In spite of the horde of in-laws gathered in the open kitchen right next to me, I was practicing Karate. I had a tournament in a month and vacation was no excuse to slack off. A wall of windows looked out over the pond and a forest full of blinking lightening bugs. Before this trip I’d never actually seen lightening bugs, and it was an exercise in discipline not to drift away from my practicing and become lost in the mesmerizing mass of tiny winking lights. I scrutinized my reflection in the darkening windows. Was I checking my posture? My form? My direction of focus? Was I absorbed in an art that unites mind and body in a way that I find more soothing and fulfilling than just about any other activity you can name?
Nope. I was looking at my butt.
That’s right. My butt, after two pregnancies, was a lot flatter and lumpier than I would like it to be. I fancied my rear was like a pat of butter sliding down the side of a hot biscuit. Only in my case, it was melting down the backs of my thighs.
I caught myself. Hypocrite. You’re always like, “Oh, women need to stop judging themselves,” and you can’t even practice what you preach. (See how I judged myself there?)
Well, I thought, if I can’t stop it, that shows how deeply rooted self-hatred can be. Peggy Orenstein, the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly-Girl Culture, has a similar problem:
“As for so many women, the pathology of self-loathing is permanently ingrained in me. I can give in to it, I can modify it, I can react against it with practiced self-acceptance, but I cannot eradicate it. It frustrates me to consider what else I might have done with the years of mental energy I have wasted on this single, senseless issue.” 1
Our culture preaches that a woman’s main value is in her appearance. Iron corsets and sixteen-inch waists are long out of style, but striving for today’s ideal beauty can be just as crushing. The worth of souls may be great in the sight of God, but the companies that sell makeup, pills for weight control and more do not care about women’s souls. They care about money. And the more deficient they can make women feel, the more money they make. An industry worth billions hinges on convincing women and even girls that their eyelashes are too short, their lips and breasts not plump enough. We grow up believing that cellulite lessens our value as people. This is our “pathology of self-loathing.”
Back to me, staring at my rear in the big dark window while I should be practicing side kicks. I had an epiphany. It was very dramatic, what with my reflection and the fireflies and all: a memory from a medieval fair the summer I got married. I ran a merchant’s booth there with my friends. We caravaned down with our tiny, dented college student cars crammed with cloaks, tents, and wares, then slept on the ground for a couple nights and hawked during the day. Just the sort of situation to induce a mystical life-changing experience, now that I think about it.
My epiphany also involved a wise and mysterious old lady. See? Dramatic.
I’d gotten up early to arrange hard candy and shortbread wedges in tempting piles at our pavilion’s entrance. Dew chilled my bare feet and clung to my skirt. A man with long, draping sleeves and a heavy gold circlet glanced into our shop as he hurried by with a plate full of bread and breakfast sausage; probably thinking of a lady who needed wooing with something sweet or pretty. People always woo each other at medieval fairs.
I spotted a row of gauzy belly-dancing scarves hanging at the front of the shop right next to ours–a seductive rainbow of shimmering softness, rich metallic fringes glinting in the pale morning sunshine. I brushed my hand across the rack of filmy cloth. Fabric rustled, tiny bells tinkled. I rested my hand on a night-blue scarf with delicate silver coins sewn around the edge.
“It’s on clearance. This is our last time selling,” said someone behind me.
The woman’s gray hair fell loose to her waist, and silver jewelry hung heavy from her plump wrists and neck. Her voice was low and firm, and her skirt swirled around her ankles when she moved.
I let my fingers linger on the scarf. “I’m getting married in two months. No cash to spare.” I glanced at a nearby bin of silver anklets covered in bells. “I’d love to learn how to belly-dance, though.”
