When people talk about being a great mother or even a good mother, I no longer feel like I qualify. I’m bad at setting strict bedtimes or following schedules, and I probably don’t Purell my hands enough. I sometimes let my 3-year-old son wear a T-shirt he loves all day and then sleep in it and then (sorry, I know this is terrible) wear it the next day. I don’t have a calming, maternal singing voice and don’t know many lullabies, so often I’ll ease my newborn son’s anxiety by whistling or humming or singing “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. I have no idea what is the most effective way to discipline a child, and every time I do it I am positive I am doing it wrong.
I admit that, by many people’s standards, I am probably not a good mom. Which is a little depressing. I am not even sure how to become a good mom. However, I tell people—if you’d like to focus on the positive for a moment—I am a great dad.
All the things a great dad would do with his son are things I do! I put my son in a blanket and then spin the blanket around like a centrifuge because he totally loves when I do that, even though there is a chance he could get hurt. I encourage his fascination with slugs. I happily let him fill his pockets with rocks and bring them home, even though it means our hardwood floors are constantly being eroded by gravel. Sometimes we sword-fight each other using those long, wooden paint-stirring sticks Home Depot keeps giving us.
I don’t cook much, since it seems crazy to spend so much time cooking when we could be doing other things. But we eat dinner together every night, even if sometimes it is only kidney beans out of a can, and I taught him the “Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit” song, which he enthusiastically sings to anyone who will listen and often to people who won’t. Occasionally I dress him in outfits that do not match or possibly have stains on them, and the other day I bought him a sound effects machine that makes 16 fun noises—among them a cash register going Cha-ching, a lady doing a horror movie scream, and a person farting. There is a tiny part of me that feels like I should be buying him science toys or teaching him how to add or read, but there is a much larger part of me that always wanted a sound effects machine for myself and is so excited that now the two of us can enjoy this together. *FART NOISE* *WOMAN SCREAMING* *CHA-CHING!*
My favorite part of being a good dad is that I am allowed to make mistakes, which is fantastic because I make mistakes all the time. I am always self-conscious when people watch my mothering, because mothers are expected to have some sort of instinct that I am not sure I possess. When I hold my newborn in my arms, I feel less like an iconic image of a mother cradling her child and more like Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby. And I wonder sometimes whether there’s something specifically maternal he is supposed to get from me, and whether growing up without it will leave him lacking somehow.
No sooner do I start fretting about this than my husband arrives home, nervous that I am spinning our son around in a blanket because Are you sure that’s safe? and asking if it’s OK that the baby is propped up on the Boppy pillow like that because Couldn’t he slide down and maybe suffocate? And I start to tell him not to worry so much, but then think better of it and thank him for being cautious.
Sometimes I think of my husband as too anxious or overly concerned about everything. But in the long run, that’s what makes him a wonderful mother.
This piece originally appeared on the Ugly Volvo.