My Mother’s Biggest Parenting Mistake Taught Me That Motherhood Is Really Damn Hard

sad woman with broom black and whiteBehold the winning entry for our Mother’s Day essay contest, “What My Mother’s Biggest Parenting Mistake Taught Me About Parenting.”

This is the Mother’s Day Essay equivalent of the job interview question, “What is your biggest fault?” to which the applicant responds, “I am just TOO RESPONSIBLE!” but here goes.

My mom was a super awesome fabulous mom (still is, of course). She baked bread (I refused to eat the crusts. Of fresh bread. WTF.) and made our clothes (hey, it was New Hampshire in the ‘70s) and took us to the “bottle smash,” which was glass recycling before they made it so convenient with curbside pickup. Seriously, why can’t people even bring their commingled recycling to the curb? We brought all of our bottles to some municipal facility and sorted them into like color by throwing them in the big pile (hence the “smash”). But I digress.

We grew our vegetables in the garden, and she canned them, standing over steaming pots in late August, so we had super-local produce all winter. She taught me how to tie my shoe, how to knit and sew, how to play cribbage. She did the latter well enough that my husband refuses to play against me now. We took the odd day off of school to take the T into Boston and visit the Museum of Fine Arts and have tea. My mom helped my dad gut and renovate a 75-year-old house themselves, with little kids in tow, and we were cloth diapered and she used the clothesline and yes, I realize that this all seems made up, because who really does this?

Well, my mom did. And here’s the kicker: she never complained. I never, ever heard her complain, not once. Not when my brother and I were trying to mortally wound one another, not when I declared all of the clothes in my closet to be “heinous” (hey, ‘90s), and not when I told her that her mushroom-spinach pasta – one of my current favorites – was “disgusting”.

So there’s the problem. I had absolutely no idea how hard it could be to be a mom when I became one myself. Now, I get it. I can’t seem to find the time to paint a room. I just served dinner that was roundly rejected by a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old (pizza? Come on, guys!). I can’t actually remember whether or not I took a shower today (but I suspect not). What I don’t get, however, is how she managed to do everything, and more, with a smile and a hug.

My mom’s biggest mistake was making it look too easy, and now I am paying the price. I will make sure, however, that my kids recognize the work that goes into, well, keeping them alive every day. No guilt trips here, though; I just make sure to actually tell them when what they say makes me feel bad. I feel as though I caused my mom grief that didn’t need to happen, and I would really like to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

(photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock)

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  • Blueathena623

    You and your mom sound awesome. I don’t know how moms did it (and do it)!

  • Jay

    I think we are the generation of women finally admitting that
    Motherhood in modern western societies stinks
    We are all trying like hell to it like our moms did
    And we can’t . One of the biggest changes is probably
    down to the dwindling support networks that most of us have

    • Sara

      That is so completely true about the support network. When I was a kid we always had neighbors and friends and family to help out. Friends and neighbors would bring meals to new moms and offer to babysit, and kids could run wild around a neighborhood with everyone watching everyone’s kids. That sense of community has diminished. And we’re all expected to do so much more. Its difficult to ignore all the expectations – especially the newest one, where new moms are also expected to look amazing 24/7.

  • Chelsea Sowers Smith

    Really? Your mom’s greatest mistake was being a really great mom? Damn, she really f*cked you up, huh? Thank goodness we didn’t all have great moms like you did, we would probably be serial killer and rapists.

    • Sara

      Wow, that’s an unnecessary response. I totally got what the author was saying. Her mom made mothering look “easy”, so when the author became a mother she was in for a shock and not completely prepared for the work that went into it.

    • Chelsea Sowers Smith

      Maybe it was really easy for her mother. Some people are great at it. I just think it sounds really mean to her mother, that her mother shouldn’t have been so great because she can’t be that great. It doesn’t really sound like her mother made a mistake at all to me. It sounds like her mother was awesome and she’s mad that she doesn’t feel like she’s as good a mom as her mom was. I would be ticked off if my kid told me I was too great a mom and it messed him/her up.

    • Emily

      Hi, author here. I was not trying to say that my mom “messed me up” at all, just that she was so great at being a mom that I really had no idea how hard it can be. Of course that was not a mistake of the type that was any failing on her part. I am lucky to have an awesome local support system (I live far from my family, now) which helps a lot (addressing note below), but I do wish that I could do everything that she did for me and still make it look easy.

    • Chelsea Sowers Smith

      Thanks you for addressing my comment with such a good answer. I expected a fight on my hands since I expressed my opinion in such a crass way. A lot of people tell me I need to stop that. Congratulations on the win, and I apologize if I offended you.

  • jessica

    I always wanted to be the type of mom your mom was and thought I would be one day. But now that I actually am a mom, I’ve had to admit to myself that I just can’t do it. Making dinner for me and my husband plus hand pureeing food for the babies plus washing out millions of cloth diapers (etc) is just more than I can handle.

  • Helen Hyde

    This sounds just like the situation with my mom! She had 3 kids under ten, whilst working in her and my dad’s shop, whilst doing a Bachelor’s degree full time. How did she do that? She’s amazing and if I’m half the mom she is then i’ll be very lucky.

  • Lisa Burris

    I have A story for you well I had called my mom and ask her if she would like to come spend a couple days with me and 2 of her grand kids and 1 of her greatgrandkids she told me that she couldn`t she was scared someone was going to brake in her house well I had told her she couldn`t stay couped up in the house then i found out a few days after she could just take off with a guy from florida ,came picked her up and now she`s gone to stay a couple weeks with him It bothers me that she couldn`t spend time with her family but i should have new that she didn`t change she has always put a man first befor her kids and i guess she always will i had just wish i had a mother that cared about her kids if I had looked at her facebook and she don`t even post anything about us on there ether how can a mother be like that i my self am glad i didn`t turn out like her i can`t help my self but to be the best mother and grandmother possable my children and my grandbaby is my world i wouldn`t know what to do with out them my grandbaby just lights up my day everytime i see her i just wish my mom was the same but ill be 39 this year and she hasn`t changed i guess she never will i just always wanted that mother daughter relationship with her like i have with my daughter that is 22 and we will always i love my family with all my heart and it hurts to know my mom don`t realy care about family but only of her self lisa

  • SC Belle

    Wow, your mom sounds amazing. If I had to make my kids’ clothes, they’d be wearing togas. Yeah, and that’s not a joke. If they had to eat from my garden… can you eat a Chia pet?
    From my mother and my aunts, I learned motherhood is hard as hell, but totally worth it. That there is someone (sometimes several someones) whose needs and sometimes wants trump your own. I learned to try your best as a mom, ask for help if you need it, and when you screw up (and you will) face it and try better the next time. I also learned every day with your children is precious, and that I was a much better mother before I had kids. There are so, so many things my kids have said, or done, or things I have said or done that I swore (before kids, of course) that we would never do.