“I don’t know what to do.”
As a mom, I’ve said those words more times than I can count. When my kid’s fever spiked – again. When I was so delirious with sleep deprivation that I thought I might be hallucinating. When my kid got out of bed for the tenth time that night. When I was nursing our younger son and our older son was desperate to sit in my lap.
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“I don’t know what to do.” Six words that mean so much.
I pride myself on knowing exactly what to do. I’m a problem solver. I look at a situation and think, “How can we make this better?” Tackling big challenges, whether biking from New York City to D.C. or getting a masters’ degree is one way I define myself. Break the problem into pieces, tackle each piece in order and then it’s done – ta da! Simple as that.
Except parenting is never so simple.
Much of the time, the problem doesn’t break into pieces. Often, it’s unclear if the problem is a problem at all or just your perception of it. Is it okay for my four-year-old to still using his hands to eat sometimes? Could I have prevented my one-year-old from falling off that chair? Project management plans aren’t going to cut it.
Instead, parenting is all being human, all of the time. It’s cracking your heart open because it’s too painful to keep it closed. The love is just struggling to burst through.
It’s digging deep into your vulnerability and looking your faults hard in the eye. Yes, I am a bad listener. Yes, I criticize and am dismissive of people. No, I am often not the person I wish I was. No, I don’t know everything.
But it’s also embracing what we do right. Yes, I am patient when the kids give me a hard time. Yes, I can be fun and creative and playful – even when my eyes are fluttering from exhaustion. Yes, I think so hard about everything – and make deliberate decisions as a result.
Yes, I love my kids so deeply that it hurts.
Most of all, it’s letting go of the illusion of control. We don’t and can’t control our kids – after all, most of us have trouble controlling ourselves. (Why do I keep wondering why my kid won’t go to bed when I never get there before midnight?)
Even if we could control them, we can’t control this world that surrounds them. This world full of so much beauty and so much pain. Cherry blossoms and war. Notes of kindness and climate change. Warm smiles and cutting remarks.
We just do our best. We hug our kids, tell them we love them, treat them with respect and teach them kindness. We literally and figuratively stop and smell the flowers.
We look for how we shake and break injust systems however possible, even if small ways are all we can handle at the moment. We reach out to others – friends, family, neighbors, strangers – in community. We acknowledge when we’re wrong and try harder next time. We acknowledge when we’re right and celebrate each other’s victories.
Sometimes the doing the best we can with the little we have doesn’t feel like enough. But if we look at it the right way, in the right light, with the right people, it can be enough, if we only let it.
This post originally appeared on We’ll Eat You Up We Love You So