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The Only Thing I Didn't Give My Kids Is the One Thing They Needed the Most

Photograph by J&J Brusie Photography

Last night, after I had collapsed into bed after an especially grueling week of sick children (Ever heard of hand, mouth and foot disease? If not, then good for you and I hope you keep it that way because open sores on your toddler's throat are never a good time), it hit me that my oldest daughter's childhood is coming to a close.

At 8 years old, she's rounding the corner on double digits and then, incredibly, in roughly the same amount of time that we have known her, she will be heading off to college. Such a thing seems unthinkable, really, and the mere realization of it sent me into one of those panics that moms get at night when they really need to sleep but can't seem to do it.

It hit me, all at once, how her childhood had essentially flown by, and I'm just not sure that I did a good enough job.

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You see, if we're being honest here, just between us parents, I made a lot of typical first-time parent mistakes. But mostly, I feel like I struggled with never feeling like I was enough.

I wasn't good enough or fun enough or financially stable enough.

I wasn't imaginative enough or magical enough or involved enough.

I didn't "have it all" enough or set an example enough or ever do enough.

Do you like being a mom? Because it doesn't always seem like it.

I feel like I focused the majority of my introduction as a parent generally feeling like I was constantly running behind and trying to play catch-up to this standard of a "real" mom I had playing in my head like a static-filled reel.

I want to take that anxious first-time mom—the one who researched what first foods to give her daughter, never let her watch TV and dragged her to a million classes while her husband rolled his eyes—and tell her just one thing:

Relax.

Please, mama, just relax.

I won't tell her how fast it goes (even though it does, it really does), but I will tell her that everything she thinks matters as a mom doesn't really matter in the long run. It won't matter if she forbids TV until her daughter is 3, she'll still end up loving screens, quite possibly because she's a human. It won't matter if she doesn't introduce fruit as the first food in an attempt to get her kid to love veggies the most, because her kid will end up asking for chicken nuggets 24/7 anyway. It won't matter if her daughter doesn't learn to swim by age 2 or doesn't stick to any organized sport, ever, come to think of it.

None of it matters. But what will matter is the day that your 8-year-old daughter looks you straight in the eyes and asks you: "Do you like being a mom? Because it doesn't always seem like it." You will see the whole world tilt before your eyes as you struggle not to hit the floor right then and there, because this? After all you've done and sacrificed and worked for? This is what you get?

The truth is, the one thing that I had been forgetting to give my children all this time was a mother who genuinely enjoyed just being a mom.

I honestly thought I was doing everything right as a mom, with that whole work-life balance thing, alternating letting my house go to heck while we did "fun" activities with deep-cleaning the next day. You know that whole "good moms have dirty dishes" thing and whatnot? What I missed was that it's really not about what you are doing with your kids or not doing. It's about your attitude while you're doing them. My kids couldn't care less if we're cleaning or playing, but they can tell the difference when I'm stressed out.

And I am stressed out. A lot.

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I'm ashamed to say that I know now a lot of things I didn't know as a new mom or even as a mom a month ago, when it took two simple sentences from a daughter on the cusp of leaving her childhood forever to make me realize that the one thing my child needs from me is the one thing I was failing to give them—a mom who can realize that she was always enough, all along.

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