Last week, in the midst of lots of moms in similar life-stages as me, I heard a theme. I’m also reading the fabulous parenting book, Bringing Up Bebe, which highlights the same theme. Of course, in my own life, I’ve been in adamant denial that this theme is a reality for me. That theme of course, is the “perfect-mom plight.” You know, the idea that we are unable to meet seemingly impossible standards put out there for us by…well, whoever “they” are. “They” say it’s possible to exclusively breastfeed, “they” say it’s dangerous to let children play unsupervised, “they” say children under 5 should be exposed to pre-literacy programs, “they” say a healthy mom is a fit mom, and on and on and on. Naturally, in my supreme self-confidence, I hear those themes and say, “luckily I don’t worry about standards set forth by the world. Whew! I could be so much more stressed than I am now- I really dodged a bullet!” And then I get that smack-in-the-face stroke of humility to remind me that in fact, I do suffer from the same thing that plagues every other mom out there.
It’s been a pretty mediocre month for me in terms of my momdom. I haven’t exactly been the world’s greatest home educator. I’ve been a little lax with my home-cooking. My mom’s been in the hospital, and I’ve pretty much been out there on weekends only. I’m getting alerts from all my little coupon apps, letting me know they’ve missed me, reminding me that I’m not even saving money the way I normally would. Yesterday, I had to spank my 2-year old son for saying “Mommy, you’re mean-ing!” (His word for being mean, demonstrated in that moment by me telling him he couldn’t ride a mattress down the stairs.) And as I came back downstairs to the kitchen from carrying him to time-out, I sat and looked across my kitchen, where cheerios sat smashed in the floor, dust congregated in corners under cabinets, and multiple water glasses sat half-drunk on the counter (seriously??? How do we even know who those belong to??? Stop the madness!!!!). I genuinely and unapologetically hate messes, so I never feel bad about keeping a clean house. But sometimes I have to cut myself some slack with the standards. In this instance, I felt pretty awful for how far-gone things are. I mean, the kids are leaving messes everywhere, we’ve hardly gotten our schoolwork done, and their behavior is off the chain. What kind of mother am I???
Enter: the hubs. He’s pretty quick to help me reset my perspective. I failed to mention before that we’ve been overtaken by a stomach virus in the last week. Seriously, I’ve changed more explosive diapers and cleaned up more projectile vomit in the last 72 hours than I have in my last 3 years of momming. The hubs got hit by this bug too, so he was down for the count. And typically, when he’s not down from being sick, he’s out with work, between commuter traffic and running a 24-hour major manufacturing operation. He is always quick to remind me that we both have high-pressure jobs, and that for both of us, the pressure comes from…ourselves. So, in true chivalric fashion, he stayed home from work today, letting me rest and recover from my turn with the virus, while he dealt with the kids- including the homeschool responsibilities.
There was a point in time when I would have seen what he did today as a statement. Have I ever mentioned that he stayed home with the kids while he was in grad school? And he was amazing at it. Kids were never late for school, groceries were always replenished before they ran out, and the house was always well-maintained. And by nature we talk about his stint as the stay-at-home parent when we talk about my day. “When I was home with the kids I used to…” Not gonna lie you guys, there have been plenty of times I heard that and thought “and clearly I’m not living up to those expectations.” His ability to step in and create order and keep everyone on task is fantastic, and sometimes intimidating. It’s honestly not my strongest suit. Fortunately for me, he reminds me of the different value we both add to our parenting of these monsters, and the fact that we can’t be successful doing it just my way or just his way. We both give the best we can with what we’ve got.
Now back to my original point- the impossible standards. It’s super easy for me to say I don’t have a problem with those, because I don’t care about my kids being smarter than everyone else’s (autism freed me of that), I don’t mind driving a less-swanky car than everyone else (being debt-free has freed me of that), and I’m not worried about being fit and in shape like everyone else (my diet and seriously lucky genes freed me of that). In Bringing Up Bebe, Pamela Druckerman frequently brings up the “American parenting standard,” the idea that moms should be stressed out, schedule multiple activities to the point of exhaustion for their children’s enrichment, give up their own personalities, and live the life of a martyr to the cause of motherhood. That is a standard I struggle with. The idea that I might need to have some time to myself- not for getting housework done while the kids are away, but for cultivating my own interests. Ever the happy martyr (but also because I love my kids), I incorporate them into all my activities. I want to learn to knit, so I find a mommy and me knitting class. I like drinking coffee, so I know which coffee shops serve kids hot chocolate for cheap. I like art, history, and culture, so I coordinate our homeschool around trips to the museum. But it never occurs to me that I should ask someone to watch the kids so I can go to an event that peaks my interest by myself, or with a grown-up friend. Nope. That’s what moms who don’t like their kids do! And I am NOT one of those moms. No sir.
As a recovering drama queen (shocking I know), I can recall lots and lots of tears shed over the unfair expectations other people put on me. “My parents EXPECT me to be perfect! If I don’t do this they’ll be so disappointed!” “Those moms are always judging the way my children behave!” “My boss will never let me have this time off- he wants me to work too hard!” “My coworkers don’t understand all the pressure I’m under!” Oh man. I’ve said it all. Perfect example: last weekend, as I drove to see my mom in the hospital, I hit an insane amount of traffic. I’d already had a tough day, with my boys being sick, and my girls feeling stressed about the boys being sick. Then my daddy called, asking me where I was and when I would be there, which, to me, meant: “hurry up girl, you’re late!” As I got closer, and was seething about the fact that I cannot seem to make anyone happy with my performance, I called my dad and said “I’m almost there- you can head out if you want and I’ll be right up.” His reply? “No, I’ve been waiting because I want to see you.” And we ate together in the cafeteria and caught up on what was going on- not just with my mom, but with life. Because that’s my daddy. He actually listened to how stressed I was feeling, and made me feel like my feelings mattered. Oh man, why do I always assume the worst?
That’s my new goal. I extend so much grace to people to understand where they’re coming from, except when it comes to how they might perceive me. In those instances, I assume the worst. I assume they’re judging, that they think they could do it better, that they are waiting for me to mess up, or that they want more from me. I always say “everyone’s just doing the best they can,” but I forget it when I start feeling pressure on myself. I think this year, as I work towards cultivating my own interests and finding time for myself, I’ll extend a little grace towards others, and try to remember they aren’t judging me. They don’t think they could do it better. They don’t expect more from me. Because my friends, my family, the people around me, all have lives of their own. They’re all trying to live their own lives, and I can’t think of anyone who would begrudge me for taking time for myself, or setting my own limits. I think my prayer will be to find peace. That when my inferiority complex comes out of hiding, and I start blaming others for putting pressure on me, and when I am so sure what I’m doing is just not good enough, that my soul will find rest, and grace, for myself and for others, will abound in me.
Here’s hoping you find that too.