Originally posted 6/6/17
Apparently I’m a good mom only on special occasions. These include the beginning of the school year, holidays, birthdays, end of year test days and the beginning of summer. My mothering skills rate a little above meh, according to my youngest, or so I thought. Okay, here’s the situation…
I became a mother shortly after graduating high school. Basically, I was entrusted to care for a defenseless little human at a time when most young adults are just getting the hang of brushing their teeth and showering every day. It was not in my nature to accept failure as an option, so I did what any overachieving middle child does. I decided to become the “perfect mom”. You already know where this is going.
I was the kind of mom that other women joke about but secretly hate because they always seem to have it together. Making homemade baby food—check. Finding a balance between allowing independence and providing love and security—duh! Teaching them to speak and sign and potty train by the age of two—like a boss! I read all of the parenting books and magazines that I could get my hands on, went to every seminar I could manage and was up in their schools like Mr. Furley (Note: If you have a nosy stalker landlord that drops by every day, you should probably move). I did it all for the end goal of rearing productive, functional, well-balanced human beings who will CARRY ON MY LEGACY. LEGACY. LEGACY…And then this happened.
“Mom, I’m pregnant”. 😅😆😅 My oldest had just finished her sophomore year at UMKC. At first I thought she was playing a really wicked practical joke on me. She’d done it before. Besides that, I had been sure to provide her with all of the protective measures she needed to prevent STDs and pregnancy until she turned 101. AND we’d had “the talk” over and over again for about 8 years. Alas, it was not a joke and she was faced with the prospect of dropping out of school to raise a child with a person she’d known for less than a year. My honor student. The kid who gave me no troubles. She was great at everything (except sports, she was a pretty terrible athlete) and had the audacity to be beautiful on top of it all. The “good one” was becoming a 19 year-old mother and all I could think was “what did I do wrong?”.
Meanwhile, the other guy was rocking it out. He’d always struggled through school, so he had to learn to study. He had the attention span of a gnat, so he had to teach himself to be self-motivated, self-directed and focused. He was never serious about anything, yet he developed a resolute discipline that would make a Buddhist monk give him props. How had two children who were reared in the same environment and had the same “perfect mom” turn out so differently?
What I now know is that they are different people. My two “starter” kids taught me that no matter what I do, I will have a 50/50 chance of success. Therefore, I may as well stop stressing about every little detail of their lives and have fun watching them grow into the people they want to become. I also learned to redefine my idea of success. Mostly that means that they get through high school without us killing them or letting them kill each other. Lucky for our little back-up plan, I no longer strive to be the perfect mom. I do my best to facilitate her happiness but not by sacrificing my own. I also learned that unconditional love is a bitch. I THOUGHT I loved my kiddos until my worst nightmare came true. Now I’m positive that I love those buttheads, and that I will love them no matter what they do.
Let me be clear. Twenty-one years of motherhood is exhausting. Seriously, I still randomly break out in itchy hives when I remember that we have seven years until the youngest goes off to college. With each year that I tried to be the perfect mom, I lost a little more of myself. I unintentionally based all of my decisions on how they would impact my children. All of my accomplishments were inextricably tied to my identity as a mother. On the whole, it’s been a pretty good life. As boring as mayonnaise on white bread in a plastic sandwich bag, but good.
Now I’m at a point where I want to be myself again. I used to be a smart, funny, adventurous chick who loved to write and dance. These days I struggle to have a conversation that doesn’t leave me cringing or wishing I had Harry’s invisibility cloak. I used to have friends from different walks of life who made me better by knowing them. Today my friends consist of other moms who usually talk about kids and motherhood, which is fine but makes for a one-dimensional personality. I used to laugh, play and have fun every single day. Up until recently, I’ve been watching documentaries, reading classics and engaging in serious political debates because I am a responsible adult. Bleh!
Since sailing into my forties, I have been looking back on all of my so-called mistakes and life lessons. I’ve stopped caring about how other people perceive me, because most of them don’t have their sh!t together either. I’ve stopped taking things so seriously, because life finds a way of working itself out no matter how much we muck it up. I’ve stopped trying to be the “perfect mom”, because (no matter what the books and magazines tell us) there is NO SUCH THING.
For example, our youngest just finished her end-of-the-year assessment testing. I told her that I was tired from making breakfast for the past three weeks, so I would not be making dinner that night. I apologized for being a bad mom. At which point she looked at me like I’d grown a third eye between my brows and said “Are you kidding? You’re the best!”. Then she listed off all the reasons she thought I was the most incredible mother in the universe and proceeded to make dinner for the family. I may be a bad mom by my younger self’s standards, but my kid cooks me dinner. I must be doing something right.