On being perfect moms before we had kids.

“Come on Ben! You have to toughen up!”

I say this to him after urging him to do his practice math test all morning. I say this after he’s blamed his teacher, math (for being stupid and boring) and me for not feeding him properly. (For the record, I have offered him waffles, latkes and a banana – all of which he’s refused.)

I can see he’s afraid, frustrated he doesn’t understand his homework and knowing he will likely fail his test. My heart goes out to him and I soften, “I’m sorry Ben. I see how frustrated you are. I’m here to help. Just stay in the game.”

But then he lashes out again – “Well if you would just FEED ME or actually HELP ME…” and then I lose it again. “I’ve been trying to help you all morning!!” I shout.

And then he collapses on the couch and looks like an exotic bird, his lips pursed in a frown, his hair dyed bright turquoise in a Justin Bieber-like do. And that’s when I say that regrettable thing about toughening up.

Whose line is that anyway?

I remember an adult saying that same thing to me as a kid and wanting to either crumple in tears or punch them in the face. It’s not a kind thing to say. And Ben, the ultimate truth-teller, says what I wish I would have all those years ago: “What kind of mom tells her son to toughen up?”

I put my hand on my heart this morning as I drove to an appointment. It’s part of a practice my coach assigned me, a way to speak to my heart and listen to what it needs. It’s part of some grief work I am doing right now.

“You are not a perfect mother,” I tell myself. “But you are a good mother. Your heart is good.”

We got through the practice test and Ben and I were able to recover. I learned a new concept recently – repair – which apparently is even more important than trying to make everything smooth all the time. If you can practice the repair, if you can trust there will be time and space and love in that process, then it’s like a bone broken and healed. It will be even stronger for it.

Before I had kids, I would hear people say: My kids are my teachers… and I liked that idea. I imagined them showing me how to be a kid again- how to be present, how to tell the truth, how to move through emotions and not cling to them, how to play. All of which appealed to me. But motherhood has shown me that they also teach us about our shadows.

They show us where we still have healing work to do.
They show us where we need to be more compassionate. Where we judge. Where we need to grow.
They show us that we are capable of making mistakes and saying horrible things and shouting.
They show us that we are the full spectrum of being human – the dark and the light.

This is humbling.

They are our teachers and they are also our healers. Sometimes I wish that wasn’t the case! I love that thing people say about how I was the best parent before I had kids. In fact, I just found an article on this topic that cracks me up.

This is for all the imperfect moms out there. With good hearts and potty mouths. With lots of love and lots of, ahem, healing work to do. ?



  1. Posted May 24, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    God, yes. The teachers, yes, and our shadows, YES.

  2. kelly
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    i really like this. there are so many days i remember moments of this and have to forgive myself. recognizing and filtering thru is so good. xo

  3. Julie
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    I can relate. I told my six year old to stop crying and being a baby the other day. I cringe just writing this down. The comment had come after a series of one thing after the other upsetting her, but I wish I hadn’t lost my patience at the end. Forgiveness of oneself is hard.

  4. Robin Troxell
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I have said so many things to my kids that I regret (or also shouted, ahem). Esp when I keep seeing a meme that says the voice they hear most as kids will be the voice in their head as an adult….omg thanks for even more pressure!!! I just have to ask for forgiveness from them and then RECEIVE it. They forgive me so much faster than I forgive myself.

  5. Posted May 25, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Andrea, I love how you honor and respect how the ‘negatives’ can teach us just as much as the positives. I’m pretty sure your blog was instrumental in making me realize that as I was growing up. So often we focus on the positive qualities and act like if we just focus on goodness and desirable ways of being that will show us all we need to know. But that’s literally only half of it. If we’re not in tune with the shadows we’re just turning a blind eye to all of the things we truly need to be aware of.

