This whole idea of there being a great, amazing, perfect picture of parenthood is so fucking demoralising. I get told everyday that I should be young, fit and supple, I should be smart, saintly and creative, I should be balanced, firm and patient, I should fucking glow with buckets of love all the time.
I don't believe that anyone does and yet I hold myself to this idiotic standard. Worse, I've held other mothers to this standard. I've totally judged another mother not against myself, but to a fucking magazine mom. I just assume other everyone does it - though I admit that I'm likely a bit paranoid, which then makes me wonder who actually cares enough to judge me, aren't we too narcissistic to really give a shit what anyone outside our immediate family does with their lives. Then, of course, I think of reality TV. We, as a culture, LOVE to judge one another - not so paranoid after all. Society has mysticised and deitised supermom and we tell each other that this is not just attainable, but something mothers ought to be constantly striving for.
Can I tell you how much this has tripped me up?
I went into motherhood around the time Gwynneth, Britney and a handful of other stars were making babies. Pregnancy was sexy, babies were everywhere, I was recently married, had recently finished college, had a huge amount of debt and wanted nothing more than to have a baby. I had heaps of reasons, but it all boiled down to two things, I was in love and I didn't have anything else going on. I didn't give any thought to the difficulties inherent in spending the majority of your time with the same short person or people, day after day. I assumed that my kid would be perfect. I had read books, plus I had a bunch of negative childhood experiences to avoid, I figured I was going to be a brilliant mother and find the whole experience profoundly satisfying.
I quickly figured out that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, so I picked up all the glossy magazines and a bunch of baby books and studied. I mean that I studied my ass off and figured I had this parenting thing down pat. I began doing all the "right things", cloth diapering, attachment parenting, breastfeeding, baby sign, I worked to change my whole life. Some of it stuck, a lot of it didn't and some of it has made me miserable.
Compared to the me of four years ago I am now much neater, I care about the environemnt, I care about nutrition, I follow politics, I listen to the BBC and NPR, I don't own a TV, I worry and fret, I have a therapist and an anti-depressant, I have lists and I nag, I'm concerned about developmental delays and toxins in toys, I can balance a lean budget, I can handle most small crises, I can bake bread, I make play dough and I sew really nice things. Yet, I don't think I do enough. Before my son's birth, I had begun thinking about not just owning my own store, but about designing and creating. When I left my job to go on mat leave I figured I would have heaps of time to do things like knit, sew, draw, paint, write, and run an online store.
My online store exists, it has a banner I spent a few days designing, a profile that was written with wit and absolutely nothing in it.
It has never had anything in it.
My focus was on making sure I provided my son with all the right stimulation and interaction. I was obsessed with making sure my kid turned out better than normal.
It was unreal, the lengths I went to - my husband and I moved in with a couple of friends because we wanted our son too grown up in a community. Forgetting the fact that I am just about the worst roommate ever, I am bossy and I have weird systems that I really do seem to expect everyone else to just automatically understand and follow. I am totally self-centred and have an unending inner dialogue that distracts me to the point that I have been known to say things out loud in response to it. I once gave my husband the silent treatment for an hour over something that was said in my head. The community life was a almost laughable disaster - a casualty of which was one of my longest friendships.
I joined and even ran a mom's group - I met a load of other mothers, many of whom I had nothing in common with and could barely relate to. It was nice to get out of the house, but there were days I could barely bear to go to playdates - being unable to stand some of the participants idiosyncrasies. I did learn not to be too quick to judge others. I did not, however, extend that as easily to parenting. I had whole books on parenthood memorised and would cluck my tongue when I saw those rules being disregarded. It helped that my son was incredible, he communicated early, was friendly, outgoing, and most importantly, absolutely adorable. People loved him and congratulated me, they asked advice and offered praise and I ate it all up. I was awesome at the mothering gig, I was SUPERMOM!
Yeah, then he changed, as kids tend to do, he grew up a little and changed a lot and I was so lost. So I just held onto my idea of Supermom, I had been it which must mean I could be it, I must have failed somewhere. I read parenting books and articles and blogs, I looked for the missing link. I would jump from idea to idea, technique to technique in an effort to quickly master motherhood "again". I was so sure there would be a simple answer. Like those questions at the end of a chapter in a schoolbook that was directly quoted and all that was required was to fill in the blanks. I thought if I could just find the right reference I could solve the problem. What the fuck is that all about?
I was there for my childhood, I remember being difficult, angry, confused. I remembered being disciplined, I remember pushing buttons, I remember giving adults hell. And it wasn't just me, my friends did it too. Did I really expect to avoid all that? Would I even want to?
And yet, and yet, there's this impression that there is a way to do it right.
What happens if I do do it right? If I do have it all together, if nothing outside of perfect happens in my little world? What happens if I achieve the ends I so desperately strive for? With the whitest whites, the healthiest meals, the cleanest counters, the kindest children?
What would it cost?
I am standing up to my internal supermom and telling her that I don't need her any more. That I don't enjoy her company or appreciate her "help". She doesn't have to go home, but she can't stay here.