By Jayne Martin-Dressing
When my siblings and I were kids we devised a complex series of rules for most of the backyard games we played. First base was the tree stump, home plate was the rose bush, you got an automatic double if the ball went over the neighbor’s fence, and you got an unlimited number of foul balls. A serious screw-up like missing the kickball completely with your foot during the pitch would usually result in someone calling out, “do-over!” meaning you got a second chance with no penalty. What was great about the do-over is that you got to pretend like what just happened could be erased with the possibility of a much improved second attempt.
I can’t tell you how many times with parenting that I wish similar rules applied. After an afternoon of feeling crazy frustrated about the constant bickering among my children and my waning patience for their steady demands, I wish I could holler out, “do-over” and erase the mean-spirited responses I’d given them throughout the day (what part of “no you can’t have a candy cane for breakfast” is confusing?”). After my half-assed attempts at seeming interested in the umpteenth living room demolishing game of “Fort-Building” when I really want to read my book on the couch, I would shout “do-over.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could rewind entire days and spend a Saturday in our pajamas instead of hustling around from one swim lesson to another library program? Wouldn’t we use our best parenting skills if we could do-over our reaction to a tired, cranky child at bedtime? Sometimes (when I’m particularly weepy) I want to do-over entire years, like the first years of their lives when I just refused to be a different person although I really knew that motherhood had changed me a great deal, mostly for the better.
But there are no do-overs in life, just great big learning curves that we look back on with twenty-twenty vision. All we can really do is be mindful; mindful of our thoughts and actions, mindful of our children’s feelings and needs, and mindful that we are painfully human. We often need reminded that it’s important to balance our own needs (adequate sleep, date nights, reading that book on the couch) so we can be our best selves. Yet guilt seems to be the hallmark of our generation of mothers; we never feel like we’re doing enough, but when we’ve had enough, we feel terrible about it. I don’t remember my mother or my friends’ mothers ever seeming particularly sad or remorseful about how they parented; they just did what they had to do with few apologies. They eventually learned, as we are learning that there are no do-overs in motherhood. Sometimes we strike out; sometimes we hit a home run, and most of the time our children know we’re doing our best. Perhaps that’s the beauty of hindsight.