    Funnily enough, it reminds me of Ender’s Game, which I re-read recently. The main character was talking about how his enemies became his teachers, although that might have been an adaption from a concept by Sun Tzu. And although of course that idea was meant to show us how to dominate and win over others, we can also use it for the concepts you’ve presented here. The things that make us act poorly can teach us just as much as the things we aspire toward. I know personally I’ve tried really hard to let the challenges other people give me show me where I need to improve. If someone really pisses me off and annoys me, then they teach me patience. If someone makes me super jealous then they teach me not only humility, but how to let go of negativity, and sometimes even how to work hard for where I want to get.

    I’m not a parent yet but I hope I’ll face parenthood one day with the same willingness to embrace it all that you do. <3

  6. Norita
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Woohoo, Imperfect Moms Unite!
    Oh yeah man, those dark n’ nasties are the best stingers of lessons – altho they suck as the words or actions go flying out. But that fact that Ben was so blatantly aware & honest in that moment & you caught this & are aware of it & took action with your son, and fessed up to that Shadow side here on your blog… damn girl, that ROCKS! You & your son seem to have a decent and REAL relationship – imperfectly beautiful :0). Kudos to you both for paying attention.
    Hand on heart out to you!

  7. Shannon Watson
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Sweet Andrea, so wise and true. It’s so darn hard, but so fulfilling and beautiful, this mama thing we do. I like to think of the importance of our children seeing us constantly STRIVING. Keeping it honest, loving, bravely owning your stuff, and keeping it real. You share these challenges beautifully. Love to you and yours, Shannon

  8. Leah
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    This stuff is SO. HARD. Honestly, I doubt I’d even give myself a hard time for telling my son to toughen up. He’s a slippery, easily distracted hard case, like I was at his age-and of course he’s also an adorable delight. He does need to toughen up. It’s really hard to negotiate wanting tiger mother results while employing what is, in the main, more of a sheep mother approach. (Is that what I am? Some kind of less aggressive animal, anyway.) I, too, try to own it immediately when I go too far, and remind him constantly how much he is loved. But I think I underserve him sometimes by not being consistently tougher.

  9. Robin
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I can never decide if I actually want my kids to “toughen up” or not??? I have a very sweet tender hearted 9 year old boy. I want him to stay sweet and open so he ends up being a better husband/father/human being. But sometimes I want him to “toughen up” to make life somehow easier for him? Because I think sweet tender males have hard lives ? And with my girls, I want them to be self confident, but not bitchy….but sometimes I kinda want them to be a little bitchy??? ah, well I think they are what they are and will be what they will be to a certain extent, no matter how I parent them. I just don’t want them to feel shame for how they are. So complicated.

  10. kim
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    It’s never too late for repair.
    It’s never too late to say “I’m sorry” to our child.
    Humans are not perfect. Parents are not perfect. Why do we pretend we are?
    When we are open and honest and loving, our children can forgive us. We can make amends and then we can forgive ourselves.

  11. S
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    May I massively recommend Barbara Oakley’s “Learning how to Learn”? It talks so much about learning maths and science and I wish SO much that I had known these tips and tricks when I was at school.

  12. Posted June 2, 2016 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    I have had this open in my browser since you posted it…there is no such thing as perfect.

    I hold to the four agreements and particularly the “always do your best” knowing that your best will be different moment to moment, day to day. Saying you are sorry — or just noting the mistake and moving forward is what matters … it may not seem like it now but as he grows it certainly will.
    You are an inspiration for your truthfulness… your example is your greatest gift to your children.

  13. Sara
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know why, but I never feel more powerful & peaceful than when I’m telling my kids that I’m sorry, I screwed up, and I want to try again. Acknowledging it and partnering with them to do better next time always brings me peace.
    And man, that Ben – STOP GROWING UP, Ben! He looks like such a little man.
    Love to you, lady.

  14. Elisa Mikiten
    Posted June 19, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Seems like an okay thing to say, to me. Maybe not when our boys get dumped, but over math homework? Sure, why not. Maybe your illogical side (aka intuitive side) gave Ben what was most helpful. He cut the drama and got through it, right? Go team!

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