When my children were little, I used to take them to the park a few blocks from my house so they could play outside with other kids and get some fresh air. Usually, I took a book and kept one eye on them and the other eye on the pages of the novel. One hot day, I sat under a covered structure, at a picnic table. Beside me were three other moms who were talking about how superior they were to some of their friends, because they were stay-at-home moms and their friends had jobs. They went on and on about how they would never want to miss a moment of their children’s upbringing by working.
That wasn’t the first time I heard those kinds of comments, and it always struck me as stupid. Most women who go through the work of having children want what is best for them, and all strive to be perfect mothers. Sometimes, that may mean working and leaving the children in the care of others. But through the years, I’ve noticed that it’s more than a working-mom vs stay-at-home-mom debate between women. I think we are all being judged all the time as “a good mother” or “a bad mother.” What do we feed our kids? What do we allow them to watch on TV? What do we allow them to wear? Are they polite? Are they well educated? And if the kids fail in any of the areas being silently graded, Mom fails too.
NOT THE PERFECT MOTHER
It’s very likely that the main character in my forthcoming novel, Say You’ll Be Mine, will be judged harshly by many mamis out there. She is not the perfect mother. In fact, she’s not a mother at all. She is a distant relative, a business woman, who suddenly becomes a stand-in mother. Without having the time to prepare, she is thrust into motherhood, pretty much kicking and screaming.
Writing a book about a woman struggling with the role of mami was tough, because, really, who wants to write about a mother who doesn’t adore every child she sees? But in a way it was freeing. Creating this flawed character–a woman who makes dumb mistakes, who is overwhelmed with work and doesn’t know how to set limits for the kids, who fears that her ineptness will bring harm to the children, and ultimately wishes she didn’t have this responsibility–was kind of like putting some of the common fears and worries of motherhood out in the open and saying, we all feel like this sometimes.
NOT KEEPING ONE’S OWN PROMISES
Before our child is born, we all have a list of the things we will not do. I had mine. My child will not consume tons of sugar, chemicals, and preservatives. I won’t be one of those parents who sits her kid in front of the TV while I do something else. I will not buy my kids cell phones before the age of sixteen. Blah, blah, blah. Little by little, I found myself giving in to pressures from society or the kids themselves, and I did exactly the things I promised I would not.
It started innocently enough. My son played T-ball, and at the end of each practice parents felt compelled to bring sugary or sodium-filled snacks. I could only deny my kid the “treats” so many times, before he decided to have a full-fledged fit out on the ballfield and every parent looked at me like I was a complete nutcase. It’s only a Capri Sun and a bag of Doritos, they seemed to say, jeesh, what’s her problem? So fine, I gave in. That was only the beginning.
Recently, the biggest thing I gave into involved how I chose to educate my children. All through elementary school they have been homeschooled or involved in a charter, which they visited a couple of days a week for mostly extracurricular classes, but I controlled the bulk of their education. There were many who again thought I was a nutcase, and again I heard both sides of the debate; good mothers send their kids to school vs good mothers don’t put their kids in those mini-jails. I wasn’t strictly in either camp. But this year I decided the kids would attend a public middle school. My homeschooling friends frowned, but thankfully kept their opinions to themselves. The public school moms encouraged me, telling me I was finally doing the right thing. I have to say that I haven’t felt like a great mom doing this. I miss not knowing my children’s friends. I hate that they come home telling me they ate a bag of chips for lunch every day, even though they know they aren’t supposed to (at least they’re honest). I feel disconnected from what they’re learning and how they’re being taught. And I feel guilty, because again, I’m doing something I told myself I wouldn’t do. My perfect mother status just went down another notch, and it has been tough. It’s difficult to accept that I can’t do it all.
Being a perfect parent is impossible and we all know it. I know it. Still I think most moms beat themselves up about not being that idealized mother; the moms our mamis were. My mom did all the cooking at home, all the shopping, and all the cleaning. She worked at my father’s business after driving us to school and then came home to household chores. She did it all perfectly. How could I ever compete?
GIVING MOMS, OURSELVES A BREAK
The truth is I can’t. I think it’s important to give ourselves a break. Each generation has different challenges and we can’t be as great as our mothers. The world has become a more open place and it’s more difficult for parents to control what their child does, eats, reads, or is exposed to, so it’s easier to feel overwhelmed and like not such a great mother.
Not only do I believe we need to give ourselves a break, but to give each other a break too. We are all moms who love our kids and we are all doing the best we can. Whether we are moms working at a dreaded job, or working at home for our families; whether we homeschool or not; whether we involve our kids in a zillion activities or none at all, we do what we do out of love. The judgment that I heard from the moms at the park probably stems from the insecurity we all feel about raising kids. If they are doing it wrong, we must be doing it right. But the truth might lie somewhere in the middle. Part of the time we do things perfectly and the other part we simply blow it. As my son will tell me, “That was a fail, Mom.” That’s why it’s so great to have other moms around to support us, pat us on the back, and say, “you’re doing a great job.” This won’t come from our kids until they are grown, so we only have other mujeres going through the same thing to lean on.
One of the scenes I most enjoyed writing in Say You’ll Be Mine is when Isabel’s friend, a single mother, tells Isabel that, hey, she may not have chosen the best way to take care of things with the kids, but she was doing the best she could, and no one is perfect. Kind words of encouragement, to me, is the best gift one mom can give another.