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That Totally Not True Thing My Son Called Me

"You're a bad mommy," my son told me and I instantly froze.

In my head, I knew that he was reacting to the punishment I'd just doled out. In my head, I knew that he didn't really mean it. In my head, I knew he was just saying what any 5-year-old would yell out in frustration.

But my heart? Well, that was another thing entirely.

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In my heart, I questioned, "Am I a bad mommy? Does my son really think that?"

So much of my identity is caught up in being a mother. I'm a lot of things in life. I'm a wife, a daughter, a sister-in-law, a best friend, a writer, a novelist, a lawyer. But the thing I'm most proud of is motherhood. I'm proud of my children, my family, everything I've created with my husband—this new identity I've forged in becoming a mom.

I want to be a good mother. I want to raise happy, healthy kids, just like my mother did. I waited so long to have children—I didn't have my first until I was 35—so, I had to be good at it, didn't I?

But now, here it was. The accusation that I was not good at it. I was, in fact, a bad mommy.

A week later, I still wasn't over it. What if I was a bad mommy? Would I even know? Even those mothers who duct tape their children to the walls probably think they're doing the right thing.

I told my husband about it, and he said: "Oh, he knows how to push your buttons, doesn't he?"

And he was right. My son is smart. He knows how to push mommy's buttons. He knows how to go for the jugular.

It sounded ridiculous when I said it out loud to her.

I told my mother about being called a "bad mommy," and she laughed. When I responded with silence, she then said, "Oh, did you take him seriously? He's 5!"

I told my friend Heather about it over lunch.

"That's the first time your son ever called you a bad mommy?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"My kids say that all the time," she said. "It's actually lost its meaning by now."

I couldn't believe how calm and collected she was. She was thinking with her brain, intellectualizing it, while I was taking it to heart. Making it bigger than it was. Making it into something it was not.

"He's never said that to me before," I said. "I guess that's why it hurt so much. It made me think that I was actually a bad mommy."

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We looked at each other and laughed. She was right. It sounded ridiculous when I said it out loud to her.

"Well, he's never said it to you and he's 5 years old already," she said. With a broad smile, she said to me: "You've had a good run."

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Image via Twenty20/brandonann

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