By TMoM Team Member Laura Simon

I had plans for our Thanksgiving weekend. For once, I had a chunk of time off work, and we were going to spend Friday at a museum in either Greensboro or Raleigh before diving into Christmas decorations on Saturday and Sunday.

But when we left our Thanksgiving gathering with friends, I started feeling a tickle in my throat. I couldn’t help but notice that I was exhausted – far too tired for a traditional turkey coma. And sure enough, by the middle of the night I was the poster child for flu – and my kids weren’t far behind.

We spent our Friday in the house, not the museum. While I alternated Tylenol and Motrin, my kids learned the meaning of binge-watching TV. The Christmas tree stood there, naked, and undecorated. Meanwhile, the outside lights hunkered down in the garage. We paid way too much for takeout we didn’t even enjoy, canceled play dates, and watched that precious time off drip down the drain.

And I felt…guilty. I’m always juggling my work and schoolwork and housework – it felt like a big waste to spend our break whimpering on the couch. I couldn’t really move, but I felt all the pressure to do something – anything – to seize the time.

That’s pretty much how I spend all my time now that I’m a parent: feeling guilty. Guilty because I’m working, guilty because I could be doing more, guilty because my kids aren’t growing up in an intact family, guilty because we don’t do Pinterest crafts and because the family traditions, I created with so much hope are slowly falling by the wayside of exhaustion.

I should be modeling better physical fitness and making more meals from scratch. My toilets should be a lot cleaner. Why have we not finished the 6th and 7th Harry Potter books? It’s been two years since we started reading them at bedtime.

I’m pretty sure if I could ever stop feeling guilty, I might just die. What would I do with myself?

But you know what? My kids’ expectations for me are mostly a lot lower than the expectations I set for myself. They want me to listen to their 18,000 stories about video games. Or, they want to be touching me at all times. They want me to laugh at their jokes. (The latter is a challenge, not going to lie.) They actually didn’t mind our lost weekend at home on the couch, because while we definitely shared some germs, we also shared a lot of togetherness. And bless them, they’re still at ages where that’s what they really want.

The other day, my 11-year-old told me the thing that really makes him scared is when I start talking bad about myself. Who of us hasn’t done that? I’m sure whatever I was saying had plenty of merit. But our kids don’t see us the way we see ourselves, or the way the world sees us. Our self-criticism trickles down to them.

Can we all just give ourselves some grace? Life with kids is messy and hard and unpredictable; there’s nothing carefully curated about it. Maybe if we embrace reality, we can starve the mom guilt and give ourselves permission to just love on our kiddos – before they grow up and decide they’d rather Netflix and chill with their friends.

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