading train” made out of bar stools from the kitchen and plenty of books to read, and I didn’t even get mad about the mess.
Nor did I complain about the Play-Doh on the table, even though I was just grateful to have ten minutes during which all the children were busy and happy.
I hugged and praised a child for emptying the dishwasher without being asked. I made sure our kindergartner had cute ponytails in her hair for school.
Our second grader wore her favorite shirt that I actually got washed the night before. I taught a child to set the table. I took our two-year-old to the potty before she wet her pants—twice. Twice is good, right? I intend to focus on those instead of the six times we didn’t make it.
I also made dinner that day. And it wasn’t cold cereal or pizza. Ok, so it was spaghetti. But it was dinner, they liked it, and we all had plenty to eat. And during dinner everyone got a chance to tell something good about their day. That was five minutes of heaven, at least until a cup of milk got spilled.
When my husband pulled in the driveway after a long day at work, I got the kids all excited that Daddy was home so that when he entered the house, he got mobbed. I didn’t get the house straightened up before he arrived, but he didn’t notice. All he saw were our children running to hug him and ask him for a story.
Life isn’t perfect. Kids create messes. The car sometimes won’t start. And I wasn’t perfect all day either. But it doesn’t matter. I can’t be perfect for a whole day, but I can do a perfect job for five minutes. So that is my new goal: Five minutes. After all, my children aren’t perfect either, and that makes it harder.
One adult child told me one day that there is no excuse for me not being perfect. I suppose I could have gotten offended by that, but I didn’t. I just smiled. This young adult, still single, has no concept of what it takes to parent strong-minded, busy children.
But I do. And because I do, I will strive for those five minutes. I might even be able to manage five minutes of perfection more than once a day.
When I go to bed at night, I am going to think about what I did right. I want to remember the reading train and the excitement of the children seeing their dad, and the fact that we are able to feed our children well.
I am going to enjoy seeing them pad around in their footie pajamas and appreciate their smiles and hugs before they go to bed. And as we sing a bedtime song, I am going to count that as a perfect five minutes too.
Tonight I can go to bed knowing that I was a perfect mother. It doesn’t matter that it was only for a few minutes. What matters is that it happened.
Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of six, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.