Our job is a cruelly ironic one: We love, nurture, and teach our children to go out into the world so that they can live, function, and thrive without us. So they don’t need us. Don’t need our nest. It’s cruel. It’s a job that is revered and honored and, conversely, an easy target for the crudest of comedians: Sure we get flowers and sweet homemade cards once a year, but there’s also “Yo Mamma insults” and never ending jokes about our jeans.
It seems that we all agree that our objectives as mothers are overwhelming, but so is the advice we give one another. The big dilemia of modern motherhood is the need to categorize each other, emphasizing our differences. Ultimately, we’re told it’s not enough to raise happy kids, we need to show it to everyone, displaying it, and telling everyone else how to do it, too.
I think one of the reasons it’s overwhelming is because we are asking the wrong questions when we get to talking in real life or online. Different media outlets in order to sell stories, bloggers to get comments and page views, parents to make themselves feel better and validate their own choices, want to pit mother against mother with antiquated, oversimplified frameworks: working vs. stay at home, breastfeeding vs. bottle, organic vs. FDA standard, public school vs. homeschool and so on. These overused “hot” topics are used to “test” other parents to see if we’re alike or not and to validate our own choices as mothers. After all, how can we prove we’re a good mom unless we’re better than someone else? It’s mean, judgey and not at all helpful. In fact, it’s hurtful to our mothering community because it divides us and further separates us from each other in an already isolating, overwheming job where the stakes are high.
It comes with a price, but we haven’t even had this technology long enough to really know what that price is, we can all guess: an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction that you’re not doing enough, that you should do more, or do better, comparing ourselves to an unrealistic portrayal that isn’t real, and then anger, dissatisfaction, disillusionment. Haven’t we all had that moment where we’ve thought: Hey, I didn’t get a cute baby shower for my third child, with diaper shaped cake pops?! Or So now we have to put an elf all over our shelves staged in suspicious, menacing positions to delight our children?! That’s a thing now? Or “Oh, okay, they went to lunch together without me. Awesome, I didn’t want to go. Took a lot of pictures of themselves, huh? I don’t even like Zupas.”
What my mother, who didn’t live through this era, taught me about motherhood that applies here: Motherhood is enough and now I believe in “Lowering the bar and being awesome”. Not in a discouraged way, but in a realistic, individual, positive way. I don’t want to regret this time raising my children, but only I can determine what that means to me and my kids. “Lowering the bar” is my commitment to reject the “tests” others try to put on me and it may mean that I appear less accomplished than other moms. Maybe less put together or even generous. It might mean that I appear flaky or disorganized, but it always means that I am responding to my kids’ changing needs all of the time. And the last part, “being awesome” means just that, that I am happy about it because I’m living without regrets and “should-could-would haves.” I’m fully aware that I’m not cool, I don’t win , and that’s awesome.
My own mother holds a radical religious belief that is not considered doctrine in my Church, but she and I believe it. It’s this: She would tell us as children, that before we came to the Earth, as spirits in the premortal realm, when it was time to be organized into families (again, not doctrine), that she jumped up and down and said, “Please, please let me be Lisa’s mom! Oh please—pick me!” That was how my mom felt about being my mother. And that was the first and lasting dialogue I have in my head about what being a mom means.
You should feel a little sorry for me because I have the perfect mother, but you won’t. You’ll be suspicious of me and that statement and you’ll reason, “No one can get it right.” To which I’ll reply, Hey, as mom’s let’s take back our idea of perfect or, the aforementioned “lowering the bar and being awesome,” not as an apathetic “there’s only one ideal and I’ll never meet it,” and not the illusive, “good enough,” but a third definition “fit for a specific need.” Take back the word “perfect” “awesome.” Not the meaning: “without flaws or shortcomings,” not the assumption “beyond improvement, “ but the third meaning, “exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose.”
So why do I want sympathy from you? Because every day, in raising and caring for five children, I know better. I know what I should be doing. It’s not elusive and I can’t pretend it’s not possible to do a good job. My mother taught me that I am enough for my kids. They want me: my time and attention, my energy, love, silliness, education, etc. I don’t get caught up in competition because I want to be the best for my kids: perfect for them. That’s another reason why my mom is perfect—she prepared me for this environment of mothering before it even existed by showing me what were the most important elements of mothering.
Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for all the neighborhood kids to congregate at our house. Regularly, they would come before school, after school and it became apparent to me that my mother was being taken advantage of. I confronted her about this and say, “Doesn’t it kill you that these people are taking advantage of you? They’re totally using you for free babysitting.”
“I’m fully aware of the situation,” she would explain, “But if they’re not here, at our home, they’re home alone. It’s the kid who suffers, not the parent if I turn the kid away. Besides, I get to spend all this time with these great kids. I’m the lucky one.” Not only did she not care that the other parents, or society at large, might think, specifically that she was weak and foolish, but she did the right thing for a lot of kids who, as you can imagine, still love her.
My mom doesn’t expect me to be like her or agree with her on all things and certainly isn’t threatened by our differences. I don’t sew like she did, but I paint, and I make funny faces and make up stories like she did, and so much of how I mother is influenced by her. But we’re different, too, and these things aren’t important elements to motherhood. They’re individual quirks that are slightly interesting personality traits. For example, my mom irons her sheets and pillowcases. I do not. My mother doesn’t do this out of obligation or appearances or for any other reason than she wants to do it. She likes having ironed sheets. Her idea of motherhood isn’t tied up with housekeeping. She doesn’t care if I iron my sheets or not. She never insisted I do it to be a good mother. Mothering means more than that. And yet, she doesn’t stop doing it, something she personally likes, for fear of being mocked or being seen as old-fashioned. She does it. She’s awesome.
Modern mothering does not need more advice giving or tests that will, once and for all, give us a definitive answer at who is doing it best. It does need a call to retire the jokes about our jeans. We get it,--Mom’s used to wear elastic banded jeans that made their torsos look really nonexistent and their backsides really big. That was funny. Ha ha. It’s not a thing anymore. How do we do “our job?” How do we fully prepare for our children to live and thrive without us? By lowering the bar and. . . just kidding. I’m not giving you advice. I'm not your mom.