There was this absolutely lovely mom I knew who always had it together. She had three kids to my one and no matter the day, event, or time she was flawless. She never raised her voice at her kids. She Instagrammed every perfectly curated organic lunch and yet another Pinterest success project. In my mind, she was the definition of an Awesome Mom.
I, on the other hand, was frazzled, disheveled, and wearing yesterday’s yoga pants and a sweatshirt with dried peas on it. My lousy mom status was solidified the day she hosted the monthly playdate. I walked into her pristine and beautifully-decorated house. It was an adult house! As for the playdate itself: she had transformed her playroom into a classroom! She had a reading nook and separate craft stations to allow the babies to stay out of the way of the older kids. When it was my turn to host, I bought snacks from Costco and always suggested the park or an indoor playground. Our townhouse was too small to accommodate more than a couple of extra people, and there may or may not have been a ton of laundry everywhere. As I drove away from the playdate I cried and accepted my fate; I was a terrible mom.
Everyone judges their parenting too harshly. This is not new information. So, what’s the point? What are we to do? As parents, it is important to recognize our strengths, priorities but also our current headspace.
I am an Awesome Mom
It took me a few weeks of sulking with a side of chocolate to remember I was a good mom. An Awesome Mom. What I had gotten wrong was the way I viewed our respective parenting experiences. She was on her third kid, I had just had my first! Her retired parents lived in the same subdivision. My in-laws lived in the Midwest, and my parents, both self-employed, lived over an hour away. Before she was a stay-at-home mom, my friend was a teacher. She was trained, literally, to wrangle children in organized chaos! Prior to my daughter’s arrival, toddlers, unless they belonged to my besties, were not my jam. I spent most of my career working with professors and students at a university. Give me a college kid with an existential crisis over a toddler melting down any day! Neither of us was a bad mom, we were just different moms. Instead of focusing on where I was “failing”, I needed to understand my resources (or lack thereof) and honor my life experience.
Recognize our current headspace
As we left the hospital our nurse gave us the best advice, “do whatever is necessary to keep your sanity.” I understood what she meant, but it took feeling defeated to really get it. Motherhood wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. In addition to teaching fifth grade, my husband was in graduate school, so I was on my own a lot during my daughter’s first year. I had grand plans of daily nature walks, but instead, we rolled through the Starbucks drive-thru blaring P!nk.
I had dreams of building Montessori-approved busy boards. Instead, she delighted in pulling the cat’s tail and getting kisses from our dog. My adamant refusal to let our baby listen to, much less (cringe) watch television quickly yielded to us watching reruns of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. These were the things I did to keep my sanity. It didn’t make me a bad mom. It made me a stable mom. It made me an Awesome Mom.
I don’t know what it is for you. Do you need to keep a strict schedule or a very flexible schedule? Maybe you need to regularly order takeout or become a devoted meal prepper? This is to ease burdens so we have the bandwidth and emotional health to be the great parents we were designed to be.
Play to our strengths
Before marriage and kids, I traveled for work and devoted full days to visit the Tate Modern, Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago among others. For me, walking around an art museum is calming and inspiring. The early days of motherhood, on the other hand, were terrifying. I had an irrational fear that if I took my daughter for a walk we would be hit by a bus, but I knew I needed to get out of the house. One day, I mustered all my courage and took her to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. I would kneel by the stroller and tell her about my favorite painters and pieces on display. It was majestic and became a regular part of our routine the first couple of years of her life.
Like many toddlers, as my daughter became more mobile, she loathed her stroller. Since I was not interested in replacing priceless art, we moved the party home. I stripped her down to her diaper, and we painted at the kitchen table or on the balcony. It was messy. Our kitchen table never recovered, but those moments were filled with lots of giggles and restoration.
When we include our children into our favorite, pre-kid hobbies, we accomplish two things: we offer them a glimpse of us, independent of them, and we introduce them to self-care. Let’s not pretend going to the museum with an increasingly vocal baby or taking a toddler on a bike ride is easy. Modifications and lots of snacks are necessary. However, when we include our children in our hobbies we get a break from the mind-numbing monotony of parenting. We also get to return to our first loves and interests.
Did you have a regular date exploring nature with a camera or weekly yoga classes? Give the kids an old phone and explore the arboretum together. Compare photos over coffee and hot chocolate. Trade the toy unboxing video for a quick YouTube yoga class and listen to their giggles as they attempt their first downward dog.
Art is a family affair now. Our girls have discovered their own love for art. My daughter, now eight, regularly takes her art bag to the backyard and creates beautiful landscapes. Our second daughter, four, explores mostly by covering herself in marker or paint. It is messy but the time with them watching them create while I also create fills our home and my heart with joy.
Don’t get me wrong, I still blow a fuse when I find last week’s smoothie under the car seat. There are days I consider the feasibility of boarding school and research kid-free vacation resorts. Lots of parenting philosophies passed through our home. My husband and I still focus on the advice from that angel of a nurse. Do what is necessary to keep your sanity.
Awesome mom status unlocked.