Family

I Would’ve Been A Great Mother — And A Terrible One

Photo: Michelle D. Milliman / Shutterstock
baby sleeping in crib

I would have made a great mom.

My heart aches for helpless creatures. Pass me a newborn. I will never put her down.

I know from experience that I can hold a screaming, flailing baby all night long and manage to hide my frazzled nerves. I can sing Wynken, Blynken, and Nod for hours, while walking back and forth across a room, patting a baby’s back.

I can hold a baby’s arms down while he screams and struggles in order to get a chest X-ray during a trip to the ER and cry right along with him, apologizing over and over for making him endure all of that.

And I can clear my schedule so he can fall asleep on my chest the moment we get home, where I can give him an extra squeeze every time his little body shudders with the intake of breath, calming down after all those hours of poking, prodding, and screaming.

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I know how to write Mama Love Notes, just like the ones my mother used to leave me in my lunch box. “Good luck on your math test today! I love you so much!” “Remember to put on your boots if it rains today! I put an extra pair of socks in your backpack!” “I’ll see you at your volleyball game this afternoon. I believe in you!”

And speaking of lunches, I’m great at packing a lunchbox that would make anyone jealous. The kind filled with fruit and sandwiches cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters.

I would’ve stayed up late reading “one more chapter” of Harry Potter or my favorite E.L. Konigsberg novels.

I’d have constructed elaborate forts for weekend camp-outs on the bedroom floor, and wouldn’t have insisted on cleaning it all up until Tuesday.

I would have tried so hard to make different choices than the ones my mom had made that hurt me. I would’ve been more patient. I wouldn’t have had such an explosive temper. I would have said “I’m sorry” more.

And maybe, just maybe, I would have encouraged my child to walk to the store on her own, or ride her bicycle to school, biting my lip so hard that it bled, to keep myself from calling out to her, just one more time, to please, please be careful, as if somehow, those two words could keep her safe.

I would’ve been such a terrible mom.

I don’t do well on no sleep. I can make it a couple of days, but weeks…? I fear I might be that woman from a horror movie who leaves her endlessly screaming baby out on the front porch one night while singing a psychotic lullaby in a strained whisper.

I’d find myself twisted with guilt every time my child was in pain and I couldn’t stop it — or worse, every time I’d have to ask them to endure it. Visits to the doctor’s office, being stuck at work when they need me, choosing to let them practice self-soothing at just the right moment... I’d find it unbearable.

I hate the smell of lunchboxes at four in the afternoon.

I would abhor cleaning out all the discarded, unwanted food they left inside, muttering to myself and glaring at them from across the room as I wiped down the interior, wondering why in the hell my little darlings couldn’t have just thrown everything away at the end of the lunch period.

On those nights when I have a stress headache so badly I can barely function, I’d yell for her to turn down the TV, for god’s sake! I’d force a smile and listen to all her questions until I’d finally snap and tell her “Mommy just needs some quiet time for a while, okay?” (For god’s sake!)

And I’d skip every other paragraph in the bedtime story because of that throbbing head that would literally burst open at any second when I just wanted to be left alone and go to bed in peace. For god’s sake.

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I’d be short-tempered and grouchy. I’d yell too much.

I’d yelp out angry criticisms when my patience failed me, like the time I snapped at my constantly interrupting nephew, who was only 8 at the time: “You are being so RUDE!” (And I’d never forget my failings, just like I’ll always remember this one.)

I’d make all the same mistakes my mother made. All the ones I’d promised myself I wouldn’t make.

And let’s face it, there’s no way in hell I’d ever let my child leave the house unchaperoned. Not even once she’s a teenager. I’m just not that strong.

I’m glad I’m not a mother.

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I’m so afraid of this world and what is happening here. I wouldn’t know how to send a child into it.

I don’t believe our government cares about children. Not when school shootings are so common. I was a teacher for a long time — since before the Sandy Hook shooting — and I know what it’s like to lead very young children through Active Shooter Drills. The toll that I believe that takes on their mental health is something that I hope will stain our lawmakers’ consciences for all of eternity.

And the idea of sending my child to school every day, knowing that one day, they might not come home because of some man and his ferociously-protected constitutional right to own military-grade firearms…I am thankful to be spared that worry. (Not that it doesn’t weigh on me as an aunt…)

I suppose I’m relieved that I don’t have to figure out how to support a son’s emotional development and expression in a world that still, even in 2022, tries to shame men into merciless stoicism.

I’m glad I don’t have to help a son understand the depth and breadth of human sexuality in a culture that will pressure him to be hyper-masculine, cis, and straight. I’m glad that I don’t have to figure out a way, regardless of his sexuality, to teach him how to treat women with respect in a world that commodifies them.

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I’m particularly glad that I don’t have to figure out how to raise a daughter who is brave and strong enough to endure the constant brutality faced by women who dare to express boundaries, opinions, needs, and desires.

I’m glad I don’t have to fight against cultural conditioning that teaches women to be damsels and princesses and shames them when they don’t play those roles.

’m glad I don’t have to send her into the world knowing that no matter how strong and smart she is, she will likely face at least as much sexual violence and manipulation as I have — and in a world where sexual predators have never had it easier, thanks to the internet.

I’m glad I don’t have to explain to a beloved daughter that she’s going to have to work twice as hard as her male peers for less money and less recognition.

And I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about protecting my child through what’s to come: the wildfires that are going to destroy this beloved place where I live and the desertification that will follow, the unpredictable storms on the horizon that will threaten the infrastructures that keep us safe, the rising sea level that will drown coastal cities and change the topography of the entire globe, and the increasingly authoritarian government that seems hell-bent on committing violence against anyone who isn’t white, straight, Christian, and cis.

But I would’ve made a great mom.

I would take my kids to a cabin in the woods a few times a month, just as my parents did, and teach them to love the outdoors, the smell of pine trees, and the bite of mountain air. I’d sit with them around the fireplace and open the windows just a crack like my parents used to do, so the wind would make a song.

I would cuddle with them in bed on Sunday mornings before making them giant stacks of pancakes.

We’d make chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon — the same recipe my mother taught me, the one I still know by heart (cream 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup white sugar, and 2 sticks of butter…).

We’d cut down our own tree at Christmas, enjoying a little forest adventure in the snow. I’d bring muffins and hot chocolate for an outdoor winter snack, and on the way home, we’d sing along with the Christmas music on the radio.

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I would knit them scarves and hats and would shed a few tears every time they left their handknits in the bin by the door in favor of their store-bought accessories — but I’d never let them see me cry. Not over that.

I would make elaborate parties for their birthdays with only one objective: to make their latest childhood fantasy come true. Fairies in the trees? No problem. A trip to Mars? On it. A paleontological dig? I think I found a fossil!

I’d give the world to my children. The world I want. The world I wish we lived in. I’d do everything to make it that way for them.

And even when I failed in that — because it’s impossible — I’d still have one last thing to give, maybe something that is even more meaningful than that.

My heart.

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Yael Wolfe is the editor of Wilder and Liberty. Subscribe to her newsletter.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.