To me, belly-dancing was forbidden fruit. Many of my friends did it. For a while there had even been a “Modest Bellydancing Club” at BYU, but last year they’d been shut down on a technicality. “Raqs Sharqi,” as it was known traditionally, was developed hundreds of years ago to help women strengthen their muscles for pregnancy and childbirth. A worthy goal, I thought, and a beautiful celebration of womanhood. But my prudish side kept me from enjoying the art in all its wiggly-jiggly glory.
The old woman smiled, deepening the creases around her eyes. Those eyes were solid, like the turquoise pendants around the woman’s neck. They belonged to someone who knew what she wanted from life.
“You come by later,” she said, “and I’ll show you some. Your fiancé will thank me for it.”
I probably blushed. `
And then she disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Hours later, during the lull that comes in the heat of mid-day, we stood on the grassy space in front of our shops.
“Every move comes from your stomach. From the inside,” she told me. “Do you do your Kegels?”
I had no idea what Kegels were. Coming from this woman, who seemed bizarrely confident in her body for her age, I wasn’t sure I should know what they were.
“Ah, sometimes,” I mumbled, in extreme premarital ignorance.
“You should do them every day,” she told me, sternly, “you’ll live longer.”
I drank in her advice, still wondering about the mysterious Kegel.
“Your shoulders,” she said, “should be back, and your breasts proud.”
This woman was saggy and round, in the way that can naturally come with age–hardly someone I would have pictured as having “proud breasts.” Her brash use of the word “breasts” threw me for a loop, too. I wasn’t used to being around people who were so very…comfortable with their bodies.
I saw her perform later that week. Many people danced that night, but I remember her the best. She wore traditional dark, muted, colors from head to toe; no flashy satins or bare skin. Her hair still hung loose, and she carried a glinting curved sword. Thumping drums and clashing tambourines filled every space in the old wooden hall. As she danced, I realized what she really meant by “proud breasts”. Each roll of her hip was wrapped with a confidence that clearly did not rest in the shape of her body or the appeal of her face. She was strong and controlled. With curved sword balanced on her head, she showed me the deeper meaning of her simple instruction. Hold your shoulders back, breasts proud, because your breasts are a symbol of your strength as a woman. Stand proud because you have power beyond your looks and fertility. Walk with dignity because your breasts have nursed children, because they bear the marks of pregnancy. Hold your breasts proud because they are sagging with age, which means you have wisdom and experience. And dance like this woman danced: confident, practiced, admired because of her age and skill. A body well-used, a self well-loved.
I once read someone refer to the stretch marks of pregnancy as battle scars. My pale skin bears the marks of two battles now; purple and silver, they trace down my hips and over the little pouch of loose skin around my stomach. Spider veins, too, burst in blue and purple fireworks over my thighs, ankles, and breasts. Like the wounds of a soldier, they show that I’ve fought for something I care about. And I will not be ashamed.
“The day I realized that the cultural ideal of femininity was, quite literally, unattainable? The day I realized that women are supposed to be sexy and chaste, undemanding and seeking commitment, meek delicate flowers and strong backbones of the family? The day I realized that if you’re tall you’re supposed to look shorter, and if you’re short you’re supposed to look taller, and if you’re fat you’re supposed to look thinner, and if you’re thin you’re supposed to look more voluptuous, and that whatever body type you had you were supposed to make it look different? The day I realized that every woman is insecure about her looks… including the ones we’re supposed to idolize? The day I realized that, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, I would always, always, always be a failure as a woman?
That was the day I quit worrying about it.”
–Greta Christina, Alternet 2
1Orenstein, Peggy. Cinderella Ate My Daughter. (p 141)
2 Christina Greta, Alternet, “Wealthy, Handsome, Strong, Packing Endless Hard-Ons: The Impossible Ideals Men Are Expected To Meet.” http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/151344/wealthy_handsome_strong_packing_endless_hardons_the_impossible_ideals_men_are_expected_to_meet?page=entire retrieved on July 16 2011, written on June 20, 2011.)
