I have a confession to make: I dislike taking my children to the park. So strongly do I dislike it, in fact, that I agree to a maximum one hour a week at our neighborhood playground and sigh in relief when inclement weather lets me off the hook. All that changing of clothes, applying of sunscreen, and filling of water bottles so that I can hover near my daredevil four-year-old while craning my neck for my seven-year-old who is playing hide ‘n’ seek with her friends and may no longer be in the country for all I can tell? Goodness, it is so not my favorite thing.
I feel like I’m admitting to some heinous crime against parenthood here, but wait—it gets better. I also strongly dislike showering the girls after swim class, organizing their birthday parties, teaching them to ride bikes, and doing crafts with them. Don’t even get me started on that last one; there is little in this world more unsettling to me than glue in the hands of a preschooler.
Keep in mind that I’m not exactly glowing with pride over this. I’ve absorbed enough parenting magazines, mommy blogs, and Pinterest boards to convince myself that the ideal mom would help her children mix up eco-conscious finger paint as they rode their bicycles from an all-day picnic at the park home to the lavender-infused bubble baths they’d brewed the day before. I have a glossy image in my mind of the ideal mom: creative genius with infinite patience meets soccer mom with sex appeal, something like June Cleaver and Maria von Trapp rolled up in a sugar cookie crust and pretty much nothing like me.
I’m embarrassed to be writing this, any of this, because I don’t want to add any credibility to the Mommy Wars. I want to proclaim in bold, confident type that if a mother is invested enough in her child to worry about how many months she should breastfeed, she’s doing a good job. End of story. Yet… I’ve known many parents who earnestly believed that physically and mentally abusing their children was the best strategy. Even now, I often notice parents letting their children hang out the passenger window on the highway, their kindergartners go on violent rampages, and their children’s teeth rot from hygienic neglect, and I have to admit that there’s something to be said for holding up a standard. We parents need humility and accountability just like any others in a position of power. We were never meant to do this job in isolation.
At the same time, the comparison game can quickly turn into the shame game. Having access to so many inspired ideas at once can make us forget that we’re looking at a collage of unique personalities and talents, not one composite superhuman. I see a mom who creates whimsical food faces for her children’s lunches and think I should be doing that. The next mom knits stuffed animals for birthday gifts, and never mind that I don’t know how to knit one, purl anything, I should be doing that too. Living room chemistry labs, French idiom flashcards, Mommy & Me Karate, I should be doing it all.
Clearly, logic has no place in my compare and despair routine. The karate mom, chemistry mom, and knitting mom are not the same mom, so why do I feel like a failure when I can’t master all of their individual strengths? I can’t really blame the media for this one; it’s all me. I’m the one focusing on pinboards meant for the karate mom and the chemistry mom and the knitting mom and the loves-taking-her-children-to-the-park mom and taking each one as a personal attack.
Here’s what I should be doing instead of browsing Pinterest for reasons to feel unworthy: I should be piling a dozen oversized pillows on my bed, calling the girls in, and cracking open a storybook. I’m great at reading out loud—did you know that?—and contrary to busting out the bikes or the glue (shudder), reading together is an activity that the girls and I love with equal enthusiasm. It’s one of my personal mama-strengths. Family travel is another, and if I were pressed to come up with a third, Sophie could tell you just how much fun we have baking cupcakes together.
I think that the main reason we moms take up arms against each other is in misdirected self-defense. We feel like other women’s successes are a commentary on our failings, and we bristle, desperate to believe that we’re not screwing up our children as thoroughly as that snide little voice in the back of our minds says we are. As a realist (code name for pessimist) and a chronic internalizer, I struggle with that mindset more often than I’d like to admit. However, I’m finally fighting back against it by trying to give the most attention to my strengths rather than my deficits. The key word here is “trying.” Self-congratulation feels like such a taboo, but honestly, why wouldn’t I work on celebrating and cultivating the ways in which I love my children best? It’s the quickest antidote against my own mental Mommy War that I know of… and? It lets me return to browse the eco-conscious-lavender-bicycle-karate-supermom pinboard without an ounce of guilt.
Your turn! What are your own awesome talents as a parent, a child, a friend, an artist, or a Pinterest-browsing human being? What are YOU especially great at? (No cop-out answers now; your strengths are worth a little celebration!)