Learning to Love the Perfect Mom
You know her. That mom. The one with the perfectly coiffed hair, the fresh manicure, and the matching shoes and handbag. Her car is immaculate, her kids never have dirty faces, talk back, or make a “B”. She cooks delicious homemade meals and serves them on a table with matching plates. She never raises her voice, heads up every volunteer committee, and adores her mother-in-law. She makes being a mother look like some effortless waltz she was born to dance.
If Only We Could Like Her
You want to like her. She really is NICE, and it isn’t her fault that you feel like a complete failure in the overwhelming glow of her perfectness. The problem is that you can’t connect to her. Her ability to do it all and do it all well, only makes you feel more inadequate. And on your worst days, you know, those days you revert to being a middle school mean girl, you cross your fingers and hope her straight A student will bring home a C, or better yet, let a stream of expletives fly just to remind that perfect mama that we’re all fallible.
I’m not her.
How I Knew I Was Just Ok
About a week after my son was born, I noticed I was out of bread and decided to make a quick trip to the grocery store. I hopped in the car and thought, “Wait, I’m forgetting something. Keys, check. Wallet, check…..Oops, the baby.” That was my first clue that I wasn’t a natural. In my defense, breastfeeding had left me averaging about 2 hours of sleep a night and with nipples so ravaged that a light summer breeze could cause me to cry out in pain. I felt like a wounded prisoner in my own home.
The “Perfect Mom” was my archrival. I was always the mother who remembered the diaper bag, but forgot to pack enough diapers or the extra outfit for the inevitable gastrointestinal event or vomitfest. I never had extra snacks or thought to dilute the apple juice, and spent a large part of my day in a state of conscious incompetence. My daughter was born three years after my son, and I like to tell myself that I was more accomplished when she came along; until I see a photo of her at about 7 months old, stuffed into a 3-month onesie like a sausage in a casing, because I forgot to bring the requisite backup outfit on a trip to the zoo. You know how they say, “Some people never learn?” I’m some people.
My inadequacy continued as they got older. A single parent since my kids were three and five, I always felt like I was dropping the ball. There just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day for excelling at work, keeping a clean house, preparing healthy meals, or wearing matching shoes. For a visual journey of my failings, one needs only take a trip down memory lane via school photos. “Perfect Mom’s” kids are in new outfits with color-coordinated hair bows while mine are in a rumpled t-shirt and jeans, probably plucked from a pile of dirty clothes in the corner of their room. Mealtime at our house was often a pizza picnic or sub sandwiches on the den floor. If I served a salad, I was able to tell myself we had included all the food groups. “Perfect Mom” was what I secretly wished I could be.
Isolating my Unawesome Self
I spent some years keeping those “Perfect Moms” at arm’s length while I executed perfect eye rolls behind their backs. My insecurities about my shortcomings were just too many for me to relax with a woman who could effortlessly do it all. But as the years rolled by, I began to realize something. We’re all fighting our own battles; even “Perfect Mom”. For me, a battle was finding the time to plan ahead and achieve some level of organization. A battle for a “perfect” mom, on the other hand, might be giving up some control and allowing her kid to fail.
And here’s when I knew that none of that really mattered. As the years went by, and my children became teens, one thing became clear. The kids, whether raised by “Perfect Mom” or me, were finding their own way. Believe it or not, they had all begun to evolve into the challenging, fantastic, entertaining human beings we dreamed they would be. Our shortcomings as mothers are, in most cases, neutralized by the scrapped knees we kissed, the bedtime stories we read, the discipline that ended with a hug, the lop-sided birthday cakes we baked, the laughter we shared with them, and the love and worry that kept us all up at night.
As women, we are our own worst critics. We need to remember that a picnic on the floor is no less nutritious than a meal served on fine china, and that all of us come into parenting with unique gifts to share with our children. While my gift might be the willingness to laugh and wing it when I burn the bread for the third time, “Perfect Mom’s” might be to plan and execute a 5-year old’s birthday party that would earn a write-up in the society column. I promise you though, that “Perfect Mom” isn’t really perfect at all. She, just like the rest of us, has at some point hidden in the closet to have a good cry.
United We Stand
True friendships and intimacy can’t exist without vulnerability. When we stop resenting “Perfect Mom” for having it all together, let down our guard and drag our shortcomings out onto the front porch for the world to see, we give her permission to do the same. By expanding our circle of friends to include women who wax where we wane, we expand the human experience for our kids, and we develop a support system that can bolster our self-esteem on those days when it has really taken a beating.
And if we all respect each other, and get lucky, we can even work together. Maybe if we awesomely average moms can get a perfect mom to laugh when her tag’s out, she’ll give us a heads up on picture day.