He said it with that familiar teasing nine-year-old smirk of his. I looked at the poster he had motioned towards. "Enter now: Tell us why YOUR mother is the best in the world!"
That stings a little, but I know what my literal boy was getting at. It's true, I am most definitely not, nor ever will be, the best mother in the world. I gave him a mock glare, he flashed me a cheeky grin, and we continued on with our day.
But it still stung. It was true and it was meant in a teasing manner and it still stung.
There was something else there as well, though, something deeper than the twist of a kid reminding you of your imperfection. There was relief, because he said that. To me. Directly and honestly and without fear. Goodness knows I could not have been so honest as a child, could not have acknowledged such a reality.
I climbed up onto the bunk bed later that night, our evening snuggle as important as ever.
You know, I told him, what you said earlier about me not being the best mother in the world was true...but it still hurt my feelings a bit.
But you're not the best mother in the WHOLE WORLD, he reminded me.
I know. I'm definitely not, and it was okay for you to say it. But it still hurt a bit.
I don't know who would be the best mother in the whole world.
I don't know either. What do you think she would be like?
Hmm. Maybe someone that let you do whatever you wanted. Except then she wouldn't be a very good mother because she wouldn't do the things like you do, like teaching me and stuff. I'd just be spoiled and it wouldn't really be being a good mother even though it's what I would want.
Interesting. I understand what you mean. What do you think you would do if I said you could do whatever you want?
I don't know, he giggled. I'd probably spend the whole day just sitting there trying to figure out what I wanted to do! Probably ask for a million dollars and my own phone that I could play games on whenever I wanted to.
And so the conversations go.
It's true, and the reminder is uncomfortable and painful: I'm not the best mother in the world. I am too often impatient and demanding, criticizing instead of encouraging. I lose my temper and shout when I should draw near with quiet connection. I use my authority to badger into submission rather than guide towards maturity. I huff and sigh and stomp. In my selfishness, I forget to really see them.
I'm not the best mother in the world, but I am the mother of a child who knows that, who knows that I want to be a good mother but I mess up, I make mistakes, I'm not even remotely approaching perfect. I try, I fail, and I apologize, providing them with the knowledge and assurance that they are worthy, that they don't deserve to be treated poorly, and that my mistakes are not excused simply because I'm an adult. And they will not grow up to say, "It was good enough for me, so it's good enough for my kids!" They will not say, "Well, my parents did it and I turned out fine." No, they will know that I did my best but wanted to do better. They will know that they can learn from my mistakes, grow, and do better for their own children.
Upholding the status quo is not enough. I want my kids to do better. I don't want "good enough" when it comes to them. I want better than "fine". I want them to thrive, blossom, and grow. As I strive to do better than my parents, I pray my children will do even better than I - and their children after them, and on and on through the generations. Not stagnating, but improving; there is always room for improvement. This is how we grow: we don't settle, we learn.
So to the rest of the imperfect mothers out there: It's okay. They'll learn from our mistakes as much as from the things we get right. And we'll all grow.