The Mark of a Mother

“Please get your feet off the wall, they leave a mark.”

“Don’t lean back in your chair, you could get hurt.”

“Please push in the piano bench when you are done.”

I hear echoes of my mother’s voice every time I say these things. It’s a strange thing, motherhood. To be raised by a woman, to become one yourself, and then to train up others. It can still surprise me that I’m a mom, even seven and a half years into this whole gig. Sometimes I’m still taken aback when I see my reflection on the way into the grocery store followed by my three, small people. How did I become a mother? I feel like I want my own mommy most of the time.

I have had the privilege of learning how to be a mom alongside an armful of mommy friends. I don’t know a single one of them who thinks they’re doing a great job at mothering, and yet I’m constantly amazed at how all of us are finding our own way as mothers. Perhaps the biggest marker of motherhood is selflessness. This week when I walked my kids’ home from school, I passed my friend carrying a child-sized umbrella while her daughter sauntered behind her, hoisting an adult-sized one. I laughed at the sight and she just sighed, smiled, and explained, “She said she was getting wet.” It struck me what a powerful thing that small selfless moment was, and how many of them occur on a daily basis for moms.

I’m reminded how often my own mother saved the last cookie for me or let me chew the last stick of gum. When I was still a relatively new mom I was visiting back home and we all had to pile into a car for a long drive. There was an incredibly uncomfortable, hard seat in the middle that had a belt buckle digging into my fleshy post-pregnancy side. I remember complaining about how uncomfortable it was and my mom offered to take my place without hesitation. Moms never stop mothering. And they never stop wanting the best for their children.

Mom’s don’t stop wanting good things for themselves. They don’t all of sudden stop minding uncomfortable seats, stop wanting to stay dry in a rainstorm, or stop desiring the last serving at dinner. But they love their children. And love often means going without so the person you love can go with. But we aren’t perfect in our selflessness, obviously. We see the thousands of times a day where we put ourselves first and most of us feel guilty every single time. Even if we die to self and put our kids first 9 times out 10, that one time is enough to derail our confidence and make us feel like failures. That’s why we can all tend to feel like we fall short as moms.

Thankfully, we aren’t supposed to be perfect. And the measure of our success as mothers isn’t in the quantity of our selflessness. It’s in the little moments that we offer up ourselves, press on through our weaknesses and keep choosing to give of ourselves for our children. I’m pretty sure the mark of a good mother is one who thinks she isn’t that great at it. Because she’s still sensitive to the areas she needs to grow and wants to keep doing better, being better for the people entrusted to her care.

I’ve tried all week to finish this piece. For some reason, it just doesn’t feel like it’s coming together like I want it to. I think it’s because I feel too close to it. I’m very much in the thick of mothering and in the midst of feeling like a failure at the end of most days. And yet I want to say something about it. To let my friends know I think they are doing a fantastic job. To tell my mom I’m astounded by how she mothered me when she was my age. To let moms everywhere know they are not alone and we are all trying to figure this out together. And to maybe in those moments of my own failure to take a deep breath, offer myself some grace, and trust that my love for my kids will outweigh my weaknesses and moments of selfishness.