The perfect mom. You know the one I mean. She carries in homemade treats to the bake sale as her perfectly blown out hair is caught by a breeze. Her body is perfectly toned, and she wore her pre-pregnancy jeans home from the hospital. She is always on time and never has to yell at her children to get them the in car. She does Pinterest-worthy crafts with her children, and none of the glitter is spilled onto her spotless, crumb-free floor. Her adoring cherubic children wear charming clothes, free of wrinkles, and socks that are never mismatched.
When I was expecting my first child, I thought I was going to be one of these moms. I was going to do all of these things and more: feed my kids homemade organic baby food, provide enrichment activities, know the right things to say, dress them in matching outfits embroidered with their names, and not allow any screen time. It would probably be hard, but I had a stack of parenting books on my nightstand that told me everything would be fine as long as I followed the steps the authors had carefully laid out. I was prepared. I had educated myself. I would figure this perfect mom thing out.
But 24 hours after her birth, after Preeclampsia, induced labor, pushing for THREE HOURS, and a severe postpartum hemorrhage, the cluster feeding began, and I realized this was going to be harder than I thought.
After we came home, breastfeeding was still hard. Sleepless nights were hard. Finding time to take a shower was hard. As the months went on, I kept striving to be the perfect mom I wanted to be, but striving for perfection is a road to failure. Perfection is an impossible standard.
Needless to say, I did not meet my expectations.
I wasn’t a terrible mom, but I gave up on the homemade baby food pretty quickly. Then, I started to meet other moms and a lot of them were doing the things I struggled with and making it look easy. I felt like I was in competition with all of the other moms I knew, and they were all excelling, while I was barely coming in as average.
Then, I had my second baby 21-months after I had my first, and all of my goals of ever catching up with all of the other moms around me quickly faded away. If you have had children close together, you know, it is chaos. If you’ve had them closer together than I did, I am utterly amazed by your accomplishment of simply surviving the ordeal. I had to learn to take care of a toddler who was still in diapers, but who was also mobile and had access to things like crayons, while also caring for a newborn. Also, there is no “sleeping when the baby sleeps” when you also have a toddler. There is hardly any sleeping at all.
As I continued to struggle while living in survival mode, those other moms, the seemingly perfect ones – they were still there.
They were still carting their perfectly groomed children around while clutching healthy, organic snacks. Their homes were still clean. Some of them actually exercised on a regular basis. I kept trying to keep up, but it was exhausting.
For my daughters second birthday, when my baby was three-months-old, I wanted to make a homemade cake. I always wanted to be the kind of mom who baked the cake herself, and all of the other moms were doing it. The day before her birthday party, I put the baby down for a nap and pulled out my ingredients: milk, butter, eggs, and a box mix. I had read on Pinterest that the way to transform a box mix into a bakery cake was to: replace water with milk, oil with butter, and add an extra egg. I wanted homemade, but the baby was still waking up every 3-4 hours on a good night, semi-homemade was all I had the energy for.
The standing mixer wasn’t working, so I decided to use an immersion blender to mix my ingredients. Not knowing that the butter needed to be melted, I added only partially softened butter to the batter, which immediately jammed the blade. In my foggy and sleep-deprived state, I stuck my finger into the head of the immersion blender to unclog it while it was still plugged in…
You see where this is going. In hind-sight, I am well aware of just how stupid this sounds, but sleep-deprived people don’t always make smart decisions. Forgetting what I was doing, I squeezed the other end of the blender, trying to get a better grip, and inadvertently pressed the blender button.
A few hours and several stitches later, I found myself explaining to the sixth or seventh healthcare worker in the Emergency Department that, “an immersion blender is one of those stick blenders used to puree soup and make milkshakes, not a regular blender. I did not stick my hand into a regular blender. I was dumb, but I am not THAT dumb.” Every person who entered my hospital room clearly thought I was the stupidest person they had met in a while, and I agreed with them. I felt like a failure. I couldn’t even bake a cake. I ordered bakery cupcakes before I was discharged from the ER and resolved to lower my standards. I needed to accept my limitations as a mom, because I literally needed to keep to my fingers.
