“Mama, you are the queen of crabby and tired!” proclaimed eight-year old Etta, hands on her hips. I glared at her. Me, crabby? I was NOT crabby, dammit! So what if I had snapped at her once or twice. Ok, maybe three or four times. “Finish your snack already!” “Stop hitting your brother!” “Don’t leave your candy wrapper lying around, I’m not your maid!”
It had been a particularly rough day. I was exhausted, throwing some dinner together, answering email, and putting the finishing touches on an overdue technical writing assignment. Etta, impatient as always for my attention, had been growling and yapping and pulling on me like a cute but particularly insistent and annoying puppy.
I clenched my teeth to keep from yelling at her yet again.
Hmmm. Maybe she had a point.
I took another deep breath, and admitted to myself she was right.
Yes, I am the queen of crabby, thank you very much. In fact, I’m more than crabby. I’m exhausted, off-center, and deeply distressed by the state of the world. Not to mention the piles of laundry, the annoyingly loud whine of the leaf blower blasting outside, the unanswered emails clamoring for attention, and a mile long to-do list that despite my best efforts will never ever get done.
I turned to my daughter, her face still defiant. And now, I saw something else that I’d failed to notice before. A longing to be seen. Heard. Reassured that I still loved her.
At this point, you may think I’m about to reveal how I scooped Etta up into my arms and hugged her tight, how my eyes flooded with tears and my stress melted away as I recalled that important truth — that my children are the most precious things on the planet, dinner and work deadlines be damned.
But no. That’s not this story.
Because after realizing I was being crabby, my next thought was “and that’s okay.” Because being crabby is part of being human.
Allowing myself to have a range of feelings, crabby and otherwise, is huge. Because when I first became a parent nearly ten years ago, “mom” to me meant “she who is endlessly patient and emotionally available.” And apparently, “she who does not lose it in front of her kids”. Anything else meant I was a BAD MOM.
I have failed over and over again to live up to that expectation, beating myself up for it countless times. And somehow, oddly enough, telling myself what a terrible parent I am has not improved my ability to stay calm and present for my kids. Go figure.
In fact, what I’ve come to realize is that the path to being present and compassionate with my kids lies in practicing compassion and forgiveness toward myself, as I face the daily joys and struggles of being a parent.
And the first part of that practice: let go of expectations of how I think I should be, and accept how I actually am.
Accept that I’m an imperfect human and parent.
Accept that I’m doing the best I can.
Accept that I am capable of the full range of human emotions, sometimes all within the span of five minutes as I juggle work and kids and a dog and a marriage and the stress of being a caring person in this crazy world.
Once I made space for my crabby feelings, I was able to be truly present for Etta. I gave her a big hug and held her close. I told her I was sorry I was crabby at her. I told her I loved her, always. And, I told her “everyone gets crabby sometimes, even parents. Especially parents.” What I did not do this time, as I have so often in years past, was silently berate myself for my failure to be the perfect mom.
And I count that as a win.