A dear friend of mine, who is the mother of four, recently shared that she will be completely lost when her youngest starts kindergarten.
She has completely forgotten what it is to bathe without an audience of small faces peering over the side of the tub, eat a meal that doesn’t feature foods in nugget form, or read a book that wasn’t authored by Dr. Seuss.
Comes with the job. It is reliable comic fodder that mothers of small children cannot retire to the bathroom by themselves without various small family members (and sometimes the dog) hanging off the doorknob and pining for her company.
That we always take the heel of the bread, use the restroom with company, haven’t dined out in a restaurant with actual tablecloths since the baby was born, and live every moment of our lives in a sense of breathless anxiety about even the most minute needs of our children.
For perfect mothers, a child’s every need, great or small, is given the utmost priority and 100 percent on-call response. Each parenting choice has the possibility of being the crucial misstep that leads a child down the wrong path to bad behavior, back talk, and appearances on Jerry Springer.
Been there, done that. I tried perfection, really I did. It should come as no surprise that I was an utter failure at it. Yet, like most modern mommies, I was going to do it all and do it much better than the generations before mind you.
Giving all the zeal I had previously dedicated to a career to my new “career” as a parent, I intended to become a regular parenting Ph.D. with the solid advice of various authors and experts who would lead the way.
Yet, somewhere around my second year of parenting I realized I couldn’t remember if teaching the baby independence at the age of 6 days old would make her a strong, confident adult, or was it being carried on my chest almost exclusively in the early years that would set her firmly on the path to a future presidency?
Were pacifiers the obvious choice to soothe the natural sucking urge of babies – or tools of the devil? Wracking my brain for the “right” answer, I believe God spoke to me when I realized, to my relief, that there wasn’t one.
Exact recipes and scientific measures may be useful when baking a cake, but children are not cakes. Strict adherence to a master plan is not necessary. Parenting is more a lifestyle than a science project.
With that liberating realization behind me, I gave up on my foolhardy quest for perfection, and was set firmly on the path to being a good enough mother.
Letting it go. Letting go of the unobtainable standard of perfection of perfectly fed, perfectly dressed, perfectly educated, perfectly stimulated, and perfectly perfect children freed up time and energy to put toward the important things like hugs, cuddles, butterfly chases and messy experiments involving bubbles and Barbie doll heads.
The key was the realization that while one can “spoil” a child – it turns out it’s much harder than you’d think if the child is given a strong foundation of faith, good judgment and respect for others as well as himself.
Honestly, the occasional piece of gum in the hair, or kiss on the lips from the dog, isn’t going to undo all that.
Children need loving and devoted mothers who can provide clean laundry, good homes, healthy meals, and ferry them hither and yon to various activities, yes.
Yet they also survive from time to time on hot dogs, the occasional Cheez-doodle, foregoing another extracurricular activity that takes away from family time, and mismatched socks if Mommy happened to choose one more bedtime story over one more load of laundry.
The rest of us. Trust me, it’s true. If you enjoy perfection – go for it. But for the rest of us, who we are satisfied to give it our all and know we did our best, I suggest working your way up to embracing your imperfect but well-intentioned mothering simply by giving up reliance on the “experts,” trusting your heart.
And, if you can bring yourself to indulge in some “me” time – locking that bathroom door.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt barricades the door with a chair. She welcomes comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)