In honor of Mother's Day, this week's posts are going to center around the theme of Motherhood and my crazy emotional thoughts about that. It all stems from a book I just finished reading (compliments Parent Bloggers Network), and I think I need the week to totally process it.
Before I became a mom, I had one huge advantage over most of the other moms I knew:
I had very low expectations.
I was not of the "I just want to be a mom,"--
"Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to be a mom,"--
"Motherhood is what I've dreamed of,"--
"Having children will be amazing,"--
No sirree. Motherhood didn't seem like fun. at. all. It seemed like a whole lot of work with very little reward. My mom never glossed over the hard times of motherhood, and so for first few years of marriage when people asked when I was going to have children my stock answer was, "Never." It didn't matter that I knew somewhere deep, very deep, in the darkest unswept corner of my heart that I would probably become a mother, someday, eventually. Having kids was one of those things I didn't look forward to.
I hardly expected any benefits to having kids, so when they did come in the form of drooling smiles, big bear hugs, and utterances of "I love you Mommy," it rocked my world. I can see now how I am fiercely in love with my daughters and that becoming a mom has profoundly changed me in a positive way. But I have to admit that all those pre-parenting thoughts saved me from the disappointment and guilt of realizing that at 2 in the morning, I have uttered the words, "I hate this." Heck, I have uttered that phrase at 2 in the afternoon. Sometimes I do, in fact, hate the chores of parenting. I don't feel terrible about not loving motherhood all the time. It's the hardest job I'll ever do. There is no upside to not getting enough sleep and the ensuing insanity that results from that. The best I can do is to have a sense of humor about it, which I am successful at maybe half of the time.
I also thought that those pre-parenting thoughts would put me squarely in the camp of Realistic Expectations. I wouldn't expect perfection. I wouldn't dream of utopia. I wouldn't try to control the uncontrollable. I would, in essence, change the very DNA of my character. Easy.
And, I thought, I wouldn't have a real need to read a book called Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, by Dr. Ann Dunnewold. Extreme parenting? Child-centered parenting? Cat fights with other moms? No thank you. That is not me. The book's tagline "Cut Yourself Some Slack (and still raise great kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting" just didn't seem to fit me. Except that OF COURSE it did fit me. Cut myself some slack? Hello! Maybe just every-once-in-awhile-or-every-minute-of-the-day. I am not good in the cutting slack department.
Anyway, as I started reading through the book I realized that while I may have a mailbox in the camp of Realistic Expectations, I don't live there full time. I'm not sure if I ever even stay the night there. Really, I'm just there during the day with my kids. It's easy for me to say, "We don't have the money," and feel perfectly okay that Sydney sleeps in her bedroom of hand-me-down furniture, and won't attend pre-school, or be in dance class, or wear designer jeans. I don't expect perfection of my kids, and don't expect Sydney to be the next child prodigy. She'll be a very regular kid, and I'm okay with that.
Yet...That dreadful yet...at night, when I starting thinking through everything, I leave Realistic Expectations, and go to the land of Perfect Mommies. I read through other blogs and my magazines and think, "That's what I should to do." I should work on the backyard, the organized phone consul, the beautiful photos. I should make soup from scratch, send off those homemade birthday party invitations, make cookies for the next church event. I should sew aprons, and dolls, and make flower bouquets. I should be content, be happy, be outgoing, send encouragement cards to all my friends.
The "shoulds" go on forever. Some of them probably legitimate ones at that. But the "shoulds" kill me. For as much as I think I don't compete with other moms, I am sad to confess that I do sometimes. Especially in the Martha Mom department. Even just this weekend, for a church event for families of young children, I made blueberry/cranberry cobbler from scratch. Part of it was because I had a real craving for shiny-top blueberry cobbler; part of it was because I wanted to appear impressive, if just for one sugary second. I'm kidding myself if I think I don't expect perfection at least some of the time.
For as much as I didn't think Dunnewold's book would apply to my life, it does.
The perfectly good mother is not a model of perfectly perfect. Perfect is impossible. Perfect implies A++, 110 percent of the time. "Perfectly good" as an adjective keeps the standards high, but achievable. It means clearly good, without qualification. Perfectly good is a solid A- or B+. Compare that to "good enough," or even "slacker." Sounds like barely passing to me. Perfectly good is admirable, but you don't have to "kill" yourself, and it by no means creeps into the realm of failure. (page 20)
The main theme of the book is about getting moms to accept the idea of being a perfectly good mom and stop competing with each other. I appreciated the amount of research Dunnewold put into the book, with excerpts from dozens of parenting essays and books. She includes perfectly good sayings that help keep moms focused on real thinking. She isn't just writing to young families either. It's for all parents who have kids under the age of 25. She also includes a helpful chapter on perfectly good dads.
When I finished the book last night, I cried. Not just because I'm hyper stressed out (although I am) but because even after all that reading I know it'll be so difficult for me to give up my parenting insecurities. Some areas are easy. Overscheduling? No problem. Some areas are harder. Overprotecting? Overperfecting (myself, not my child)? Most definitely. We need to look hard at the overprotecting, overperfecting, overproducing, overscheduling lifestyle and see what really works for us and our families. It's about examining what is really necessary. It's about saying, "Enough for now."
I'm not saying the book has the answer to all the plagues of motherhood, but it convicted me in areas I didn't even think I had issues with. Serious conviction. Considering the fact that I didn't think the book would apply to me at all, I'd say that's a big leap. I think I'll try to capture some of my other reactions this week, and hopefully by the time Mother's Day rolls around I'll be saying Happy Perfectly Good Mother's Day.
Thanks to Parent Bloggers Network for providing me with my copy of the book.