“Why is this woman tired?…because she is mentally “done in.” many of your patients–particularly housewives–are crushed under a load of dull, routine duties that leave them in a state of mental and emotional fatigue…Dexedrine will give them a feeling of energy and well-being, renewing their interest in life and living.”
Yup. Those days.
Now I have the Happy Working Song stuck in my head.
I wonder what else could have renewed her interest in life and living? Maybe if we looked at the things that were causing her “mental and emotional fatigue?” I’m imagining the doctor’s visit now :
Mom: “Doctor, I have so much to do every day, I think it’s getting to me. I feel crushed under a load of dull, routine duties. It’s almost like I’m mentally ‘done in.’”
Doctor: “The answer is simple. I help moms like you all the time.”
Mom: “Should I re-prioritize so I can find time to recharge during the day?”
Doctor: “Goodness no. Amphetamines will do the trick.”
Or, we could, you know, lighten mom’s workload and make sure she gets regular time away. Maybe send her out for a break when dad gets home this Friday and let him put the kids to bed.
Oh, wait. Never mind. I forgot about this part:
Stuff like dinner and bed–that’s her kind of pressure, and it lasts all day. So Dad can’t help. Tranquilizers make more sense.
Though I guess we could maybe make a few changes around the house. You know, dust less, get mom to drop the PTA, have Dad fold his own shirts. Just to free up some of her time.
“You know this woman.
She’s anxious, tense, irritable. She’s been this way for months.
Beset by the seemingly insurmountable problems of raising a young family, and confined to her home most of the time, her symptoms reflect as sense of inadequacy and isolation.
Serax (Oxazapam) cannot change her environment, of course. But it can help relieve anxiety, tension, agitation, and irritability, thus strengthening her ability to cope with day-to-day problems.”
Oh, right. We can’t set her free. That would involve breaking with social norms.
Well, Serax can’t change her environment, that’s true. But couldn’t we? Many moms really do need medication to help them with their depression, but it sounds like this mom’s troubles are caused purely by her environment. If her symptoms “reflect a sense of inadequacy and isolation,” maybe that means she’s, oh, I don’t know, overburdened and isolated? Wouldn’t it make more sense to readjust our expectations so she’s not struggling to meet impossibly high standards, and make sure she has friends and time away from the house during the day, rather than just filling her up with drugs so that she thinks everything’s peachy?
Sure. I guess.
But then she’d get less vacuuming done.
How wonderful that modern medicine lets her to keep doing the things that matter most.
Did you miss Saturday’s post on Good Enough Mothers? Click Here
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Standing over a bubbling pot of rice on a hot afternoon, kids rolling around on the sticky, lettuce-strewn linoleum, I had a mutinous revelation.
I was spending too much time cooking, and I didn’t like it.
I did not like it!
I’m supposed to love cooking. By the time I was in high school, I cooked dinner for my family most nights. Most teenagers get clothes and video games for birthdays. I was getting cookbooks, candy molds, and flower-shaped tubes for baking bread.
I recalled the five-year-old me, scrawling out my recipe for “Tropical Shortbread” on an old index card. The recipe called for coconut extract, vanilla extract, orange extract, and pineapple extract mixed up with some flour, sugar, and butter. I’ll email it to you if you’re feeling adventurous. Sure, I liked to cook. But to cook like this? Homemade granola bars and muffins for breakfast, dinner from scratch most nights, always the one to bring a fancy dessert to a party? Why did I feel obligated to cook so very much?
See–there it is. I felt obligated. Cooking like this was cheaper and healthier, and it was part of being a Good Mom. But at that moment, I knew I had to stop. This cooking thing was yet another demon on my back, whispering that I could never live up to Perfect. So that week, I went out and bought Aunt Jemima frozen waffles for breakfast and a jar of pasta sauce for dinner on a busy night.
Woah, you’re saying. Not frozen waffles! That’s like the gateway drug to MacDonald’s and those nasty stovetop pasta things with oozy cheese sauce that comes in a pouch.
