When Mothers Make Excuses

When mothers make excuses we are telling the world we are failing, even when no one else thinks so.

When Mothers Make Excuses

I became a mother twenty days after my twenty first birthday. In a calm, warm room in Huntingdon, England I labored for seven hours before bringing my sweet little girl into the world. She went straight to my chest, close to my heart where I would keep her forever. In the hours that followed, I sat holding her, both of us wrapped in soft blankets. I looked into her eye and thought of all the things she would need me to provide or teach her for the rest of her life.

Food, clothes, comfort, and love.

A safe place to learn how to sit up, crawl, and walk.

Potty training.

How to sing the alphabet song, read, and write.

How to put on shoes and zip her own jacket.

To say “please” and “thank you”.

How to make friends and be kind.

Learn to be honest and trustworthy.

How to win or lose with grace and follow through with commitments.

That list can seem daunting, but when you take up the torch of motherhood that list is inscribed on the handle.

I am fortunate to have a wonderful parenting partner, one who recognizes that these duties are equally his. But it is incredibly rare to find a family dynamic in which both parents spend equal time with the children. I started my mothering journey as a stay-at-home mom. I have undoubtedly spent more collective hours with my (now two) daughters than my husband, who works out of the home. This fact does not make me a better parent, it just puts me first in line for tackling that long list of things my children need. I know they have an amazing father ready to take up the torch when I need a break, but that is no excuse to not give my children all I can, while I can.

I understand how overwhelming it can be when a list only ever grows in length. If you think too long about all the things children require before they are set out into the world the pressure of The List will become too much to bear.

When my oldest daughter was born we did not live near family, everything was on my husband and myself. So when my husband went back to work a few weeks after we became a family of three, most of the household tasks fell onto me. I was prepared, but in the wrong way. I was prepared with excuses.

If my husband returned home and the dishes were still in the sink, it was because the baby didn’t take a nap that day. If I hadn’t found time to take the trash out it was because I was trying to catch up on piles of laundry. In that season of life, as a new mother with no help for most of the day, I almost welcomed my endless list of tasks because I knew it was impossible to finish in one day or one week. The list itself was a sort of safety net.

Every time I welcomed him home, I was always saying, “I’m so sorry X, Y, or Z didn’t get done.” I never said, “Look at all I’ve accomplished today, even with a newborn to care for!” So what followed was a deep feeling of failure that took root in my brain and I couldn’t escape. Even though I had convinced myself there were not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything, I was still beating myself up when I fell short. When I was making excuses I was basically saying, “Sorry I failed in this area of life, it’s just because I was succeeding in another.” And when my partner did what he is supposed to do, his share of the work, I would feel relentless guilt. I resented my inability to do every single thing because he then came home from work and had to do more. I could see no way out of these feelings because I could see no way to do any more than I already was. I was operating at maximum capacity and still it never felt like enough.

When mothers make excuses we are telling the world we are failing, even when no one else thinks so.

Those feelings were already consuming me and it was only household tasks at the time. There was still The List to contend with. I began thinking (when my first daughter was one month old) that she would never learn to read or walk because I would never have time to help her. If she spilled some milk on her shirt and I forgot to change it for a few hours, I genuinely felt like a horrible mother who was not taking good enough care of her sweet baby. I cried more than once in her first year of life because I got into bed at night feeling like I hadn’t held her enough that day.

Tackling the household tasks meant failing my baby? How on Earth is anyone supposed to be a good mother?

I was spiraling. I was being crushed. Two things have helped me :

1. Remembering that my children do not need to learn everything in one day, I have at least eighteen years. That is plenty of time.

2. Never making excuses.

Remembering that I have time to teach my children how to be good people is what allows me to save the vacuuming for tomorrow, even if I’m just going to read for an hour instead. It’s the message that plays in my head that tells me it’s alright to stop in a drive through, even if there is food at home that I just don’t want to cook. This is one handy little motto.

What happened when I stopped making excuses, well that is as close to inner peach as I’ve ever felt. If my husband comes home to a baby crying and I am frantically trying to make a bottle, that is just what he comes home to. There is no chorus of, “I’m so sorry it’s crazy here, I was in the middle of cooking and forgot to make the bottle.” Even if I had made the bottle and cleaned the dishes and made dinner, babies cry whenever they want to. I cannot control that, therefore I will not apologize for that. Any human who walks into my home can see that there are never less than five different things going on at once; it’s nothing to apologize for.

Over the years I have gotten better at managing my time and checking things off my to-do list. But Life is constantly moving, evolving, and demanding more of us. I am still operating at maximum capacity most days, but now if I just want to take it easy for a day, I do. I do not need to justify it to myself, my partner, or my children (who are all too happy to watch cartoons and eat cereal). Once I stopped telling myself I was a failure, I finally settled into the good rhythm I have now. The one where most everything on my to-do list actually does get taken care of in one day and if it doesn’t, I know there is tomorrow.

And if on the off chance there is no tomorrow, then I would rather have spent the day watching cartoons with my family than tidying up the house that will just be messy again the next day anyway.

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Emily Comstock
Emily Comstock
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Emily Comstock

A writer, artist, and student of human nature.

Twitter & IG : @hey_imemily

See all posts by Emily Comstock