“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
My soul was born to Earth…to fulfill the role of mother to two innocent, sweet souls. A significant, temporary, sometimes all-consuming, yet not-my-only-purpose role. A role that brings with it endless opportunities for doubt and guilt. A role in which I sometimes have no clue what I’m doing, with days where I’m just barely making it, as I piece together the minutes. A role where I, at times, still feel like a child raising children, playing house.
It’s also a role that is teaching me, more than anything, how to really trust my natural instincts, to tune in with my intuition about the right decisions to make. A role that is daily reminding me to trust that I’m being guided by the Creator who designed all this. Because there are moments I can’t believe I’ve been entrusted with the safety, survival and development of these little humans. It’s daunting, and I need help knowing what to do.
There’s a whole running list in my head of the things I could feel guilty about when it comes to my kids. I’ll just pick one, with the hope that in writing it here, I can erase it from the list and move on.
Meals. Do I really need to explain? Let’s take a deep breath in here together, moms. Now let it out with a huge sigh. I have to be confident that I’m doing the best I can at balancing my kids’ nutritional needs with their picky preferences. Here’s a glimpse into how it goes down in our house:
“Oh honey, you want to dip that grilled cheese sandwich in applesauce. Go for it.”
“You want to drench green beans in sugary yogurt. Be my guest.
“Sure, have three suckers while your sister naps, as long as you’re quiet. Here’s an apple to go with it.”
“And yes, I will give you three chocolate chip cookies if you get in the car, right now.”
Hey…we’re making it work. My kids are healthy and they never go hungry. Not all families can say that. So I’m replacing the guilt with gratitude that I can put any kind of food on the table, three times a day, seven days a week.
I’ve talked to enough moms to know, I’m not alone in this. No one really knows what they’re doing. But I know for sure that we’re ALL doing the best we can with the knowledge and resources we currently have in every situation, always. That is the main message here.
This realization has been a huge stepping stone to self-forgiveness for any perceived failures on my part. As well as a step in letting go of some resentment held toward my own parents. Having children has shifted my perspective and shed a new light on old wounds.
For example, I have this faint memory of lying on the couch as a kid with the stomach flu, throwing up in a bucket on the floor. It’s in the middle of the night and my mom is sitting in a lazy boy chair across the room staring at me with what I interpreted as a scornful glare. I’ve held this memory for years wondering why my mom would be mad that I had the flu. Seeing it as “proof” that she really is selfish.
But now that I’m a mother, with a wider perspective, I have a new interpretation. She was tired, really tired, and very worried. At the time, she owned a daycare, and in that moment she was probably thinking about how in just three short hours she’d have ten other kids showing up who she’d be caring for, all day long. She’d have to be cheerful and on top of her game, all the while trying to keep a good watch on her own sick child, and keep the other kids away. Wondering how the hell she was going to make it through the day. I see it now that she was there for me while I was sick. She brought me a bucket, cleaned it up, and was probably sitting away from me so she wouldn’t be puked on, again.
Of course, I’ve never asked her about it. I’m aware that neither of these interpretations could be the truth. We have no control over how others perceive our actions. Perhaps I’ll ask her someday for the true story, if it’s even a memory for her.
My mother had me at age nineteen. There’s no doubt, I would have been a terrible mother at that age. Seeing this clearly now, gives me immense compassion for her. I’m sure she wasn’t really ready for a child and didn’t have the most supportive family or spouse. When I think about this and so many other stories from her life, I can’t believe she did so well in raising me. It turns my anger toward her into empathy for her. I want to hug that scared nineteen year old and say, “It’s going to be just fine. You’re strong and you can do it. We’re in this together. I love you.”
I still have a long way to go in forgiving every hurt I’m holding onto but a little space has been created for the healing to begin. Forgiveness is not saying what was done is okay. Forgiveness is not about relief for the other person but for your own heart. As Jack Kornfield said, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” The way I’ve been able to give up that hope is by realizing everyone is always doing the best they can in the moment. You. Me. Even that person who cut you off in traffic this morning. Even your dad when he lashed out with hurtful words. Even your sister when she stole money from you. Not their finest moments for sure, but still doing what they knew to do at that time with their current knowledge, resources, and past conditioning. If you had been born into their life, with the same experiences and conditioning, you’d make the same decisions. Guaranteed.
So what is it for you? Where are you hardest on yourself? Your eating habits, exercise routine, work performance, a faulty relationship, all of thee above? Take a deep breath. The past is over. You’ve always done the best you can and you still are this very moment. And your best is always good enough for whatever situation is presenting itself right now. There is no need for wondering if you could have or should be doing better. Those are nasty guilt words filling up useless space in our heads.
Know that your best today may be different than your best yesterday or tomorrow, and that’s okay, as we are ever changing beings. Like for me today, I’m unusually tired. My little girl was up last night for over three hours for a reason that is still unclear. On days like this my emotions are high and my patience is low. I woke up knowing that to make it through the day with my sanity in tact, I would need to go extra easy on myself and my kids. Taking it slower than usual, pausing more, breathing extra deep, asking for guidance and supporting myself with coffee and caring words, “No matter what, you’re a fantastic mother. Keep going. If you do nothing but love these babies today, it’s enough. You can do this.”
We were given natural born instincts – those gut feelings – for a reason: to use them. The key is in asking for guidance and pausing long enough to hear the answers. We can start to trust this guidance by using it in small everyday decisions and working up to higher impact situations. Should I go to the store right now or later? Should I call my mom to apologize or wait until she visits? Pause. What feels right? Or what feels easiest right now? The best choice will always appear. As the late, great Louise Hay would say, “Everything I need to know in any given moment is revealed to me.” Breath. Trust that wisdom. You’ve got this.
“Just do your best. This is the whole of practice, the whole of your life.” Elihu Genmyo Smith, Zen Teacher