Letter to my daughters about motherhood

I was scanning a Facebook post this morning. The topic from one of my favorite FB pages, “Mommy has a Potty Mouth” was highlighting some of the epic messes kids can make. Baby powder. Desitin. Poo. Inevitably, as with any post like this, someone makes the statement that kids could not POSSIBLY make messes like this unless they were not being WATCHED. Shame on you Mommy! Shame on you!

This got me to thinking about motherhood in general. First of all, nobody can tell you the RIGHT way to do it. The fact is, there is no “right way”. (This is of course and absolutely excluding abuse and neglect. That’s not what I’m talking about here because let’s face it, we all know there is a LINE.)

As I was saying, there is no “right way.” There is your way, and your way tends to coincide with the personalities and temperaments of your children. And you will dissect, criticize and obsess over “your way” from the time your baby is born. You will worry that you are doing it WRONG. You will have people constantly judging you and telling you that you are doing it WRONG. You will feel heartbroken as you search your past and every example you can come up with in your mind, looking for some HINT that you are doing it RIGHT and you won’t find one. Your kids will embarrass you in public and strangers will give you the “look.” Your kids will embarrass you in front of your mother/mother-in-law/great-aunt/friends and they will give you the “look” and maybe provide you with the most uninvited, condescending “advice” about child-rearing that will shame you in ways you never knew possible. You will cry on the days you know you were to harsh. You will feel guilty on the days you know you were too lenient. There will be days when you are utterly and completely exhausted and you will lay your child down for a nap and collapse on your couch because you feel safe in knowing your beloved little one is sleeping peacefully in her crib, and a short time later, go check on your little darling to find her, the crib, and every possible surface covered in shit because while you felt secure knowing your baby was safely asleep, she crapped her pants, removed her diaper, and decided to PLAY instead. You will sigh a huge sigh and get to work cleaning up the mess, all the while wondering where on earth you went wrong – just one of the hundreds of messes and hundreds of times you will question your own ability to mother. You will wonder if you’re loving your children enough. You will wonder if you are smothering them with love. You will work and feel guilty for every moment you are away from your children. You will be home and feel guilty because you’re thinking about work. You will read article after article from “experts” who tell you that this way or that way is the BEST way. The problem is, the “BEST” way depends wholly on the particular experts point of view and belief system. In other words, you’ll find a whole lot of opinions, but no consensus. Culture will tell you you’re doing it wrong. Commercials will tell you you’re doing it wrong. You will tell yourself “I’m doing it wrong.” And you will cry many, many tears of confusion while packing a lunch with organic applesauce, an organic grass-fed beef sandwich on organic whole-wheat bread with organic mayo and organic cheese, an organic juice box and organic pretzels because your child is complaining that she wants HOT LUNCH at school like her friends!

You will compare yourself to other mothers. Some will have the patience of a saint. You won’t, so you will shame yourself. Some will have children who behave like angels at the doctor’s office while your child spins around like a tornado, leaving nothing but destruction in his wake. You will get the “look” from the office receptionist, glance at the child quietly reading next to his mother, and shame yourself. Then you will glance over at the child with the snotty nose and dirty coat, and see his mother ignoring him as she reads the People she picked up from the magazine table, and shame her. You will realize something in that moment, and that something is that shaming other mothers makes you feel better…tragic, but true.

You will do your best, and realize that your best will never do thanks to the cacophony of voices around you affirming that belief. But every morning you will wake up and start another day as mom, and you will clean snotty noses and brush hair and help tie shoes and drop children off at school or activities, or make doctor’s appointments or speak with teachers, or argue (AGAIN) with the six-year-old about why she MUST wear boots because there is snow on the ground while she argues with you about how she hates wearing boots…and you will give all the love you can possibly give and try your hardest to meet the standards you set for yourself. Gold-medal standards, believe me you will have them. You will go through the day and judge yourself more harshly than a Russian Olympic ice skating judge judges the American sweetheart…deducting one-tenth of a point because you yelled after asking the 12-year-old to pick up his dirty socks off the family room floor for the 15th time that day, or a full point because you said “no, you may not have that candy bar” to your 3-year-old in the check out lane at the local Kroger and she went into a full on meltdown.

You will never meet your own gold medal standards and you will surely never meet the standards of others. But you will keep trying. God knows you will keep trying and praying and stumbling through. One day your kid might tell you you’re the best mommy in the whole world. Another day, you might hear “I wish I had a different mommy” as she stomps up to her room because you said she can’t do this or that or the other and she vehemently disagrees with you. When she cries, you will hold her and wish you could take the pain away…when she laughs, you will feel like all is right in the world. Tomorrow, you will do it all again. And the day after…and the day after…  And that, in a nutshell, is motherhood.

