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The Importance of Being an Imperfect Mother

bunny coaching parenting Aug 15, 2019

Our bunny died on Saturday after some digestive issue kept him from peeing or pooping for 2 days - way too long for a rabbit, whose metabolism runs quickly. We had taken him to the vet and were administering fluids, critical care food through a syringe, pain meds and a prescription to increase the motility in his gut. But none of it worked and he died in my son’s arms after a few hours of shuddering discomfort. It was a tragedy for my son, who had chosen him and cared for him for the past 4 years. When anything dies in discomfort, we wish so much that we could have prevented it and we are left wondering if we did something wrong.

So I woke up today thinking about the bunny and whether we honestly did something wrong in caring for him. We gave him the standard Purina Rabbit Chow, we gave him greens (probably not enough), he got attention and exercise, and he lived the cush life INSIDE the house! So much more than the other bunnies we’ve owned who lived alone outside in a hutch. But he kept digging in the corner behind the washer - was he after something more? Instead of wondering “what does he want?”, I decided he was a weirdo. How could he want more? After all, he lives in my laundry room. I’m such a sacrificial mother, I’ve given up a clean laundry room in exchange for pee and poop on the floor, damaged linoleum, stained hardwood, bunny fur fluff in the corners, chewed baseboards, etc… How could he not be satisfied?

My pride often kicks in when I’ve given all I can and I need for it to be enough. What if all we can give isn’t enough? What if my very best efforts as a mom still leave my kids wanting in deep ways?

If the world needs more from me than I can give why does that automatically mean for me that I’ve not given enough? That I’m not enough? Sometimes I diminish the world’s needs so I can feel like I’ve met them all because to fail to meet them all means I wasn’t enough. But that’s about me. My ego can’t handle the truth that I might not be perfect/ enough. Can you relate??

We’ve heard the saying, “There are no perfect mothers,” but some of us nod in agreement while secretly deciding that WE will beat the odds. And here’s the insidious thing: I think my kids know that I want to meet all their needs and that I will be upset if I don’t. So, to feel good about myself as a mother, not only am I diminishing the needs I cannot meet, but THEY are failing to tell me about ways I’ve let them down or needs I have not fulfilled because they KNOW it will upset me.

I’m aware that I’m in a “renegotiating” stage of mild grief about our bunny and I might be making too much of this event, but I’m also feeling a shift inside me. What if my best efforts for the bunny WEREN’T enough?

I can live with that.

And if I can live with that, can I also begin to live with the truth that my best efforts as a mom have not been enough to meet all the needs of my children either? Instead of discounting the ways that they are hurt or left struggling with some aspect of life, can I look at those places with open eyes, willing to see those holes, and willing to accept that I’m not enough to fill all of them? It takes a painful dose of humility to do so.

Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash

In his book, The Logic of the Spirit - Human Development in Theological Perspective, James E. Loder explains how the mother’s face is the one that the baby sees that orders its world; that looks into a child’s eyes and says, “you are wonderful”. But that face disappears at times and the child has to deal with that reality. I’ve been so determined to be that face for them. And I’m glad I am. Yes, our children need us to pour out love and attention as best we can but they also must face the part of their story where they are alone and have to meet their own needs. They have their own heroic journey to face and they need to eventually find the face that never goes away - the One who DOES love them perfectly. Loder says, ultimately we need “a more adequate solution that will … put the totality of human existence into a relationship with the One who is the cosmic ordering, self-confirming presence - the Face of God who does not go away.”

That person is not me and I’m learning to be okay with that.

The truth is, all we can give isn’t enough and my very best efforts as a mom still leave my kids wanting in deep ways. And that is by design.

At her annual Literature Soiree in San Luis Obispo this weekend, Rea Berg of Beautiful Feet Books spoke about the Heroic Quest in literature. We talked about how sharing quality stories with our children gives them the wisdom and strength to navigate their own stories. They need our love and care but we can also cultivate wisdom and virtue in them through literature. Our bunny was named after Hazel, the hero in Watership Down. That story continued in a way in his life here. And now grieving his death is part of my son’s story of growing up. Our children’s lives are stories and our role is to coach and encourage, love and support, but also watch in awe as they grow beyond what we are able to give them.