You’re a Better Parent Than You Think You Are

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My daughters were three and six when their dad and I parted ways. I was plunged into single parenthood with all of its confusion and angst, but mostly that kind of everything and nothing you get when the kids split time between their two homes. I was tired, and stressed, and often impatient.

I have always adored being a mother, and I have always worried that I’m not doing a good enough job.

mother and children beach

I’d look at the intact families at school and think that they probably had chore charts and didn’t wait too long to start swimming lessons and got to do things with just one child at a time.

Money was tight at our house, but isn’t everyone else going to Mexico this year? And what about music lessons! Surely other mothers don’t yell so much. And they ride their bikes to school! It seemed pretty obvious that Those Other Parents were winning.

It’s not like I didn’t hear any other parents verbalize their deepest fears about their own shortcomings. I just didn’t believe them! And despite my mother, my friends and my therapist telling me I was doing a good job, I couldn’t stop looking at my perceived failures.

I’m a worrier and a mother, a lethal combination. I’m often blind to my successes and I sometimes exaggerate my challenges. In other words, I’ve always been quick to take blame for the ways in which my kids don’t excel. It never occurs to me to take pride in the things they’re good at.

Until now.

My girls are right on the cusp of 21 and 24. They’re lovely humans; every time my empty nest fills up again, I can’t hide my delight. We’re big talkers. They don’t tell me everything (heaven forbid!), but they tell me a lot. Which is how I learned that I did an okay job of raising them.

They share the things they feel and the things they see. They’re quick to point out the ways in which their friends’ parents did things differently, and usually tell me they’re glad we did it our way. I hear a lot more “I’m glad you did X” than “I wish you’d done Y”.

And while I know that comparison is the thief of joy, in this one single instance it has made me feel better.

Here are things my daughters are good at: Maintaining their homes. Saving money. Seeking adventure. Taking care of their friends. They adopted the behaviors that were most important to me and reflect my deepest-held values.

Some of their friends are terrible with money. Some of them don’t know how to keep the kitchen from being a health inspector’s nightmare. Some of them lack resiliency. Some of them can’t seem to see outside of their own little bubbles.

These kids are fine! But imperfect. Just like mine. Those intact families, the ones with more money and more time and a better adult to child ratio? They did a great job, but they didn’t necessarily do any better than I did. The point is, we’re all doing our best and it’s mostly worked out just fine.

I wouldn’t trade my daughters for anything. I love them with the intensity of a thousand suns. I wish they were stronger swimmers, and I wish I’d taken them to more national parks. But I think I’m ready to let go of the fear that I haven’t done enough or done it well enough. And I think you should, too.

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Julia hails from the great Northeast, where she grew up in a picture postcard New Hampshire town complete with a giant community Christmas tree. (Think Rockefeller Center without the lights, cameras or action.) She exchanged snow for rain and has happily waded through the puddles of Portland for the past thirty years. Daughters are Julia’s favorite animals. Hers, aged 20 (Grey) and 23 (Archer), have theoretically left the nest but return regularly, either to live or just do their laundry. Despite a desire to downsize, Julia is secretly thrilled whenever a kid moves home for ‘a while’. They all laughed when she majored in English, but throughout a varied career (artist, volunteer coordinator, middle manager, decluttering maven) the written word has been the key to her success and the balm for every setback. Find her at unburdenedlife.com where she’ll give you tips on how to live a less stressful more peaceful life.

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