I don’t need a stash of homemade low-fat breakfast burritos in my fridge to make me a good person. I don’t need to get up before everyone else to scramble eggs every morning, or any morning. Since simplifying our menu, I am a happier. The kids are happier! We have a more balanced life. Most of my extra time has gone straight to my kids, and the rest has gone to chores or (gasp) relaxing. They’ve had dozens of dinners of frozen precut vegetables, Ragu, and even breaded chicken tenders, and no one has died yet.
Does my cooking obsession sound extreme to you? Chances are, you have your own hang-ups. Do crumbs on the carpet drive you bananas? Are you afraid to go out in public without your hair done and your makeup on? Do you hold several jobs at church, at the kids’ school, in your neighborhood, because you feel guilty saying no? Maybe for you it’s a little bit of everything. A drop here, a drop there, slowly driving you nuts. Like Chinese water torture. You don’t even have to be doing crazy superfluous perfectionist things. Simply believing that you should can be enough to hurt.
During my research, one phrase I ran into over and over (and over) again was “Good Enough Mom.” As a mom, as a Mormon, as a human being, “good enough” is hard to for me to accept. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect:” Matthew 5:48. Images of sexy women in pretty kitchens with a ladle in one hand and a toddler in the other. The mother of five down the street who has a very clean house and looks at me funny when I say I don’t want any more kids. Mom pressure plus religious pressure plus everyday pressure from neighbors and media equals crazy crazy mommy. We need to learn to ignore all that pressure and be content with Good Enough.
The term “Good Enough Mother” was coined by British pediatrician and phsychoanalyst Donald Winnicot. He describes it as “the ordinary devoted mother … an example of the way in which the foundations of health are laid down by the ordinary mother in her ordinary loving care of her own baby.”1 In other words, all the average baby needs in order to develop into a normal, healthy person is an ordinary mom. If you can respond to your baby’s basic needs, you’ve got it covered.2 Anything else is extra, and can possibly be harmful to mom and even her family.
So what exactly does a Good Enough Mother do?
“Good-enough mothers know better than to minimize the needs and demands or the stresses on themselves.” –Barbara Almond3
“Though I may not be perfect, and I certainly am not supermom, I am doing a wonderful job. I am a wonderful mother, a wonderful wife, a wonderful human being. How do I define wonderful? Good enough.” –Kathryn Sansone4
“Ask your family, friends, and husband what you are doing well. You may be surprised to find that what you perceive you are doing poorly, everyone else thinks you are handling just fine. This will help you realize that you are a good enough mother, which means you are a perfect mother just the way you are.” –Sandra Paulin5
“A good enough mother:
- loves her child but not all of his behavior.
- isn’t always available to her child whenever he wants her.
- can’t possibly prevent all her child’s frustrations and moods.
- has needs of her own which may conflict with those of her child.
- loses it sometimes.
- is human and makes mistakes.
- learns from her mistakes.
- uses her own best judgment.
There are no perfect mothers and no perfect children. If we accept our own limitations, we are better able to accept those of our children and of life itself. In that way we become good enough mothers. And good enough mothers are the real mothers.” – Elaine Heffner, CSW, Ed.D.6
Doing all this can be harder than it sounds. The urge to make everything perfect can be bred into us as we grow, and takes effort to squash. Does a Good Enough Mother sound like a slacker to you? Selfish? Not a “real mom,” if she’s not devoting all her resources to parenting and related tasks? I have good assurance, both from research and personal experience, that these things are not the case. Standards for “good moms” today are far higher that they were just a few decades ago, and trying to live up to these ultra-high standards is not only impossible, but has the possibility of creating resentment, exhaustion, and a bad example that ultimately backfires on our families. I’ll be dealing more with the dangers of being a “Too Good Mom” in future posts.
What is a “Too Good Mom”? The opposite of a good-enough one; the well-known “Supermom”.7 A too-good mother:
- feels like she must love her child and all the child’s behavior, feeling guilty when tantrums and defiance make her want to scream.
