I don’t really ‘do’ inspirational quotes but if I did, I know exactly which one I’d adopt as my personal mantra.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying: 'I will try again tomorrow'.
I love it for its simplicity and poignancy. But more importantly, I love it because it sums up the single most important thing I’ve learned about motherhood. Namely, that the will to try again tomorrow is sometimes all a parent has left within them, and that’s perfectly enough.
I don’t know about you, but it took me many years to work out that nobody is a perfect parent, despite the fact that on any given day I feel like I’m literally surrounded by them.
A glance around the playground while waiting at the school gates used to make me feel inadequate. My inner critic went into overdrive. Check out those mums who’ve lost the baby weight and haven’t let themselves go. What's your excuse? Look at those mums who seem to have go-getting jobs and chic work wardrobes to boot, and yet still manage to be there for school runs and prize-giving and assemblies without a hair ever seeming out of place. Why can't you be more like that? And how about the full-time mums who look all full of vim and vigour instead of bored to tears like you did when you tried a stint as a stay-at-home mum. What's wrong with you?
The thing about being surrounded by seemingly perfect parents is that it makes you feel compelled to hide your own inadequacies away. But I now realise that those playgrounds are full of mums just like me. They feel insecure, inadequate, alone and overwhelmed sometimes, too. Chances are the mum who you think seems to be the most together of them all is quietly feeling like a failure. She just daren’t admit it - even to to herself.
Just because other parents aren’t openly confessing that they Google ‘How can I shout at my kids less?’ doesn’t mean that they’re not struggling with exactly the same parenting pressures as you. And even though you don’t freely tell other mums that homework took 2 hours in your house last night and ended up with you and the kids in tears, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t just like that in the homes of half the kids in your child’s class.
Like I said, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. All families face similar stresses, challenges and uncertainties, and most of us are (I hope) just doing the best we can, but often fighting the feeling that it’s just not good enough. Must try harder felt like my mantra during those early years of motherhood.
Often when my kids were littler - more often than I care to remember - I used to go to bed beating myself up for daily 'failures' like running out of patience during homework, or losing my temper and yelling during the crazy bedtime routine. With 2 children less than 2 years apart in age, I spent much of their early childhood hanging to my sanity by a thread, and feeling like every other mum I knew had their game together so much more competently I did.
Regardless of your circumstances - single mum, happily married, only child or houseful of four or more - I’d wager that all of us have known those moments. There are few things quite as crushing for a mother as lying down at night with the feeling that you're making a mess of it all.
Happily those days are few and far between now. My kids are growing up, as they tend to do, and it turns out that they really do grow out of all that crazy stuff that kids do to press your buttons when they’re little. Bedtimes are actually easy now - they devour chapter books instead of getting out of bed 72 times in an hour, and we have lovely chats about their day before they fall asleep, instead of epic meltdowns because their favourite pyjamas happen to be in the wash.
So if you sometimes feel alone in the trenches of parenthood; exhausted, overwhelmed and completely ill-equipped for the task of raising a small human - remember this. No matter how much you think you’re doing a lousy job, or how many times a day you stand in the kitchen and quietly wonder to yourself if anyone else ever finds parenting this tough, you’ve still got the capacity to be courageous enough to try again tomorrow.
You might have shouted tonight but you can whisper a heartfelt sorry in a sleeping ear, and start tomorrow with a gentle, loving word. Impatience might have governed your parenting style today, but you can resolve to tune into your child wholeheartedly tomorrow. Today might have been a write-off. Tomorrow doesn’t have to be.
Eventually, when you keep choosing courage like this, you’ll find yourself relaxing on the sofa one evening while your kids practically put themselves to bed. They might even bring you a cup of tea before they go, and you might miss the mayhem of those earlier years when you wondered if you’d ever have a evening to yourself again.
And you’ll realise it was true; that sometimes all you have left as a parent at the end of the day is the courage to try again tomorrow, and that it's all you’ll ever truly need.