Now that I have two kids, my perspective on what I am and what I am not as a mother has changed. My expectations of motherhood have been challenged. My routines turned upside down. Not having the first-child jitters over every little thing has made me more lax with our second child. And that has led to some guilt over not doing the same exact things with him as I did with our first (make all his purees, go to playgroups, rock him to sleep, etc.). I started wondering if I was failing as a parent this time around. I wasn't really happy with my "parenting" because I was always afraid I wasn't doing enough or doing the right things or making the right food or going to the right places. With the pressure of being a "perfect mom" on top of the pressure to maintain a marriage, career, and social life - I pretty much felt like I was losing at life.
But, something's changed in the past few months. Maybe it's because my husband likes to remind me that we have two healthy, beautiful children and are by all accounts "winning" more than losing. Maybe it's been my decision to go back to work full-time, or the distance my memory has from the last child birth. Maybe it's that every single time I talk to another mom with more than one child, they all say the same thing: it's hard and one of the hardest parts is living up to perceived expectations. We are all afraid to say "I let my child do..." or "I can't believe I didn't remember to..." (insert whatever we think makes us a bad mom), and then the second one of us admits we (forgot to pack a lunch, didn't send gloves to school, whatever) EVERYONE else admits they have, too. Ahh, the solidarity of trying to pretend to be a mom that I'm not and don't want to be!
So, I've stopped trying to be a Perfect (Pretend) Mom. I don't have it in me anymore. Sorry, kids - you're just going to have to deal with a less-than-perfect mom who loves you very, very much.
This long process of self-discovery has not been fun. It's been hard to not fall into the temptation of trying to be the "perfect mom" and I've allowed my fair share of mom guilt to creep into my head and heart. But, after I've been able to (as a good friend says) "ball it up and throw it in the trash" (thanks SO), I feel quite relieved of the burden guilt brings and more ready than ever to focus on positive aspects of parenting and learning how to become a better mother.
And, at the end of the day, I try to remember that it isn't really all about me anymore - whether or not I feel I'm an adequate mother or living up to society's expectations of me - it's just about the kids, keeping them happy and healthy. And I'm trying to focus more of my energy and thoughts on them now... and less on negative thoughts about my mothering ability.
The following are my new truisms on parenting. They are what I'm reminding myself of each time I get into a rut. I want to share here to both remind myself, and in case they help anyone else!
1. Perfect moms are pretend moms. You know who the "prefect mom" is - she's the "mom" that you think you should be (or rather that society pressures you to be) but that you aren't. She's there all the time, looming in the back of your mind, saying things like, "should the kids really eat ice cream for dinner?" She's the conglomerate of all the so-called perfect mothers out there who cook, clean, work, play, craft, and manage everything within their kids lives, all while wearing the latest fashions, hair styles, and manicures. Here's the thing - they don't exist any more than the boogie man or the Easter bunny. So, stop trying to be perfect. Give it up, already, and let your kids watch too much tv, eat too many snacks, and continue to use your iPad better than you. (Note: this applies to dads, as well).
2. Being a parent means giving up expectations. Every day hour there seems to be some new parenting issue/concern/question/crisis arising. You can't seem to escape them. Yet, there is always usually a perfectly good solution if you're patient enough to figure it out. The thing is, the solution may not be what you anticipated. And that can be, well, scary, because we are conditioned to do things certain ways, we have our comfort zones, and for better or for worse, we often don't react well to change. Well, you can forget about all of that! Since becoming a mom, I've refocused, rethought, replanned, re-everything in regards to my life, my family, and what life is all about in general. So, you just have to get used to ignoring your preconceptions and you have to be willing to start from scratch if what you thought might work, just doesn't work out.
3. It's not about one-upping other parents. Being a parent is about taking the best care of your kids that you can. It's not about keeping up with the Jones' - whether that means signing your kids up for all the activities their friends participate it, creating pasta art with them everyday, or teaching them how to play a musical instrument if only because you think that's what you "should" be doing. If you "want" to share all these experiences with your children, that is wonderful - just don't force fun on yourself to say to someone else that you did it. Do it for you and your kids and enjoy it.
4. Things change, and it's okay. I remember back when my mornings were my own, I could eat breakfast with two hands, read the paper if I liked, and take time to choose what clothes to wear that day, take a walk to the local coffee shop, and then start my day... around 9:00 o'clock or so. Ha! Now, my mornings look like this: 6:30 kids up/parents up (it varies who gets up first); 6:45 dressed and downstairs; 7:00 breakfast; 7:30 medicine and tv (tv is an excellent way to get kids to take their medicine... I don't care what anyone thinks); 7:45-8:30 - free play/get ready for work/prepare food for the day/make any notes for our child care/etc.; 8:45 - leave for work; 9:00 - start the work day, more likely than not without having any breakfast, definitely not having read the paper, probably not wearing a well-matched outfit, maybe having my hair dry, and heading to the work kitchen for the first of many cups of coffee for the day. All this is to say, that things have changed - and this is only the morning routine. Most aspects of my life have changed considerably since having kids.... and for that matter, since growing up, learning to drive, going to college, getting my first job, getting married, buying a house, etc. It's life, right? And we have to be ready for big changes and small changes. I wouldn't trade my new morning routine for anything I once had. Waking up to those little smiles and feeding those hungry mouths and getting all that love and attention before I have to head out to work, how could the paper and extra sleep compete with that? Plus, I have my iPhone to tell me what's going on in the world... and Facebook in case I miss anything.
5. You have to be flexible. My favorite quotation has always been "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans" from John Lennon's song "Beautiful Boy." Now, being a creature of habit and someone with ridiculous OCD, it's not easy for me to just "go with the flow," but I've had to learn the hard way that sometimes the best moments in life are truly ones that happen when we weren't expecting them. And, I've learned that we have to be flexible enough to not let these unexpected events ruin our day, get us stuck in routines that don't work, or make us long for days past. Because if there's one thing I know is true - it's whatever preconceived notions I had about being a parent - I was wrong - and there's room for me to learn something new everyday. best parts of life with kids will be the unexpected. For example, did I enjoy being in the ER multiple nights with a wheezing child last fall (part of the reason for not posting in so long)? No, not at all, and it totally threw off a number of routines/plans/etc. But, I did learn a lot about how brave my little boy is, and how cooperative my marriage is, and how well our extended family works together to keep all of us sane and I wouldn't trade that for the world.
And, please share your parenting truisms and lessons learned. I welcome your comments so we can keep the positive parenting conversation going! :)