You Don't Have To Be Fautless To Be The Perfect Mother
Who is the perfect mother?
The world tells us all -- in a thousand ways -- that we are not enough for our kids. The world tells us we are too permissive, too controlling, too chaotic, too old, too young, too square, too whacked, too poor, too extravagant and everything in between.
Serious debates in Congress center on "How to punish the parents without hurting the children." Punish us for what? For being human, usually. As mothers, especially as new mothers, short on sleep and the tenuous confidence that comes with experience, it's easy to slip into believing those voices.
I've accepted a thousand thank-yous from moms who say mine was the only voice of support they heard in a choir of discouragement. "It's so hard to be told over and over that I am unworthy," one mom said after a talk I gave recently. "I know," I told her. But she didn't believe me. She thought, as we all sometimes do, that she was alone. She thought someone like me -- someone who had spent the better part of her life as a mom fighting those voices of discouragement -- would be immune to the power of "shoulds." But how could I be?
Have I ever ignored my daughter because I was too busy writing about
effective parenting? Have I ever done what might be considered an eccentric
proportion of my grocery shopping at 7-Eleven? Have I ever uttered a hurtful
word? Morphed into an overprotective Big-foot mama? Served empty calories for
dinner? I have. Of course I have.
Who am I?
When Maia was a baby I had to write one of those "Who am I?" essays college freshman are forever being asked to produce. In it I wrote about my new motherhood:
I am caught between the tides, between moons new and old... caught somewhere between who I am, who I have been, and who I think a mother should be... I feel too young, feel that I should be more together if I'm going to be a mother, that I should be able to offer something more, that I am not enough, and yet wanting to be honest...
I was embarrassed when I got to class and heard the other essays -- the ones
by upbeat, childless eighteen-year-olds that said, "I am an
environmentalist," or "I love to swim," or "I am an Italian American." But
even then I knew this feeling of being caught between the tides, between who
I was and who the world tells us a mother should be, was significant.
I should have been...
Back then I felt I "should" be more together, and over the years I have been able to fill in the blank with dozens of other things I have felt, or heard, I "should" be.
I have felt, and been told, that I should have blown it as a mother a thousand times by having Maia too young, not having enough money, having too much money, spoiling her, depriving her, sending her to public school, sending her to private school, living in the city, being single, having lovers, not getting the film from her fifth birthday developed until she was six, and more.
I have heard the choir of discouragement. I have heard all the criticisms that come from relatives, friends, acquaintances and the world at large. And I have, at times, joined that choir. As one mother wrote in Hip Mama when she was describing all the "shoulds" she had heard since she bore her children, "When an outside critic wasn't on the case, I did the job myself." We have to stop that. Even when we cannot quiet our outside detractors, we have to resist the urge to join them.
One mom I know recently confessed that at three o'clock in the morning, after having tried to get her one-year-old to sleep for hours, she "lost it." She screamed, loud and fierce, "I am going to die," and then leapt out of bed, ran to the front door of their studio apartment, and started kicking it. "I think I really frightened her," my friend kept telling me, as if her baby would be scarred for life. "I'll never forgive myself."
"Under the circumstances," I suggested, "'I am going to die' seems like a
pretty reasonable thing to scream. And the door, well, a pretty reasonable
thing to kick."
You are the perfect mother.
The world tells us all -- in a thousand ways -- that there is no margin for error in mothering. But I am here to tell you that there is a margin, and it is wide. Just as the occasional piece of chocolate cake can't make you fat, just as a few days off won't make you a lousy employee, blowing it as a mother every once in a while doesn't spell disaster for your kids' psyches. It simply doesn't.
We are human beings, after all, and sometimes we have to roar. We may feel caught between the tides, caught between who we are and who we think we ought to be, but we can also be honest. We can offer our children the whole of who we are, 3:00 am roaring and all.
Take a moment to imagine the perfect mother. No, wait. Take a moment to look
in the mirror. She is you. You are enough for your children, no matter what
the choir says, no matter who you imagine you "should" be, you are enough.