"Bad Mommy" moments are often born out of the perfectionism that grips so many mothers. It is because I carry within me the image of the perfect Good Mommy that I also carry within me her shadow, the Bad Mommy. My inner Good Mommy never needs a break from her children. She provides nourishing, organic fruits and vegetables at every homemade meal, and never speaks harshly or, God forbid, yells. She knows how to handle everything. She is not tired and her children never cry or freak out in public. She is not depressed, resentful, or angry.
Meanwhile, back on planet earth, I do my best but still find myself stubbornly human and flawed. Many days I don't look even remotely like the Good Mommy of my dreams. Yesterday, for example, I desperately wanted to be alone (which already makes me a bad mommy, by my own definition; see above). On top of it, I was alone--alone with my emotionally reactive, demanding, talkative four year old! I couldn't get an inch of space or a second of silence. She broke down weeping repeatedly. It was like a regression to the terrible twos. I kept trying to make it better, but given my limited energy and patience, instead I made it worse. I know enough to know that she just wanted to connect, but I felt like that was the one thing I couldn’t do. My inner resources were seriously depleted. I needed some time to be there for me before I could be there for her in any kind of real way. As the day progressed, I began to get the “Julianne Moore in The Hours face”--the glazed, almost frightened look of one who is, only with great effort, masking a riotous desire to run screaming into the street like a mad woman and do God knows what, anything, anything, to make it all stop!
I made it through to bedtime without fleeing the apartment, and I guess that's success of a sort. Still, I am not proud of the memory of my daughter hitting my butt repeatedly with her princess shoe while I tried to ignore her and get the dishes done. I am not proud of yelling, "Go away from me! Go away from me! I need some space!" She cried and threw herself on the floor. This definitely landed me solidly in the "Bad" Mommy category. A lovely friend of mine recently confessed that she fears her neighbors are not talking to her because all she seems to do lately is lose her temper with her two kids. It’s a true friend who tells you things like that, because otherwise you’re left utterly alone, thinking you’re the only one who fails to live up to your best intentions to be a great mom. The truth is, we all fail some of the time. We go through phases when it seems we are failing almost all of the time. And still, the great majority of us get up the next day and try again. In the end, I think that if there is such a thing as a good mother, that’s what it looks like.