Moms are not superheroes. They get sick, need help and a good cry sometimes. And maybe the best thing you can teach your kids is how to get back up after you’ve been knocked down.
When you were young and untethered, it was no big deal to take to your bed when you got hit with a cold or a stomach bug or a hangover. You probably called your mom and your friends to complain, posted “Waaaa, I’m sick” status updates, and guilt-tripped your partner into bringing you chicken soup or Gatorade or a meatball sub.
Once you become a mom though, there’s none of that. The minute they put that tiny newborn in your arms, you have this very scary, very raw realization that it’s all on you. And from that moment on, you learn how to suck it up. You have to because you’re getting up three times a night to feed a newborn, pacing around in a half-dead, zombie stupor as you lull your wailing baby into calm. Somehow, you manage to bathe and clothe and feed this precious creature, even though you yourself smell like sewer water, and are subsisting on sporadic sleep and pretzel sticks.
In some broke-down moments, you may scream, “I can’t do this!” Except you can, and you do, because you’re a mom now. You wouldn’t have it any other way. And when you emerge from the fog, maybe four months later, you’ve been broken in. You’ve toughened up, you’re stronger, and you’re armed with a fierce determination to protect your baby from all bad things.
We moms often feel like we should be invincible, that it’s really the only fair thing. When your little one needs 150%, then damn straight you’re going to give him that. Only it doesn’t leave much room for weakness in you…at least, that’s how it seems. I can’t get sick, I just can’t, you think to yourself, as though the mental pep talk is any match for the nasty germs your kids are bringing home from school. It’s not just that being sick totally sucks, which it does. The hard part is that you still have to be able to take care of your kids, especially if they’re the ones up all night with a bad cough or queasy stomach.
You also start to feel this heavy, heart-breaking weight to be immortal or, at least, be around for the next 100 years. Your kids need you. They need you when they’re little especially, but won’t they always need you? The thought of not being there for them is terrifying, in a way that keeps you up at night and reminds you to see your internist and get your moles checked. Of course, yes, you want to be around for graduations and marriages and grandkids, but you mostly just want to be around for them. You don’t want bitter in any of your child’s sweet moments, no pause wishing that Mom could have been there to see this.
There’s also this sense that you now need to be a better person, a good example, a real grown-up who is on top of it and together and doesn’t forget to buy milk at the grocery store. OK, stop crying. No yelling. Calm down. Where’s your head at? You talk to yourself and rally yourself, with high expectations of how you should be. You should be better. You’re a mother, for god’s sake!
Thing is, moms are not invincible, even though life would be so much easier if we were. We get knock-down, drag-out fevers and stomach bugs that have us crying for our own mommies. Some mothers get really sick, fighting battles much bigger than runny noses and vomit. And we fall apart regularly—often in front of our kids.
Still, as moms, we are stronger, we are tougher, and we are pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. Even when we’re sick, we get them to school and help with homework and make dinner. We probably put on a little more TV than usual, but hey, at least we’re resourceful. We put smiles on our faces, pretend it’s not so bad, and try not to let them see us sweat. We keep it together, for their sake. Then, once they’re out of the house or sound asleep or the sitter/Daddy has taken over, we crawl under a blanket and will ourselves to heal. Or we pour a big glass of wine and text a friend (because we’re too tired to call) to talk about our crappy day. Or we just sit there and cry and feel sorry for ourselves, because sometimes we need that too. We are human.
To our children though, we are invincible. We are superheroes. We are the make-it-all-better bad-asses of the universe. They look to us to protect them and help them feel safe. But, they also look to us for guidance on how to be. How will they learn that it’s OK to get sick if we don’t get sick and then get better? How will they learn it’s OK to cry and get mad if they haven’t seen us get upset, breathe, and then get over it?
We wish our kids were invincible, but they’re human too, just like us. We can’t give them superpowers or impenetrable hearts or eternal life. There are going to be boo-boos and tears and sickness. That’s just real life. So, maybe, the best thing we can do is be resilient, and show our kids how to be resilient too.
Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.