On Motherhood & the Impossible, Yet Inevitable, Pursuit of Perfection

I’ve been told many times over the course of my almost-seven-year (I say this with all of the vim and vigor of my six year old telling you she isn’t six, but six-and-a-half) career as a mother, that I am both #momgoals and also a source of ire. I’ve heard from both friends and strangers alike that I am the kind of mom they aspire to be, yet with those aspirations come a certain level of resentment because I embody the ideal of the mother you can never be: fun, seemingly tireless, put-together (ha!) and beautiful, brimming with delicious recipes and creative activities and spontaneous weekend trips and all the things they tell you die with the mundane and tiring aspects of motherhood.

Well, to all the parents- mothers, fathers, and everything in between- out there struggling to make it through another day, plagued with guilt that you aren’t enough, or just trying to find the joy in something you’re expected to love whether it was your plan or not… know this: I do not exist. Or, rather, the part of me that inspires envy or resentment or feelings of inadequacy, does not exist. That person, that version of me, is nothing more than the best parts of you projected onto the side of a building in Times Square. It’s nothing more than a well-timed photo among a Camera Roll of unused outtakes. I’m absolutely certain you have an instagram-worthy gem right this very second and if you don’t, I’d be more than happy to give you a few tips and tricks to help you get one because let me tell you, presenting a perfect life to the masses isn’t a matter of living the right reality; it’s a matter of acquiring the right skillset.

Maybe it’s a sign of my generation to care about social media at all, but I have to admit that I take pride in the fact that everything I post online is authentic to me as a person and the life that I live. Like everyone else, I post the best-looking snapshots of my life- whether out of vanity or the desire to embody a life better than my own, I don’t know. Like everyone else, I want my photo stream to be comprised of artfully captured loveliness. But because I know I have friends and potential friends and strangers who see my (fairly prolific) output and weigh their own value against it, I try really hard to paint a whole image: tantrums, bad behavior reports, and anger over self-administered haircuts among the laughs and kisses and lazy afternoons at the park.

Still, I’ve noticed that my earnest attempts at painting the picture in its entirety have made more than a few people even more uncomfortable than they would’ve been if my feed were nothing but impractical, unattainable images of perfection and I can only guess that’s because of an immense amount of privilege I experience as a person and as a parent. So, this is my attempt to acknowledge that privilege in the hopes that it’ll put all of this in perspective and end this ridiculous battle we all seem to fight in the hopes of perfection.

I’ll spare you the “I’m just like you!” BS in favor of a bit of honesty:

I’m the mom whose kid hurriedly shuffles into the classroom as the bell is ringing, slightly embarrassed because they’re technically late but the teacher is kind so it isn’t held against them. This isn’t because we spent our morning laughing at mommy’s funny faces and assembling adorably quirky outfits. It’s because I am both not a “morning person” and thus, set my alarm too late to begin with, and also someone who struggles with depression that makes it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, so I waste precious minutes doing the math of how many days I’ve let my kindergartener stay home from school and figuring whether we can afford another “sick day.”

I’m the mom who chaperones every field trip and brings thoughtful crafts and homemade treats to every class party, but could never ever be “room mom” because I’m unreliable and inconsistent, for reasons I haven’t yet ascertained. I show up to every school event with a perfect face of makeup (too much makeup, some would say) and a carefully selected outfit, but it’s all a feeble attempt to feel less out-of-place among the moms who didn’t have their first kid at 22 and don’t have to try to *look* put together because their lives aren’t a millisecond away from crumbling the way I feel mine is everyday.

I’m the mom who cooks five course meals on a daily basis, but doesn’t know what color her kid’s supposed to wear to her kindergarten graduation because I don’t check her weekly folder until the morning before it’s due, hastily signing behavior sheets with a colored pencil I found in the bottom of her backpack as we pull up for drop off. And it’s not because I was busy doing other important things; it’s because I’m a wishy washy person in the general sense.

All of this isn’t to get sympathy for my plight as a mother or to make anyone relate to me more. I am extremely privileged: I chaperone every field trip because I don’t have to work right now. (Make no mistake: we’re broke. But we’re surviving, which is privilege in  and of itself.) I cook five course meals when I should be making two simple meals with the same ingredients to make our money stretch farther (but then how would I feel accomplished?). My daughter goes to an incredible school and my son attends a ridiculously expensive daycare that is already setting him up for a lifetime of elite education. I have the ability to decide what I want to do with my career to choose between fulfillment or more money, and either choice will work out just fine for my family. I am blessed beyond measure.

This is all to say one thing: we are all doing our best, but please don’t for a second think that doing your best means doing what other people would define as “the best,” because that shit doesn’t exist.

Sometimes, your best means getting out of bed and walking your kid into school in your pajamas 45 minutes after the bell rang, riddled with guilt and embarrassment because you don’t even have a good excuse. Sometimes your best means working another series of night shifts that leave you exhausted and feeling guilty because you want to do more with your kid but you just can’t muster the energy. Sometimes your best means taking joy in your child as they flourish because you didn’t even want to be a mom in the first place. Sometimes your best means staying alive to love your baby another day as you struggle with mental health issues.”Best” is subjective, but the cool thing about that is that you get to define what it means. Please don’t ever forget that.

So, keep on keeping on. You’re not the only one who wonders whether you’re good enough. Constant self-doubt and relentless guilt are part and parcel of loving another human more than you love yourself because it’s natural to feel that your best will never be good enough. But please, try to treat yourself as kindly as you’d treat another parent who came to you wondering if they’re doing a good job. Chances are you’re doing a hell of a lot better than you give yourself credit for, and if you ever forget that but find yourself wondering how I manage to do it all, just remember that my kid was probably tardy to school today, but I held my head high as I marched her into school in my paint-splattered pajama pants and knockoff birkenstocks. Hold your head high, too. You’ve got this.

 

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