“You were a great mom,” my grown son smiles and assures me. “Yeah, we had some rough times but that happens with all kids and their moms. It’s just part of growing up. If you hadn’t fought those battles with me, I’d probably be a mess now!”

It doesn’t matter how many times I hear from my sons that I was a good mom, I still look back and wonder: Could I have done it better? Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but I know I was an impatient mother, a “yeller” instead of an “asker,” and rarely did I wait for a response before I bellowed out a follow-up command.

“Pick all those toys up and put them in the bin NOW!! Dinner is almost ready and that den better be clean if you want to eat. Do you hear me?” I barked.

“But mom, we are just–” they’d implore, trying desperately to explain why the toys couldn’t possibly be picked up before dinner.

“I don’t want to hear anymore words from your mouths!” I’d snap. “The only sound I want to hear are those toys landing in the toy bin! Now do it!”

They were so young, only three and seven, but I had a full-time job, a chronic illness, a house to keep, animals to feed, and an over-worked husband coming through the door any second. I had no time for excuses. Finally submitting and tossing the building blocks, wrestling figures, trucks, cars, and tools into the toy bin, they would plant themselves in their assigned seats at the table, dejected and teary-eyed.

Why wasn’t I the kind mom, the patient and loving mom? Could I not have listened to their plea and granted them a few more minutes to put the final touches on the “biggest shopping center in the world?” They had been working so hard, but I’d hear none of it. I had things to do and a tight ship to keep on course. There was still homework my oldest needed to complete, baths, story time, and finally bed, accompanied by all the usual shenanigans to stay up a while longer.

 

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Even back then, I felt the guilt seeping in as the clock hands edged closer to midnight and I shoveled yet another load of laundry into the washer. It was the first quiet moment I’d had to myself since before leaping out of bed at 6 a.m. to see my husband off. I’ll do better next time and be more tolerant, I’d promise myself through the tears of remorse. Visualizing their little faces, deflated and broken, combined with blurts of “you’re mean mommy” and “I don’t like you” broke the heart of the “good mom” who lived inside me.

She was the mom who would have handled the messy den debacle with words of compassion and understanding. “I know you boys have been working really hard on this. Wow, is that a two-level shopping center?” she’d exclaim proudly. “Yeah, and there’s even a gas station, mom! It’s really cool!” they’d reply with twinkling eyes and grand enthusiasm. “Well, even construction workers and project managers like your dad have to stop and eat dinner, so why don’t we carefully slide this shopping center under the window so nothing happens to it and you can continue working on it tomorrow, okay? It’s time for dinner now so hurry along and come to the table,” she’d say walking into the kitchen to plate up their food.

It was a constant battle between the two moms in me: The grouchy, yelling, impatient mom, trying desperately to accomplish the impossible, unable to relax and enjoy her children; and the kind, tolerant and understanding mom who always found time to appreciate and encourage her kids while managing to balance home, family and career without a hitch.

On days I felt completely defeated and certain I was the worst mom ever, I’d recall a favorite quote by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I had so much on my plate back then and looking back now, I wonder how I managed as well as I did.

My sons are grown now and I have a terrific relationship with them both. We’ve shared fond memories of their childhood and talked about the not-so-great one’s too. They know there’s no such thing as a perfect mom, and I’ve come to realize I’d set myself up for failure striving to be one. But through it all my children felt my deep and abiding love for them and know I did my best.

I think we all have two moms inside, and on any given day, each does the best she can. And when they know better, they do better – together.