- usually places her children’s immediate needs, or even wants, above her own. Sometimes this mom subsumes even her most basic needs for things like sleep and friendship in order to keep her house running “perfectly.”
- when her child misbehaves, she feels like it must be her fault.
- does not acknowledge that she has needs of her own that may conflict with the needs of her child. She insists that taking care of her family is all she really needs to live a satisfied life.
- keeps stress, anger, frustration, and other negative emotions bottled up, refusing to acknowledge to even herself that they exist. She thinks a good mom must love being a mom all of the time.
- strives not to make even the smallest mistake, and feels guilty when she inevitably makes one.
- often relies on the judgement of others to tell her whether she is a good mom.
A too-good mother might have a lot of unnecessary “to-do’s” crammed into her schedule every day, because she thinks that a good mother should be able to do it all. A too-good mother feels bad for not doing more. A too-good mother is inevitably either unhappy, unfulfilled, or more tired than she needs to be, and as mentioned before, this has a tendency to backfire on the family she tries so hard to serve.
This is your first assignment, the first step to a healthy, happy, guilt-free home: think about Good Enough. All your children need from you is a safe environment in which to grow up; a place where their basic needs for food, love, comfort, and shelter are met. How much of the mom stuff you do from day to day, or think you should do, goes above and beyond the actual needs of your family? How does this affect the family, including you? How could things be better? How could “Good Enough” be applied to other parts of your life, and the lives of your family?
1Winnicott, Donald W. (1956). Primary maternal preoccupation. In Collected Papers, through paediatrics to psychoanalysis. London: Travistock Publications, 1958. (pp300-305)
2Conaway, Elizabeth, LCSW. (May 16, 2011) Perfection and Motherhood are a Dangerous Combination. SayNoToStigma.com: a blog of the Meninnger Clinic. April http://saynotostigma.com/2011/05/perfection-and-motherhood-are-a-dangerous-combination/ Retrieved on April 18, 2012. Paragraph 4.
3Almond, Barbara. The Monster Within:The Hidden Side of Motherhood. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010. (p41)
4Sansone, Kathryn. Family First, Woman Always: Real-life Wisdom from a Mother of Ten. Des Moines: Meredith Brooks, 2006. (pp65-66)
5Paulin, Sandra. The Mother to Mother Postpartum Depression Support Book New York: A New Day, Inc., 2006.
6Heffner, Elaine. (n.d.) The Good Enough Mother. PBS Parents. April 18, 2012. http://www.pbs.org/parents/special/article-expectations-goodmother.html
7Almond, Barbara. The Monster Within:The Hidden Side of Motherhood. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010. (p39)
This site is still under construction! Within the next few weeks, it will become a full informational site and blog, with resources to help moms and discussions on how we can be more realistic about mothering and more open about our experiences with it. The more we share, the more it helps others. You’ll find information and stories on perfectionism, body image, Postpartum depression, and many other topics that most moms deal with at some point. This will include a collection of short articles called ”Good Enough”: Seven Steps to a Healthy, Happy, Guilt-Free House. Subscribe to the site to make sure you catch the new info as it arrives!
Let’s pretend it’s 2006, and I’ve just had my first child.
I’m cowering in the corner with my laptop, hiding from a messy house and the adorable 10-week-old baby girl wiggling on the living room floor. I feel like I’m trapped in a lonely dark hole. A hole littered with baby toys and dirty dishes. I don’t know why everything feels so dim; why I can’t even get up the motivation to vacuum. All I know is that I’d rather be on the computer than with my baby, and I feel like I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life cleaning the house and peeling poop-soaked onesies off Bug’s squirming body. Oh, and I know I feel guilty about it. I feel like scum.
I’ve been married to DH for almost a year.
