Call me a little slow, as it has taken me almost 33 months to figure this out, but I have finally come to the realization (or maybe I’ve just resigned myself to the facts) that motherhood and perfection can not exist together. It’s like oil and water they just don’t mix. If I’m being even more realistic I would even say that I have chosen to acknowledge the statement that there is no perfect way to be a mother.
For the last two and a half years I’ve been trying to live up to this standard of the perfect mother. It was an ideal that was entrenched in my head and dogged me everyday. I formed this ideal of perfect motherhood from years of hearing my own mother give her own strongly held opinions on the right and wrong ways to mother and from reading lots of parenting books. Once I had a child there were also plenty of people who were willing to give me unsolicited advice on just what I should be doing for my child and how I should be doing it.
Until this week, I was trying desperately to live up to my ideal of perfection. If I didn’t have dinner on the table by a certain time (the time my mother thinks dinner should be served) I considered myself a failure. This would mean that I failed every night because our dinner is never on the table by 5:00 or 5:30.
They say, “children should sleep in their own beds and be in bed by 8:00pm”. I have failed miserably in this. My son goes to bed later than most adults and usually sleeps most if not all of the night in our bed.
I’m not a crafty person and don’t really do crafts with my child. Every time I see the crafts other mothers do with their kids I feel like a failure. I still have the unopened Gingerbread House from Christmas sitting in the pantry. If it’s still good maybe we’ll actually assemble it for Christmas in July.
I have this idea in my head that other mothers are spending hours and hours every day doing educational things with their children while still getting all the laundry, shopping, and bill paying done, and they always have a spotless house. Oh yeah, and other moms get showered, dressed, and make-up and hair done every day before 9:00am. Because that’s what perfect mothers do, right? Perfect mothers never yell, lose their patience, or sometimes wish they could run away from it all. Perfect mothers cook three healthy meals a day and healthy snacks. They make sure the kids’ teeth get brushed at least twice a day. They’ve taught their children perfect manners, and never have to be the mother who is ducking her head in shame because her child is throwing a tantrum about leaving the park or roams around the music room or soccer field while all the other kids are doing the teacher/coach led activities. On and on the list of what perfect mothers do and don’t do goes on in my head.
Now do you see why I’ve been feeling so horrible lately? I am not that mother. We don’t have a routine. I fly be the seat of my pants. I do try to cook healthy meals but I really hate to cook and honestly I don’t have the desire to learn to cook gourmet meals. So we eat the same old stuff a lot. We probably eat better than most but not as good as I think we should. My house is never spotless. I’m too much of a procrastinator and a paper hoarder for there to be absolute perfection. I’m also too lazy. My kid does watch TV and sometimes I let him play by himself for long periods so I can be on the computer or read.
But this past week I had an epiphany of sorts. It started with the morning we were late to Kindermusik and really hit full force in the days after. I was feeling beaten by this whole perfect mother syndrome and then a few days after the whole Kindermusik thing my son and I had a great day. Guess what? The day was far from the ideal situation I had imagined.
First off we slept in until 10:00am on that rainy day. Or I should say my son slept until 10:00am and I read in bed next to him for over an hour. That’s right, he was in our bed again. And here’s the thing, while at some point I know he needs to sleep all night every night in his own room, right now I love waking up and seeing my child’s little angel face. I love when Big goes off to work and Shorty and I are left to snuggle in the bed. Often I am awake long before Shorty. I could go downstairs and blog or get housework done. Some mornings I do that. But then there are those morning like that day in which I lie (or is it lay? I never get those two words correct) next to my son and read and take long moments to watch him sleep or feel him snuggle in closer to me. On those mornings Shorty always wakes with a big smile on his face and our day seems to start off so much better than it does on the mornings when I’m rushing him. So maybe we’re not up and dressed and joining the rest of the world at a decent hour but who cares. It works for us.
That day we had breakfast at almost lunch time and lunch time later than most normal people. We never got showered until 8:00 that night and then we just changed into fresh jammies. Shorty stayed up until almost midnight because Big didn’t get in from his trip to Atlanta until a few minutes after 11:00pm and since Shorty had taken a long nap that day and was in a good mood I let him wait up for his dad because he had been asking for him ever since dinner. We spent good quality time together that day. He didn’t fight me at all when mealtimes came. He was pleasant and cooperative. It was just a great day. And since he stayed up so late we slept in late the next day too, although we did shower much earlier as we can’t spend every day in our jammies.
In those few days I realized something. I have been stressing myself out trying to live up to this impossible ideal of perfection in mothering and I’ve made my existence and often my family’s existence miserable. The last six months especially I have lost all the joy I felt in being a mom. I’ve let stress and striving for perfection take away my patience and leave in its place this crazy screaming woman. I’ve let it rob me of wonderful moments with my son. I’ve let it cause stupid arguments with my husband. And I’ve let it affect my friendships because I felt like the only imperfect mother out there and I didn’t want anyone else to know how imperfect I am.
I learned that my son doesn’t care if I’m perfect or if I’m living up to my mother’s ideals or doing things by the book. He responds better to a mother who isn’t stressed, yelling, and rushing around like a chicken without her head. He doesn’t care what time food is served as long as I make sure his belly is fed when he’s hungry. He doesn’t care if the house is perfect. And he likes waking up next to my smiling face as much as I like waking to his. He behaves much better when I remember that he’s not perfect either and that he can’t always do things when I want, how I want, and as quickly as I wish he would.
I’d like to say that I’ll never yell again or lose my patience. I’d like to say that I will never fall into my old habit of seeking that elusive perfection but, alas, I know there will be days when I will judge my life and my success as a mother by those old perfect standards. Unfortunately, old habits are hard to break. But I promise that I will try really hard to let all that stuff go. I will try to live more in the here and now and allow myself to be imperfect. I will try my best to enjoy every moment of my son’s young life for I know the day will come all too soon when I won’t have these moments and I’ll wish I could have them back. I’ll try to remember that our life is perfect just the way it is and not the way I think it is supposed to be. I’ll remember that perfection comes in those moments on a rainy morning when your child snuggles close and asks you to put your arms around him and looks at you with so much love that your heart feels like it will explode, and not in those moments when you’re running at full speed ahead trying to fool yourself and everyone else that you have it all together and then some.