Sunday, June 17, 2012

The mother they deserve

I've read a couple comments online recently by mothers saying they wish they were the mother their child deserves. One was a woman I know personally and would have described as an excellent mother - thoughtful, loving, conscientious. The other was a blogger I don't know, but it came at the end of a list of things she wanted her 10 year old daughter to know that caused me to nod in violent agreement at every one. She was clearly also a thoughtful, loving mother. So how did these women think they were somehow not the mothers their children deserve?

Society sets a high bar for mothers - we idealize motherhood to the point that we somehow expect ourselves to be perfect mothers or feel like we're failing short.

Well, pardon my French, but bullshit.

My parenting mantra from the very beginning has been a line my mother (who is, thankfully, not perfect) has always attributed to Jung (thank you, Mom):

Children don't need perfect parents. They need "good enough" parents.

Not that they are just OK if they don't have perfect parents and do have good enough parents. No - he means they actively need NOT to have perfect parents and actively NEED good enough parents instead. Which is a good thing, because perfect parents are a mythical beast, like pretty much anything else perfect.

Now, I say this as a person who has had to fight against the urge for perfection my whole life. If you are familiar with the Enneagram (a personality type indicator in which the types are assigned a number from one to nine), I am a flaming One, whose self-idealization is "I am right." Ones are ALL about perfection, and I'm no exception. But it's a false goal - you will drive yourself crazy in the pursuit of it, and still never attain it.

Most people know that about most things. But, ah, motherhood. It's our most cherished ideal, the perfect mother. When Rapunzel was an infant, I remember thinking I was doing something wrong because it wasn't all joy and happiness all the time. I loved (and still love) her with an intensity I could not begin to imagine before her birth (and I tried). But nobody told me that motherhood is hard work. There are huge rewards, but also huge frustrations, worry, rampant sleep deprivation, and just flat out exhaustion. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I wish someone had told me to expect it to be hard, and not all joy and choirs of angels.

Honestly, I never really expected to be a good mother - I wanted to have children because I wanted to experience what it was to love another human being completely unconditionally (I love my husband to pieces, but it's not and never will be unconditional). I boy did I find out (for the record, it's awesome and terrifying in equal parts. I once read a description of it as agreeing to let your heart walk around outside your body for the rest of your life, and that's pretty dead on.) But even wanting to have children and experience that, I just couldn't mentally fit myself into that idealized image of the perfect mom - you know, the one that never gets tired or frustrated, never loses her cool, always knows just what her child needs, loves nothing more than to sit on the floor playing with a toddler....

Here's my confession: I love babies, but toddlers? Please, no. I don't enjoy playing games with kids. Or doing art with kids. Or cooking with kids. Or doing anything that might make a mess with kids (which is almost everything, if you do it right...) I do not enjoy cooking and don't manage to put perfectly balanced, healthy meals on the table (or indeed, any meals on the table - I don't cook at all, Chris does...) I do enjoy reading to kids, though - anything that involves a book, I'm on board. Although the 50th time through that More, More, More Said the Baby and I wanted to scream. Still, mostly I didn't mind the repetition of reading the same picture books over and over and over. I could do Hippos Go Berserk all day long....

But I was confessing. I found helping with elementary school homework frustrating. And I tolerated but didn't truly enjoy taking them to playgrounds (God, could anything be more boring?) or museums (whee, the butterfly house at the Museum of Life and Science, AGAIN).

OK, I'm overstating things a little, but I was never, ever, that image of the idealized mother. I don't want you to think I hated every minute - I didn't. There were plenty of fun times, too. And somewhere in there, they turned into really interesting little people, and I could TALK to them, and wind up wondering how the heck we ended up talking about [fill in the blank with anything weird or offbeat or not typical kid conversation], and that's been really, really fun. Well, when they aren't rolling their eyes or turning "Mother" into a word of 10 syllables...

But here's the thing: I am not that idealized, "perfect" mother. No way, no how. But I AM a good enough mother. Indeed, I am surprised on a regular basis to realize I am actually a damn good mother. My girls are growing up into awesome human beings, and are the teenagers every parent dreams of. I can't (and won't) take all the credit - they have an awesome (but not perfect) father, great (and local) grandparents, and a church full of people willing to help raise them in a thousand little ways... So there's a whole village that gets shared credit.

But today, almost 16 years down the road of motherhood, I'm not going to be another mother who flogs herself by saying she's not the mother her children deserve. Nope. I AM the mother they deserve: not perfect by any stretch, but more than good enough. Jung would be proud.


  1. This is wonderful :) I always think it's fascinating when parents (especially mothers, since I hope to be one myself one day) talk about the lesser-discussed parts of being parents... like how boring it is to go to a playground.

    As strange as it is to realize that Rapunzel is a teenager (and the Nerd isn't far behind), I think you and Uncle Chris raised two great kids! Good enough is good enough indeed :)

  2. Of course, some mothers may love going to the playground, but I found it deadly. Mind you, I did it anyway, with a group of moms if I could.

    And thanks - they are pretty great kids if I do say so myself.... Your folks obviously did a pretty good job with you and Megg, too....