Did you do the math there? One year minus ten weeks equals I got pregnant two weeks into marriage. Don’t call us crazy. Call us uneducated. Or maybe careless. We’d intended to wait at least a year to start our family. But as it turns out, that sort of thing requires more reliable birth control, or at least a solid knowledge of the female monthly cycle, and I didn’t have either.
Part of me thought it might be romantic to have children right away, even though we were both still in school and barely made a living wage between us. That part of me was pretty embarrassed when it discovered, six weeks into marriage, that it couldn’t eat anything but buttered baked potatoes without throwing up. I remember sitting with my friends at lunch, slumped over a bottle of raspberry ginger ale while waiting for my doctor’s appointment. You see, I was terrified of babies. They were tiny and breakable and I had no idea what to do with them. Plus they cried when I held them. It was like they could sense my fear.
DH? Well, he didn’t want one yet, plain and simple. We were supposed to get to know each other first. Have fun just being the two of us. Not worry about how on earth we were going to pay for a baby while he worked retail and I worked food service.
But we were at least a little excited. The baby would be a little, well, us, after all. Month by month, our excitement grew. How could it not, when we could both feel tiny feet and elbows beating against my belly from the inside? When we could see our little daughter wiggling on the screen in the dark ultrasound room, and hear the swoosh swoosh of her heartbeat? At one check up, the nurse had to press the monitor into my stomach a few inches to pick up the heartbeat, and the baby whacked it. Kerthump! She showed that monitor who was boss. Now we know that’s just who she is: strong, stubborn, and playful. If you turned the sun into a little girl, you’d have our Bug.
Back to me in the corner, slaughtering giant digital spiders as if that was going to solve my problems. Little Bug is squawking for attention and waving her limbs in the air. She’s never content to play on the floor by herself, and I’m rarely content to get down there with her. It’s just…difficult, for some reason.
I don’t write anymore. Writing makes me feel guilty. I’m a mom now, and there’s always something more to clean, a meal to make, a baby that needs cuddling. To waste time on something as trivial as fairy stories would be irresponsible.
Yet here I am, slaying giant digital spiders online. Why is that okay, but exercising a real skill that I’ve been passionate about for most of my life is selfish?
Two answers: one, I don’t actually feel okay about the spider-slaying, but I don’t feel like I can handle facing anything else right now. Two, slaying spiders is okay specifically because I don’t really care about it. I may be wasting time, but the only thing I’m really committed to is my family. In my stress-saturated mind, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Having grown up as a Mormon, I’ve been taught since puberty that being a mother is the most important thing I can do in this life. Often implied by the teacher, though never by the doctrine itself, was that being a mother was the only thing I should do in this life. To spend time now doing something else I love, something I’d wanted to make a career out of–well, that would be getting dangerously close to Working Outside The Home. Cheating my family. Failing to live up to God’s plan for me. This may sound nutty, but at this moment, nutty is mostly how I feel.
On with my List Of Stuff That Is Not Going Well.
I hate my body. The baby weight is falling off at a rate that draws constant compliments, but all I can see is imperfection. The loose skin crumpled up below my belly button. The stretch marks threading down the sides of my breasts, across my hips. I worry every day that DH is no longer attracted to me. And I mean worry. Every day. It’s on my mind every time I pass a mirror.
I believe I am a bad mother—what else could I be, when I rarely want to play with my baby, and pass her off to relatives every chance I get? What else, when my little girl’s presence triggers terrible, uncontrollable thoughts of harming her that make me hate and fear myself even more? The Internet tells me it’s Postpartum Depression and it’s not my fault, but I can’t quite believe that. No good mother would think these things.
In short, despite having my happy chubby bundle of love and possibly the nicest husband on the planet, life is not so great.
I mostly keep it inside, and apologize to DH when he comes home to a house in chaos every evening, even though he always says he loves me and that he doesn’t care how the house looks. Like this:
DH walks in. I’m probably nursing or cooking something. We kiss, usually a lot.
Me: “Sorry the house is such a mess.”
DH: “I love you and I don’t care.”
