The last time that I blogged, I mentioned my depression and my husband’s bipolar disorder, and my worry over being an inadequate mother because of my mental illness. (That’s what depression is folks – an illness.) I read that blog over about 10 times, bawling my eyes out nine of those times and just feeling terrible about myself and terribly worried for my daughter. But the 10th time I read it, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to fix it. And I decided the first step to fixing it was to evaluate how I parent through a strangers eyes.
This is difficult. It’s really difficult to step back from your own life and look at how you parent with the eye of a stranger. To look at your own parenting the way you look at a friend’s parenting or someone you pass at the grocery store. It’s near impossible, really, but I did my best.
Here’s what I learned.
1) First and foremost: I love my daughter, and I surround my daughter with people who love her.
2) I make sure she knows that she is loved. There is a difference between loving someone and that someone knowing that they are loved. I make sure that Briana understands (as much as a not-yet-two-year old can understand) that she is very precious to me and to her daddy and to the plethora of other people who care for her. This child feels loved.
3) I feed her, clothe her, keep her clean, comb her hair, and take care of all of her physical needs. I do not neglect her.
4) I play with her. Not every day. No one is perfect, and there are days when my depression has me turning on Frozen to keep her busy while I sit on the couch and scroll through my Facebook feed, and there are days when she wants to play and I just can’t muster up the energy. But I try. And most of the time when she is insisting we play, she mostly just wants attention from me in some way which brings me to number 5.
5) I pay attention to her. Even if all I am doing is talking to her or watching her play while I sit out or she is watching a movie, I am paying attention to her, watching her cues, making sure she doesn’t need anything. I listen to her, even when all she is doing is babbling. I try to understand the words she is using and let her know that it’s important to me to understand.
6) I read to her. A lot.
7) I value her as a person. Not just a mini-me who is fun to dress in cute clothes, but as a little person who has feelings and opinions and moods. I don’t laugh at her when she’s upset about something that seems silly to me, because obviously it isn’t silly to her. I used to hate it as a child when I would be totally devastated about something and an adult would laugh at my misery or embarrassment or fear. Were some of my miseries, embarrassments, and fears silly? Sure. But everyone deserves to feel like their feelings matter, even if that person isn’t even two yet. When she is crying and upset, even if she is upset because I took something away or told her no, she comes to me for comfort. She might be yelling at me while she does it, but she knows mama’s arms are always open.
8) I need to put my phone down. And in the last week or so, I have been. I’ve been leaving it on the kitchen table instead of keeping it on my person every second of the day. Putting it down and engaging her while she eats her food. Putting it down and playing with her castle with her. I’ve noticed her noticing this. The first few times I left it on the table, she climbed up on a dining room chair, picked up my phone, climbed down, and brought it to me. “Mama,” she would say firmly, and put it in my hand. And I would go put it on the table and sit on the floor to play with her, and her whole face would light up. That made me both incredibly happy and incredibly sad, and I will continue to make more of an effort to be present for her without my phone attached to my hand.
9) I am too hard on myself. I’m working on it.
10) I need to be a better housekeeper. I know, I know, that pile of laundry will still be there tomorrow, and she’s getting older every day and won’t care about the laundry or remember the dishes being undone…but I will. And even if my apartment doesn’t look perfect every second, I can at least be less lazy about wiping down the table after she eats and doing the dishes every day, even if I don’t do them until she is in bed. We’ve started cleaning up her toys together before her bedtime at night, and that makes a huge difference. I’m including this in parenting because it’s a parents responsibility to provide a safe and clean environment for their kids, and to teach them how to clean. Setting good examples is the easiest way to do this, no?
11) I try to teach her while we play. I sing silly songs about colors and shapes, and I sing the Alphabet Song and count everything in sight. She loves reading counting books with me. That’s a good thing, right?
12) I do the very best that I can. And that’s all anyone can do.
Obviously, this isn’t a complete list. There are things I need to improve on as a parent. But these are the big things I thought of when I was trying to honestly evaluate my parenting. These are the important things, right?
Becoming a mother has taught me to focus on the happy memories, cherish the present, and hold off the future as long as I possibly can…because tomorrow my daughter will be a day older, a day smarter, a day closer to college, to marriage, to her own firstborn. I learn. I love. I laugh. I cry. I get incredibly proud, cheer her on, step back and let her figure it out on her own, swoop in and rescue her when she can’t…I protect her. I follow my instincts and listen to my gut. I push when she needs pushing and shelter her when she needs comfort. I feed her and keep her clean and let her know as often as I can in every way imaginable that she is LOVED. I let others love her. I let her love other people. I surround her with as much love as I can.
This blog started out as something completely different, but sometimes you can’t make your brain do what you want it to when another idea is shouting at you and taking over your fingertips while you type. I promise I will try to get an entertaining blog about Bri up soon!
Goodnight from a Good Mama
To any other depressed moms (or dads) out there, or any parents with any other kind of mental disorder or struggle: remember, your disease doesn’t define you as a parent, or as a person. It’s only one tiny part of the person that you are. Don’t get stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle of doubt like I did. And always reach out for help if you need it!