Cheeks burning while strangers judge your parenting skills the child shrieking in the post office line we all have tales of scarcely holding it together
A week ago, my five-year-old daughter drew me a map.
It was early afternoon and I was in bed, struggling against a migraine and crossing my thumbs that my ridiculously expensive prescription medication would kick in soon. The migraine had begun early that morning and by the time I picked her up from kindergarten it was relentlessly hammering away at the right side of my skull; bringing with it the strong nausea and aversion to sunlight, sound and smell it always does.
I lay down with a cold washcloth over my eyes, and my daughter busied herself with the intricate work of colouring, taping and cutting paper into dozens of infinitesimally small pieces that are impossible to sweep up.
I’d been in my room for perhaps half an hour when I heard the door swing open and her footsteps pad over to the side of my bed. She tapped my shoulder and pulled the washcloth off my eyes.
” Mummy, I made you something ,” she said in an urgent whisper. I hauled myself up to my elbows and took the paper she offered me, a strangely underwhelming thing made up of dotted lines and a few urgent scribbles.
” It’s a map ,” she explained.” It shows you what you need to do .”
Then, patiently, she pointed at one scribble and explained that this was me, in bed. She told me that I needed to get up and used her thumb to trace the dotted line leading from my bed to the second scribble- the stave, as it turns out.
” You need to construct me something to eat and then go here …”- her thumb traced the second dotted line all the way to its final destination-” to my room and read me stories .”
All at once, this map became everything terrible and wonderful about being a parent.
It was the embodiment of a child’s singular, necessarily self-centered nature; concerned with having their own wants and needs met above all else. It was stark, embarrassing proof that my child felt she needed to draw me instructions for how to properly mother her- to remind me that she needed to eat lunch( of course she needed to eat lunch, how had I forgotten to prepare lunch ?) and wanted to have narratives read to her instead of entertaining herself alone.
It was the frustrating outcome of the contradiction you get used to as a single mother, where no matter how much you love your life as two( or three or four) there are times when things just really would work better with another grownup around, someone to pick her up from school and build lunch and rub my back and persuade me to take a second pill if the first one hasn’t worked yet, for God’s sake.
I’ve been a single mom since just after my daughter’s second birthday, and this map isn’t the first failed parenting moment I wish could be erased from the registers of time.
There was the period of time when she was two and a half and she wouldn’t wear anything but a puppy garb and I just let her, because it was warm, and she was garmented, and who cares, truly?
There was the time she fell down the steps of a stone patio and sliced her teeth through her bottom lip while I stood just a few feet away, building sure a friend’s wobbly new-walking child didn’t fall.
There was the time that she wouldn’t stop talking during my little sister’s wedding and had to be removed from the ceremony by my brother, building the strangest-sounding monotonous groan as she was fireman-carried away under his arm.
For me, every single one of these moments comes down to me running out of something I urgently wish I had more of- time, patience, understanding, awareness, forethought, sleep. It’s hard being the only one to predict and remember and anticipate and discipline. Sometimes I would devote anything to be able to say to a partner,” Your turn” and check out.
Of course, parenting lows aren’t exclusively the result of parenting solo, they’re the result of parenting while working more than a full-time chore, parenting while poor, parenting when your extended family lives a continent away rather than down the block.
Often, these low phases are simply a result of parenting, period. This gig is hard, and it’s sometimes hard to talk about too because the cliches about motherhood are just as tired as we are.
We all have these moments. That’s the admission you pay to join the club of parenthood: the cheeks burning while strangers judge your parenting skills; the child shrieking in the post office line; you doing exactly the thing you judged other mothers for in your pre-children life.
Share your story
We all have tales of scarcely holding our shit together( or losing it wholly) and I, for one, would love to hear yours. You can share your hardest moment as a mother through the secure kind below( or here if you’re having trouble viewing it ). The Guardian will publish a selection of your tales.