I think every parent – or at least all good parents – has a sense of the ideal type of parent they want to be. What defines “ideal” is different from parent to parent, of course, but everyone who cares about raising their kids has parenting goals – a parenting mission statement, if you will. For instance, my goals are to raise my kids to be compassionate, responsible, open-minded, resourceful, curious and polite. I try to achieve this by validating and discussing feelings; enforcing logical consequences; encouraging self-care (washing hair, brushing teeth, getting dressed); engaging in constant discussions about the world around us, including hard topics such as sex, racism and other forms of discrimination; brainstorming ways to solve problems; answering literally hundreds of questions a day, reading lots of books and researching on the Internet; and modeling good manners as well as insisting on thank you notes.

That all sounds pretty jargony, and it is – because jargon is what mission statements are made of. In practice, I really just hug and kiss my kids a lot, and in Ruby’s case, ransom toys that don’t get picked up, read tons of bedtime stories and talk to her about pretty much everything under the sun.

That’s on an ideal day, anyway. On non-ideal days, which is to say “most of them,” I lose my temper, I brush Ruby’s teeth for her because it’s easier than fighting about it, I let her get away with behavior I know I should correct, or I dig my heels in when I should be working with her instead of against her. And I am way, way behind on thank you notes.

Anything can cause a day to be less-than-ideal: a long day at work, a long night up with the baby, a fight with my husband, stress over money or family or a messy kitchen or the unending piles of laundry – real life, in other words. And I just deal with it as best I can, and if I’ve been truly unfair to Ruby, I apologize and try to explain, in kid-friendly terms, why I got so upset with her and how I hope to handle it differently in the future.

The hardest thing, though, for me, is parenting through illness. I'm not talking about the kids’ sicknesses – although I hate seeing Ruby sick, she is completely unbothered by illness herself. Last summer, when I brought her into urgent care on a Saturday with a high fever and a sore throat, the doctor initially refused to run a strep test because she seemed so healthy. “No,” I had to tell him. “You don’t know this kid normally. She might seem like she’s 100 percent for a normal kid, but I’m telling you: This is not 100 percent for Ruby.” And sure enough, the test came back positive for strep.

And just this past weekend, Ruby – in yet one more sign that she must have been switched at birth – ate some beef jerky that had been sitting on her stepbrother’s desk for about three months. Who does that?!

“I tried to stop her,” my stepson said when I expressed disgust.

“Ruby,” I said, “when even an 11-year-old boy tells you something is unsafe to eat, you really need to listen!”

“Whatever, Mom,” she said, a turn of phrase that is becoming all-too-common in her vocabulary. “It’s jerky. It’s fine.”

And yet, a few hours later, as we lay in bed reading, she calmly said, “I’m pretty sure … yep, I’m definitely going to throw up. Should I go to the bathroom?”

“Please do!” I yelled, my legs already shaking and my own stomach churning due to my vomit phobia.

And so she hurried to the bathroom, threw up, wiped her mouth and then shrugged and said, “Huh. Must’ve been the jerky after all.” And went back to bed and fell asleep.

So yeah, Ruby isn’t upset by being sick, and so I am not all that upset by her being sick either, provided it’s something that is short-lived and easily curable.

But when I am sick, it’s a different story. I think part of this is just selfishness: When I am sick, I want to be babied. I want someone to take my temperature and bring me ginger ale and let me lie in bed all day. Ruby, at 5, is just now beginning to understand that other people have needs too, and she is very sweet when I’m sick, but even though she makes me get-well cards, she really can’t just let me lie in bed all day – she still needs me to do things that she just can’t do for herself, like cook meals and read the program descriptions for all of the shows on our DVR and wash her school uniforms and so on and so on. Georgia is, of course, nothing but needs right now, and so when I came down with strep myself this week, I still had to nurse her and bounce her and change her diapers. (Of course, my husband and my ex-husband both help out a ton when I’m sick, but there are still some things that only a mommy can do.) I don’t resent the kids or anything, but a part of me definitely misses the days when illness actually meant a true day off.

There are many other things about parenting that are hard or that try my patience or that otherwise make me act like a less-than-ideal mom, but trying to tend to everyone’s needs when I feel awful is the hardest for me to get used to. 

What about you?