Before I had children I had such visions of the type of mother I would be one day. I had it all drawn up in my head and tied up so neatly with a pretty little ribbon. I would be THIS kind of mother but not THAT kind of mother. I would do THIS with my children but I would never do THAT with my children. I would be perfect and my children would be perfect too.
You can stop laughing now. I finally did. You see it’s easy to say you will be a certain type of mother before you actually are one. It’s easy to have all the ideas in the world about how your days will unfold, how your children will be neatly dressed like a page out of the latest J. Crew catalog, how your house will resemble the cover of Pottery Barn, how you and your family will enjoy calm breakfasts while the perfect looking dog lies quietly on the floor. Then you actually have children and you realize that is never going to happen. You’re just happy if your kids clothes don’t have stains, and your coffee is lukewarm.
You see the problem with creating such a detailed image before you face the reality is that the letdown can feel huge. By letdown I do not mean my children, I mean me. I had created an idea in my head of me being a perfect mother. I would be a mother who never loses her cool, is always showered, dressed and sporting a little bit of makeup, a mother who spends every moment of her day enriching the lives of her children. In my fantasy the laundry was always done and put away, the house was always clean, and the food shopping was always done way before anyone had time to notice the milk had become questionable. My children always ate perfectly prepared balanced meals. We spent time throughout the day reading, building, playing, baking and dancing. I know my fantasy was quite elaborate.
Quite a few years into this whole motherhood thing I found myself going to bed disappointed in my performance more often than I care to admit. I started feeling constant pressure about why the house was a disaster more often than not, why I allowed my children to watch more TV that particular day than I swore I ever would, why I burned the dinner, why I was still pulling clean clothes out of the laundry basket instead of putting it all away and why this was nothing like I had pictured. Where was my Pottery Barn house? Where were my J.Crew kids? Where oh where was my perfect dog? Why wasn’t I showered?! Then it hit me. All of those images were in my head. They weren’t part of my reality and if we’re being honest I don’t think they are part of many people’s reality.
Unfortunately what is part of our reality is putting way too much pressure on ourselves as mothers to be perfect, when the truth is our children are better off that we are not. We are always teaching our children that they don’t have to be perfect, they just have to try to do their best. We teach our boys to put forth their best effort and we will always be proud of them. Perfection is just not attainable, not for them and certainly not for us. I sat down the other day after the boys had gone to bed and I had that overwhelming feeling of disappointment in me come through again. It had been one of those days when you aren’t even really sure what you accomplished. The laundry sat unfolded, the vacuum never got turned on and the craft project I had promised the boys we would do never got touched. I had yelled at both of them for fighting with each other amongst other things. I felt like a giant failure.
Motherhood may be one of the only jobs that you aren’t supposed to admit you failed at that particular day. Everyone has a bad day at work every now and again but motherhood comes with so much more pressure. After all doesn’t every little thing we do in a day affect our children? It turns out it doesn’t. That’s right, you heard it here first. Our children are not in fact affected by every little thing we do. Our children have the amazing ability to look at the big picture and see it for what it is. It’s not perfect but it’s life. It’s not always pretty and it certainly doesn’t come wrapped up in a beautiful ribbon, but when you take the time to breathe you realize you are doing all right. They are doing all right. When you take the pressure off of yourself to be perfect the light shines through and makes it all clear again.
That night after I stopped beating myself up for our less than perfect day I went in and checked on each of the boys. I kissed each of them as they slept. As I closed my oldest son's door I took a deep breath and made myself a promise that the next morning I would live in the moment, that I wouldn’t stress about the whole checklist, that I would be with my boys in the present, and that I would stop judging my daily performance. We are our own worst critics and when we stop judging ourselves for our smallest mistakes we can finally breathe in and enjoy our biggest accomplishments. I realized that night that my mistakes were gone with the day and my accomplishments were sleeping soundly in their beds.