As the months went on, I continued to strive to be at peace with the fact that my best just wasn’t what I had thought it would be before I had children.
I started to follow and love “real mom” bloggers who were open about their messy houses, tantrum throwing children, and microwaved dinners. Even though it was clear that some of these moms were exaggerating their hot messes for the sake of entertainment, I still found solace in the fact that I wasn’t alone in my mediocrity. I started to roll my eyes at the “perfect” moms, and feel a little annoyed they were setting an impossible standard for the rest of us.
But, I still wanted to be the kind of mom who baked, and let’s be real, I was still holding on to the idea of perfection a little bit. Plus, I thought I needed a hobby. So, in spite of my spectacular failure, I signed up for a cake decorating class at a local craft store. To my surprise, by the end of the first class, my teacher was telling me that I was a natural decorator. It’s possible she said this to everyone, but I was still amazed by how easy something I had previously found daunting was, after I had been showed the correct technique. I offered to bake a cake for my nephew’s birthday, and a few people actually told ME that I was making their homemade cakes look bad!
I couldn’t believe it! I had fooled them; they thought I was a “perfect” mom, too!
I started to wonder if other areas of “perfect” motherhood were the same. Did I just need a teacher to show me the proper way of doing things?
I had lots of potential teachers, because I knew lots of “perfect” moms. I decided to change my strategy. Instead of feeling annoyed and discouraged by “perfect” moms, I was going to try to soak up all of their goodness.
I decided to ask for help.
I started with a mom I knew who was a good cook and mother of four, if she had any tips on meal planning. She invited me to her home, showed me her meal planning binder, and gave me tips on how to start my own.
I asked another mom how she was keeping her house clean. She recommended a minimalist mom blogger and a home keeping blogger, who have completely changed my thinking about keeping a house tidy and clean.
Another friend gave me tips to keep my hair out of the “mom bun,” when I complemented her on her curls. Another invited me to join her fitness group after I asked her how she was staying in shape and she’s helped me lose the last of my baby weight and, more importantly, get my energy back. I posted a question about parenting styles in my mom group and found a seminar on raising confident kids the next day. I kept asking and asking, and I kept getting more and more confident in my motherhood and in myself. I was FINALLY figuring this mom thing out!
Something else happened, too. I realized none of the perfect moms were actually perfect.
They were just moms like me that had a few talents. They had struggles too, and most of them didn’t try to bake a cake when they were stretched too thin. They knew when to buy the store-bought cupcakes.
Did learning to bake a cake make me the perfect mom?
No! But, it gave me my own thing to be good at.
Does having a clean house and homemade meal on the table make me a “perfect” mom?
Still, no. But finding the right strategies to complete my daily tasks, has made motherhood easier, and it has given me time to focus on the most important part of motherhood: my kids. I used to spend so much time worrying I was failing them that I barely had time to enjoy them. Now I realize I had been doing all of the most important things all along. Even when I was struggling, my children got a hug every morning, and a bedtime story every night. They knew they were loved-they don’t care how clean our house is, and they like store-bought cake just fine.
No one is really perfect, and I’m not either. I have chosen the things that are important to me, and I am trying my best to do those things well. I still have my off days, I still do love those “real mom” bloggers, and I still have minor heart palpitation whenever a recipe uses an immersion blender. But I can bake a cake, and I can do other things, too.
There was a time I would lie awake at night running off the list in my head of all of the things I could have done better that day. Now I go to bed knowing my day wasn’t perfect, but I did my best. I tell myself the same thing before bed every night,“I am a good mom. I am doing my best. My best will continue to get better and better.” Then I fall asleep easily, calm, and grateful for all of the “perfect” moms who helped show me the way.