The best moms … know their limits

Much talk has been made over the years and even recently about “good moms” or moms who “do everything for their kids” and so on. The Time piece titled “Are You Mom Enough?” stirred quite a bit of controversy and buzz. But there are clearly as many ways to parent out there as there are parents. I would venture to say that a number of those methods employed by some parents are probably not so great, but in general, most parents get the job done passably well. But I think what bugs me the most is when people make judgments about parents whose kids are doing just fine and start saying that their parenting style is lacking. About a month ago, right around the time I was in dire need of a little me time, a Facebook “friend” posted that she was so disappointed in all the mothers who were complaining that their kids were driving them crazy. She ended by saying, “It’s about attitude!” I gently responded with a couple of kindly worded comments to the effect that just because some of us mothers were rightfully saying our kids were making us nuts (this is summertime, people!), it doesn’t make us bad parents. Just normal. A few hours later, my comments (which were completely appropriate) had been deleted. What the heck, man?! But that’s a whole other story.

Let’s just say that I consider myself in many ways a pretty normal, typical mom. For years, women have dreaded the summer months in which a passel of kids would be constantly underfoot and looked forward to school starting again (even a popular Christmas song refers to the relatively short winter break: “And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again!”). So feeling nutty here at the end of the summer does not make me an unusual mom, let alone a bad one.

I will say that what makes a good mom, I think, is knowing your limits. I figured out long ago that, given my personality and my mental health issues, having consistent and dependable time alone, preferably weekly, can keep me going at my best. I’m a gas-guzzling, large-capacity van, let’s just say, at this stage of my life, and I need frequent infusions of gas, oil, and water to keep me running effectively and continually transporting my load of children through their lives. I also need good quarterly maintenance.

Unfortunately, the summer months disrupt my fairly well-planned and nicely balanced routine that keeps me at my mothering best. I know this going in and start feeling a little nervous come May. But I do the best I can to plan and make allowances. And then I still end up running low on gas and oil and burning out at least once, sometimes twice, usually in the middle and at the end of the summer. A month ago, I felt myself snapping, stretched to my utter capacity for patience and sacrifice, and I scheduled a Saturday for myself. I hadn’t had more than an hour to myself in about two months. I hired a niece to babysit for the day and I went for a lovely bike ride and then had lunch and manicures and facials at the beauty school with a friend. It was wonderful. And not nearly long enough. I was not ready after merely seven hours to get back into the grind. The timing the next day of that Facebook post of my friend (unnamed here) was very unfortunate. I thought it was insensitive and judgmental. After having my comments deleted, I deleted the friend (this was not this person’s first “offense” at overreacting to innocuous comments, either). At the time, I felt it was the simplest and quickest solution to help reduce the negative influences in my life. Again, I suppose that’s a whole other story.

Mama’s stretched to snapping: it’s not a pretty picture.

A month later, I am back at snapping point. Having four children with all their demands (and whining and fussing amongst themselves, which can just grate on one’s nerves) around nonstop; then having to make sure the two older ones get to a girls’ camp; then the oldest, who can actually babysit, be gone for an entire week at band camp; then breaking my FOOT and being unable to do the things I need and want to do; then not having any time or brain-space for thinking clearly in order to work on the writing projects that mean a lot to me personally; having other big responsibilities on my plate that still need to be taken care of, broken foot or not (band boosters [the band director needs us to raise $150,000 for new instruments over the next three years?], being in charge of my university’s local alumni chapter, other volunteer things); then throw in PMS, and it’s a recipe for burnout. (Not to mention having all kinds of large and small expenses pop up until the point of ridiculousness this past four or five months, and the astonishing number of things that have kept breaking down on me the past few months till where I’m begging the financial universe for mercy…) It’s the rubber band being stretched entirely too far. It SNAPS.

I wish I could be the kind of mom who enjoys every single moment with her children. I wish I could savor every moment during the summer with them. I have done some fun things with them here and there. I just haven’t been their everything for every moment. (Nor do I think that is good for them, anyway.) I am still absolutely ASTONISHED at the amazing journey a dear friend took this summer with her seven children. They drove in a pop-up camper all the way from the western United States to Alaska and spent two months making the trip. I would have gone nuts probably on the second week, the third at the latest. How she did it is beyond me. But I am in awe and I tip my hat to her. What an amazing experience for them all. But me, I’m just getting my kids through the summer at home, barely gripping on to my sanity.

I am still trying to figure out right now how to just survive the next eight days until my children start school. It sounds silly now that I’ve managed to get through a whole summer, but the last days are seeming like an eternity because I’ve already snapped. I have no spring left. I pretty much want to curl into a ball in my bedroom, take some kind of sleeping pills so I can coast through the next days mostly unconscious, and lock the door.

I would probably be a slightly more “normal” mom if I didn’t have my mental health issues. But I do the best I can to stay on top of them. I take medication, check in with my psychiatrist, and have regular visits with a therapist. I try to be reasonable in my expectations. I’ve been trying to repeat all kinds of useful and inspirational mantras the past weeks to keep myself positive enough to survive until I have some time alone to just regroup in pretty much every way. I just don’t know who or how to ask for help. And unfortunately, when I mention my feelings and am aware that I am being stretched too far, I end up with mostly unwanted advice (one-sentence cliches that too often start with “just”… if you’d just do X, Y or Z, you’d be fine. Or just “let go and let God.” Yeah, I know all that. Doing it is really the battle, isn’t it?) I don’t want advice. I want support and practical help. Someone want to take my girls on a vacation for a few days? That would be most welcome. No mantras, no judgment. Just support and caring.

As you can see from this long post, my manic side is coming out a bit. Sorry ’bout that. But it’s my reality. I am who I am, and I’m daily trying to improve the parts of me that can be improved, and manage the things I can’t change (genetics, brain chemistry: I’m talking ’bout you). But I’m still working on it. I’m going to fall down a lot and fall short a whole lot. I just wish I were better able to figure out ways to practically deal with the snapping of the rubber band before it stretches too far. My aspirations for being a great mom are simply in knowing my limits and not pushing past them. I’ve given my children so much and taught them so much and love them a great deal. Yeah, I need some time alone, away from them, sometimes in order to be able to continue to be a good mom to them. I just want to be able to stave off the snapping.

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

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