When the tears fall…ask yourself why

Schools are closed and the office is closed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m home with my kids, and when I woke up with them this morning, the first thing I did was ask them “Do you know why you are home from school today?” Of course they gave the right answer. They’ve been learning as much as a 3, 6 and 12 year old can over the last week about Martin Luther King and his legacy at school. I wanted to start the day with a lesson on the truly backbreaking and often dehumanizing work Dr. King and all who struggled and fought for Civil Rights in this country endured. I began by telling them a little bit about how not so long ago, people were separated in this country because of the color of their skin; that they could only live in certain places, go to certain schools, eat at certain restaurants. I was pleasantly surprised to see them all really listening. It was quite a moment for me.

I talked to them about standing up for what is right, about Dr. King’s stance on non-violence, and about the ugly reality of racism, hatred and segregation. How people faced dogs, fire hoses, being spit on, beaten, battered, all because they believed that everyone, no matter what the color of their skin, deserved to be treated equally. As I was speaking about the bravery of the people who had endured so much, I could feel my throat tightening, my chest hurting…and I began to cry. I struggled through, talking more about Dr. King’s legacy and how it lives on today through us, and about how we should always feel gratitude to those people who fought and died for what is, by it’s very essence, truth. We are different, that is true. But we are all human and no one, no matter how many letters they have behind their name has ever been able to define race in a way that denies that fact.

When the lesson was over, I began to reflect. Why was I crying? I cried because I want to be that brave. I want to be that strong…to sit in the face of hatred and anger and know that I am on the side of justice. I am humbled at the bravery of all those men and women. I am humbled by their grit, their honor, and their knowledge deep in their hearts and minds that they were struggling for something bigger than themselves…

I am humbled by the knowledge that they weren’t afraid to die.

I will end this with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King. It’s a reminder to me to always speak. I do, for the most part. It’s time to make my voice louder. Time to do more. Remember:

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If you’re going to do it…do it my way

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So here’s the thing: I am a perfectionist. I don’t say that in a snotty “I’m better than you” kind of way. I say it because it’s how I approach my work and the things I do in my life. If I cook, I cook to perfection. If I clean, I clean to perfection. Everything I do, I do to the very best of my ability so that, in my mind at least, it is perfect.

It’s a problem. I recognize it’s a problem and I will tell you why: perfectionists rarely get stuff done.

Now I know there are going to be some out there who will argue with this. “That’s you! I get stuff done,” they’ll say. I don’t doubt you get stuff done. Hell, I also get stuff done. Just not as much stuff as I COULD get done if I let go and allowed 1) other people to help me and 2) myself to ease up on the control I feel I have to have in EVERY situation so that things can be done “my way.” I venture to say I’d also have more energy to do some of the things I’d like to do (more writing, for example) if I gave myself permission to let go of my need for perfection and control.

With this in mind, I devised an experiment. I would start delegating some of the things I generally do myself because other people’s way of doing these things is not up to my standards. It began with telling my 16-year-old son to clean the bathroom. Now, cleaning the bathroom is a big deal for me. It has to be done a CERTAIN WAY. Otherwise, it is not RIGHT. I mean, even down to the way the soap and shampoo bottles are aligned. Right. As I am typing this, I can feel the anxiety mounting – even though this technically happened days ago, I can still feel the anxiety. Seriously. 

Did he do it RIGHT? Yes and no. He did the bathroom RIGHT according to his own specifications. He did a great job making sure he properly cleaned and disinfected all of the surfaces. The chrome gleamed, the porcelain shined, and the mirror was streak free. I twitched a little when I noticed that he hadn’t emptied and cleaned out the bathroom’s trash container. I could feel my anxiety reach new heights as I saw he lined the bottles and soaps up his way, not mine. I fought the urge to “correct” it.  I had to take a step back, for real because I realized something in that moment: The fact is, he did a great job. He did it his way and though it wasn’t MY way, it was perfection in HIS eyes. I had to appreciate the effort he made. I let him know he did a great job, that I was glad I could trust him with the responsibility, and that I would definitely be relying on him to clean the bathroom again. He was proud of his work. I beamed! I mean, I do have a great son. I’m one lucky mom!

Once he was out of sight, I fixed the shampoo bottles.

Baby steps.