When my 9-year-old son was about 5, I remember reading him a book called Trade-In Mother. The premise was simple enough—mom kept saying no to all the hair-brained things the little boy wanted to do, so he imagined taking her to the mom store and trading her in for a different (presumably more lenient, more cookie-generous) mother. The little boy in the story lets this scenario play out in his mind and ultimately decides he’d prefer to keep the one he has.
My son reached out to me, and in a genuine, spontaneous remark said, “I would never trade you in, Mommy.” Not only did I immediately turn into a puddle of mush and have to run from the room, I’m tearing up just writing about it, 3 years later.
I was thinking about this the other day when I took my 5-year-old son to the library. We had settled into the children’s section, which was pretty full of kids busying themselves at the train table and the iPad stations. I watched them for a while, an impromtu science experiment of miniature people socializing, but it was the moms who really intrigued me. There were about seven mothers there, breastfeeding infants or minding their toddlers, chatting with each other about an array of issues and concerns related to their kids.
One woman talked about her 2-year-old daughter who had started waking up in the middle of the night. She suspected the little girl was having nightmares, and she told the other women what she had been doing to coax her back to sleep. The other moms offered stories from their own parenting and reassured her she was doing great and that the phase would pass.
Another mom was frustrated that her son wasn’t eating well. She had tried offering him a variety of foods, but nothing seemed to really be sticking, especially not the veggies. Again the other moms shared some insight, anecdotes, and encouragement.
This went on for just about the whole hour I was there with my son, and it dawned on me when I left that the insecurities most of us have as mothers come with the job description, regardless of what our particular frustrations, worries, or battles are centered around. Now I guess this isn’t a huge revelation—women have been joining mother’s groups since the beginning of time. But it’s good to remind yourself.
Whether it’s other moms, spouses, our own parents, friends, or even our children, needing a little assurance every now and then is part of the business of parenting.
There are plenty of children who follow directions, stay healthy, learn avidly, act kindly, and give their parents few reasons to question their methods. But for those of us who have kids who throw fits in the middle of the grocery store, don’t get the whole potty training thing on cue, inexplicably “don’t like fruit,” worry too much, or throw sand in the play yard, looking for a little reassurance that you’re doing the right things to turn the behaviors around just makes sense.
Last week, I picked my kids up from school, and the report from daycare wasn’t pretty. The 5-year-old had spent the day ignoring the teacher and being pushy with friends, and during dinner I sulked. My 8-year-old asked me what was bothering me. I explained that when his brother has a bad day at school or misbehaves, I feel responsible and I begin to wonder what I’m doing wrong.
My 9-year-old looked at me with so much empathy and concern. “He’s his own person, Mommy. You’re doing a great job, but that doesn’t mean he’s always going to be good.”
And there I was again, having to bolt from the room to try to keep my emotions in check (and I’m wiping the tears off my keyboard right now).
But it felt good to know he wouldn’t trade me in. We all need to be reminded of that sometimes. Even the best of us.