Glancing over the rim of my laptop at the dishes stacked in a fetid sink and piled on sticky counters, I realize that this must not be normal. Not just the nasty kitchen. I knew that wasn’t normal. There was something very wrong with the way I was feeling.
I felt like a monstrous mutation of a woman. Motherhood sounded so simple in all those marriage-themed lessons at church. I was a woman, and therefore I would love taking care of children. I would be good at it. Naturally. They never said that I might have trouble nursing–which I had–or that I would feel isolated, or bored and overburdened at the same time. Just that being a mom was the most important and fulfilling thing I could do with my life. And, of course, that sneaky undertone–that it would be the only thing I needed in my life. Yet here I was, in my dark, sticky hole, desperate for anything but. Feeling like a sinner. Like a selfish failure. Wondering what I was doing wrong.
But I soon found out I wasn’t alone in my hole. One Sunday during the women’s meeting (called Relief Society), a lady made a comment along the lines of “Women just do this mother thing naturally, aren’t we all so special.” Special indeed. What was I missing, then? And was I the only one?
I squirmed in my seat. My adrenaline spiked. What she was saying wasn’t true. Not for me. At that moment, I couldn’t pretend, and silence would condemn me. So I raised my hand, feeling like a heathen but unable to keep my mouth shut.
“I, uh, never actually used to think much about being a mom.”
They were all staring at me.
“It doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I’ve had to work hard at it, and sometimes I don’t like doing it.”
I tried to steady my breathing.
They did not zip off to the Bishop to arrange my excommunication.
My relief was probably obvious as I watched a scattering of hands go up, some hesitantly. People were actually nodding. They were agreeing with me!
“Not natural for me,” they said.
“Hardest thing I’ve done in my life.”
“I love my kids, but a lot of times I don’t love being a mom.”
Soon after, we had a lesson where the teacher told us how growing up, she never wanted kids. She wanted to be a lawyer. She had a scholarship to a good graduate school and everything. But she felt God wanted her–specifically, her–to stay home with her kids. So she changed course. Motherhood did not come naturally to her. When she spoke, I could tell she had days when escape to a quiet, polished office hovered in her mind, somewhere between the diaper wipes and the goldfish crackers. But like me, she was doing her best. And that was good enough.
I was almost crying when I thanked her after class. It was such a relief to hear those words come out of someone else’s mouth, and in public, too. Now I was truly starting to see that I was not the only one living this story.
I decided then that I would share too. Social awkwardness notwithstanding, I would always be open about my misgivings, my mistakes, even my depression. Because I never knew who might be listening. I never knew who might be desperate to hear that she wasn’t alone.
As I recovered from my postpartum troubles, I learned more about the realities of motherhood, the myths, the terrible things we do and say to ourselves to try to keep up with a “norm” that doesn’t actually exist. I learned that when mothers hold themselves to impossible standards, their families suffer. I learned that mothers experiencing depression, anxiety, or chronic anger need to seek treatment for the sake of their families and themselves, rather than bottling it up and making it worse. I learned that being bored, overwhelmed, sad, angry, messy, lonely, or unsatisfied does not make me or anyone else a bad person, or even a bad mom. It makes us human. Humans, both child and parent, need love and comfort when they feel bad. And one of the things that can comfort us the most is sharing our experiences and hearing others share, so we can know we’re not alone.
Eventually I started writing down what I’d learned. Contrary to my fears, I’ve found that writing makes me a better mom. The time I spend being creative, being the woman I was before I was Mom, refills my reserves to tackle everyday mom stuff and keeps my kids happy. No joke.
So here I am. Sharing. Sometimes the sharing will be unpleasant for me. But I’m doing it anyway, because we need to feel good about saying these things out loud. We need to accept that being a mom is hard, and that sometimes we don’t like it, and that it’s different for everybody. We need to know when “Good Enough” is good enough, so we can stop hurting ourselves and our families in a quest for something more–something that doesn’t exist.