I should know.
Back in my student days, I hated taking tests. I always considered myself horrible at exams. That belief stemmed not from the scores I received but from the emotional turmoil I experienced before, during and even after tests.
Generally, I paid attention to lectures and completed most of the required reading. I usually studied and would actually feel fairly confident before a test. At least, I was confident until I took the risk of talking to other students. Their concerns about failure would immediately become mine. Then, the day of a test, I would listen to my classmates as they reviewed potential questions. If there was something I didn’t know, I could feel a sense of panic come over me. Even worse, if another class had already taken the same test and reported that the questions were unfair and impossible, I immediately became a nervous wreck. Even after the test was over and I had done my best, I would second guess at least one or two answers.
My anxiety was never relieved until I actually had the results in hand.
Being a mom isn’t much different except that I’m never actually provided with the results. Instead, I feel as though I’m constantly preparing for a final exam that is always a day away.
No matter how much I think I know, it’s never enough. I often find myself listening to other moms talk about how they handled a specific situation, and I feel like I’m that student who realized she studied for all the wrong questions. Even worse, the questions keep getting more difficult with time.
I remember years ago, when my son was just out of diapers and my daughter was still in them, the mother of two teenagers had an office next to mine. Instead of decorating with recent photos of her children, she had numerous photos of her son and daughter when they were very young.
Since I was at the stage when I was constantly bringing in updated photos of my children, I didn’t understand. So I asked.
“Those photos remind me when being a mom was so much easier,” she said. “They remind me of a time when I probably worried more about making mistakes but, in retrospect, the decisions I had to make were so much simpler.”
Now, more than a decade later, I completely understand.
Even if I had read every book and magazine article about parenting, I’m doubtful I would feel any more comfortable with some of the parenting tests I face on a regular basis.
As a mom, many of these tests are the same ones other parents face. But let’s face facts: cookie cutter approaches don’t work when it comes to our children. They have different personalities and different temperaments. Decisions I’ve made for my son are often the completely wrong decisions for my daughter. To make matters even more difficult, my children are reaching that age when their decisions, not mine, will define the direction of the rest of their lives.
All I can do is set parameters, try to help steer and hope for the best.
Those feelings will probably never go away entirely. My mom, who has been a mother fifty years this April, still expresses doubts about some of the parenting tests she faced.
When she does, I usually tell her that my brother and I turned out fine. We aren’t perfect, but we are well-educated, productive members of society. We may not live our lives exactly as she had hoped, but neither did we land in jail or become cruel, unkind people. The people that we did become are partly a result of genetics, partly a result of the parenting we received and partly a result of life circumstances. Mom only had significant influence over one of those factors.
While I think nothing of reminding my mother of that, I have to remember to be as kind to myself.
Being a mom isn’t a science, and each child is born with his or her own challenges. Most moms are just trying to help our children become the best people they can be.
If and when that happens, we shouldn’t consider ourselves deserving of an A plus grade. Instead, We should simply consider ourselves fortunate.
Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.