I was going to be the mom who baked cookies.
That’s what I pictured when I was a kid. Someday, my children would return home from school each day to a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I’m not sure where this idea came from. Leave it to Beaver reruns perhaps? Regardless, that was the mother I was going to be. My house would be clean, I’d be well-kept and fashionable, I’d volunteer at my kids’ school, and I’d find utter fulfillment in greeting my children at the door with home-baked cookies. That was my picture of perfect parenthood.
Thirty years later, there are rarely cookies. Too time consuming and unhealthy. There are no kids returning home from school; my career as a schoolteacher morphed into homeschooling my own children. The house? Girl, please. Now that we’re past the baby/toddler years, I can say I am fairly well-kept, but “fashionable” went out the window with my twenties.
I’m not unhappy with my mothering choices, but I am a very different mom than I ever pictured being. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I can’t help but question the mother staring back at me. Who is that woman? How did she get here? And where did that permanent crease between her eyebrows come from?
I thought time and experience with parenting would make me more patient, more gentle, more understanding. But in some ways, I feel like I’m getting worse at this as time goes on. I was so idealistic back when my first child was a baby and toddler. I pored over parenting books, believed the things they said, did my best to put their wisdom into practice.
Now, fifteen years and three kids later, I’m tired. After ushering my beloved progeny through babyhood, toddlerhood, and early childhood—expecting that parenting would get easier when they got older and finding that it doesn’t necessarily get easier, it just gets hard in different ways—I’m tired.
Of course, I absolutely adore my children. And I can even truly say that I love motherhood. I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t, and the joys definitely outweigh the struggles overall. But still, I’m tired.
Is that me, or is it the nature of the beast? Is it even possible for parenthood to not wear on you after more than a decade? Exactly how many times can you address whining or bickering or moping or fit-throwing in a patient and loving manner before your brain explodes? How frequently can you swallow the frustration inherent in running a household filled with small, immature humans without feeling like it’s going to consume you?
I know I’m being too hard on myself. I’m sure that this is my perfectionistic nature rearing its ugly head. This is simply a winter of my discontent, which will undoubtedly be followed by a spring of inspiration. I’ve been at this long enough to see how the seasons of parenting work. But every winter feels long when you’re in it, doesn’t it?
My kids are 15, 11, and 7. I’m basically halfway to the summit of Mt. Motherhood. I feel like I started this journey with a backpack full of ideals that got heavier and more cumbersome as the terrain got steeper, until I finally had to start chucking them one by one. Goodbye, Mom-who-never-yells. So long, Mom-who-plays-creative-games-with-her-children. Hasta la vista, Mom-who never-uses-electronic-babysitters. Have a fun trip back down the mountain, Mom-who-bakes-cookies.
I’m not sure why that “cookie mom” ideal haunts me so much. Maybe there’s a lesson I’m supposed to learn from it. Perhaps it’s that ideals are meant to change. Perhaps those cookies represent comfort and love, which I do offer my children each day. Perhaps idealism in motherhood is like salt in a cookie recipe—adding just the right amount enhances the flavor, while too much kills the sweetness. Maybe?
So the mother I see in the mirror is not the mom who makes cookies. She makes other things instead. She makes hard choices and sacrifices for her kids. She makes healthy lunches and a mean chili that her kids love. She makes boo-boos all better and makes apologies when she’s been unfair. She makes flexibility look easy and makes adventure a way of life. She makes the most of her family’s circumstances and makes lemonade out of life’s lemons. She makes her kids and husband laugh and other mothers feel like they’re not alone on this mountain.
And yes, she even makes cookies on occasion because she likes the way it makes her children’s faces light up.
Huh. Funny what sitting down for a little reflection can do. Suddenly, that summit doesn’t look so daunting. Time to load back up, take a deep breath of fresh mountain air, and start climbing.