I’ve been thinking about this whole good mom thing a lot lately. I have good kids…for the most part. But it’s been a long summer. Maybe we’ve just spent waaaayyyy too much time together. Or maybe I’m in a panic because the oldest one is about to go off to college. Or maybe it’s like my brother says of his own kids, “I’m a great parent. I just got a bad batch.”
Regardless of the reasons, parenting has been exhausting lately. With all the arguments, the failure to communicate plans that directly affect diner time, the schedules, the appointments and the constant “someone needing me for something at the same time that someone else needs me for something else on the other side of town,” I’m ready to pack up and throw in the towel. There have always been days where it seems like parenting might just be one grand failed experiment. These are the days I think I should have just stuck with dogs. Then I remember that my dogs weren’t all that well-behaved either.
Like many parents on the rougher days, I get drawn in by the catchy titles of online articles – the ones that read “How to Be Involved in Every Aspect of Your Kid’s Life so They’ll Learn to be Independent” and “1,784 Things You Absolutely Must Do Right Now, at THIS VERY MOMENT, To Raise Competent Children (And if You Don’t, They Will Live in Your Basement for Eternity.)”
What I’ve learned is that reading parenting articles is like reading fashion magazines in my 20s. In those days, all you had to do was follow a few simple step-by-step guides to reach the ideal of being a well-put together young professional with super-skinny thighs, lustrous hair, dewy skin, “the perfect man,” and a wardrobe that looked like it cost a million dollars, but really only cost a few hundred thousand. I can remember looking through these magazines back in the day and thinking, “Yep, that’s it. I quit. I will simply learn to embrace my inability to pair the right belt with the right scarf/split ends/lack of proper diet/failed dating life, because there’s no way I can ever do all that needs to be done.” It was an impossible ideal.
These days, the ideal is raising kids that are high achievers but not stressed, confident but not entitled, active but not overworked, and successful enough to go to Harvard but self-aware enough to take a gap year.
As we transition from inherently failed young adults to inherently failed parents, not much changes but the reading materials. The pressures we face are astronomical. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with studies that show how kids who are breastfed are smarter and kids who aren’t are just as smart. We are told that co-sleeping is the way to raise confident kids, except when it’s guaranteed to raise kids who are too sheltered. We are inundated with advice on how to teach our girls to be strong and our boys to be sensitive – and how to avoid gender stereotypes. It’s all too much.
I realize the irony of writing an article about how there are too many articles out there. I really do. But as I’ve been thinking about this whole “momming” lately, I’ve been trying desperately to figure out the balance. After all, I didn’t really care if my belt matched by scarf in my 20s, but do care desperately about being a good parent. In fact, I’ve never worked harder, thought more, failed more, and yet still got-up-to-try-again more with anything in my life. I did learn to embrace my lack of glowing summer skin and sometimes lackluster hair. But I can’t accept not being a good mom. And that’s when it hit me. Being a good mom, or parent in general, is not about doing everything according some formulaic strategy. Being a good parent is all about showing up and carrying on.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Every family has different needs. And I’ve seen good moms who work outside of the house and teach their kids the importance of a work ethic and time management. I know good moms who stay at home at teach their kids the importance of the house and home. There are good moms who read articles when they need a boost and good moms ignore advice when their guts tell them they got this. Good moms are strict. Good moms pick their battles. Good moms are at every school or sporting event. And good moms make it when they can. Simply put, good moms are the ones who are trying.
Being a good parent is not about getting it right all of the time. But it’s about giving all that you can give. And some days that’s more than others. I know really great moms who make a point of always taking time for themselves. And I know really great moms who never so much as spend a night away from their kids. I know moms who do craft projects constantly and those who send the kids outside until dark. There are by-the-book moms and free-range moms. Public school moms, private school moms and homeschool moms. I could go on and on, but the point remains the same – good moms come in all shapes and sizes, with any number of methods to their madness. But in the end, they are the ones who get up every day and keep on trying.
On those days when we feel like we aren’t doing all that we need to do, or feel like there’s no way we can manage all that we need to do, it’s important to step back and take a look at the forest in spite of all the trees. We need to walk away from the articles and the advice. We need to look past the moment we are in and think about the bigger picture. And in that bigger picture, as long as we have love, the best communication we can (what with the teen years and all), and a truly unselfish desire to be the best parents we can be, then it is going to be ok. We are going to screw up like our parents before us and their parents before them. But even with all of our own baggage, parent-generated and otherwise, here we are doing our best. Have a little faith. Breathe a little deeper. And love a little more consciously. You’re doing a good job, mom – and dad. I promise.
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