Last night the hubs and I cashed in a date night and went to the MJCCA book festival ‘parenting edition’ with Dan Zevin and two of the four Sh*tty Moms. It was a fun evening, commiserating about the challenges of parenting young children in funny and irreverent ways. With two children in a Jewish preschool, I was in stitches at Dan’s joke about how many Jewish holidays keep the kiddos home [Tu B’Shevat, Erev Tu B’Shevat, Tu B’Shevat post-game and analysis, etc.]
Today I’m home with Fozzie Bear, who has an ear infection that is barely slowing him down, but still keeping him out of school. So instead of working on my NaNoWriMo project, I’ve been chasing a waddling little powder keg of peanut butter, ibuprofen and antibiotics, trying to keep him from hurling himself off the back of the couch.
It has me thinking in a new way about parenting and its many challenges. One issue that was part of the discussion at last night’s reading was about the difficulty for modern parents (moms in particular) to accept less-than-perfection. Even though raising children has not gotten easier in recent decades — in fact, there are many ways one could argue it’s become more complex, if not exactly harder — we seem to be holding ourselves to ridiculously higher standards than previous generations.
On top of the fact that many moms work outside the home, or work at home to bring in income, we also still expect ourselves to: be the primary caregivers, keep immaculate houses (ahem), keep up with our families’ expansive social calendars, volunteer, stay in shape, cruise the birthday party circuit, stay involved with our kids’ schools, head up the PTA, cook dinner, write a blog, work the consignment sales, take the kids to the doctor and dentist, buy the groceries, update Facebook, limit screen time, seduce your husband, get the kids to eat their veggies…. it goes on. And if that’s not enough of a challenge for you, Pinterest has a thousand ways you can occupy any spare minutes by challenging you to create the perfect house, the perfect kids’ crafts, the perfect party appetizers. Did we mention you have to try to look good doing it?
Anyone with an ounce of common sense can look at that list and tell you it’s not realistic; but somehow that doesn’t stop us from beating the crap out of ourselves on a daily basis when we don’t hit all the points satisfactorily. We are constantly criticizing ourselves, and what’s worse, we judge other women by the same absurd yardstick.
Dan, who happens to be his family’s primary caretaker as well as a hilarious and genuine humor writer, commented last night that “all I have to do is show up somewhere” with the kids and the other moms accept and applaud him. He noted that it doesn’t matter if he has shaved in the last two weeks or if he packs the perfect snacks. (One of the Sh*tty Moms complained about having to pack the perfect snack for the soccer team and Dan just laughed).
To my shame, I realized that it’s true — I don’t look at Dads on the playground with the same critical eye with which I view other women (or I imagine they turn on me). I also don’t hold hubs to the same high standards I hold myself when each of us is caring for the kids. Why? I work hard, I love my kids with all my heart. Together, we keep a roof over their heads and try to teach them to be good people (and to get something green in them once a day). Why isn’t that enough?
So what I’m saying is, we women need to be harder on Dads. They’re getting off easy.
Just kidding! I think in this case we need to follow the lead of the men in our lives and focus a little more on what’s essential (happy, healthy kids), and a little less on what makes us look or feel like the perfect mom. So you’re late to carpool and still wearing the tracksuit you threw on for yoga hours ago and your floor is carpeted in crushed goldfish and cheerios — so what? Is anyone going to die as a result? No! Will the world end if I go to the grocery store without makeup, and stains (yogurt, snot, who knows?) on my jacket? No!
I say, embrace the chaos. Ignore the messy van (your own or someone else’s), and take time for yourself even when the to-do list is still a mile long. If you’re a perfectionist mom, channel your inner laid-back dad. Reach out to that other mom on the playground or at the grocery store with an accepting smile instead of a judgmental glare. Let’s work together and give each other, and ourselves, a much-needed break. Our kids and our sanity will thank us.
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