I wanted to be the perfect mom. The mom who sent her children to school in stylish outfits, volunteered at every PTA event, baked homemade oatmeal cookies for after school snacks, and made super-cool Halloween costumes. I wanted to be a McGyver Mom; unruffled under pressure and always prepared, carrying spare band-aids, children’s Tylenol, duct tape, Legos, and an assortment of healthy snacks in my purse.
For awhile, I actually thought I was the perfect mom. Okay, maybe not the perfect mom, but close. From the time my squalling, pink, precious bundles were placed in my arms, I made it my number one priority to be the person to tend to their every need, to nurture, educate, mold, and love them. I made the decision early-on to be a full-time, stay-at-home, hands-on mom.
When they were toddlers, I took my children to playgroups, sat Indian-style beside them during story time at the local library, and swayed and sang with them in music and motion classes. I read “Goodnight Moon” so many times I could recite it while standing in line at the grocery store. I sang “Waddle-ee-ocha” at the top of my lungs, again and again, (even though I secretly hated the song) simply because the “doodle-ee-dooodle-ee-do” part made my son giggle. I cuddled, scolded, chased, tickled, and loved them without fear of failure. I felt I was pretty close to perfection.
When they were preschoolers, I took them to art museums, science fairs, concerts, plays, cooking lessons, and parks. I tried to instill in them a love for learning by broadening their narrow horizons. And when it came time for my pampered progeny to start kindergarten, I felt proud that they could read, write their names, count to one hundred, and correctly identify several classical tunes. Their tiny fingers hadn’t yet mastered the fine art of tying shoe laces, but they could color a rather fine replica of Monet’s “Water Lilies.”
The day both of my children started school, I let out a sigh of relief. I felt like a marathon runner crossing the finish line. Colic, weaning, potty training, teaching them to speak, to read, to write, to tie their shoe laces, to treat others as they wanted to be treated themselves. I thought I had done the hard work, run the good race. They were off to school and all I had to do was surrender control. It felt a lot like riding a bike down a steep hill; I was still steering, but I was able to lift my feet off the pedals and coast a little. It was frightening and exhilarating. I hoped I had taught them all they needed to know to succeed socially and academically.
I soon discovered that being a perfect parent was about more than baking cookies and singing silly songs. I learned that no matter how hard you try, no matter how fast you run, no matter how much you sweat, a parent never really crosses that finish line. I learned that there is no such thing as coasting.
My son was in third grade when I got a phone call from his exasperated teacher. “Mrs. Brown, Connor was very disruptive in class today. He kept talking to the person sitting next to him.” It was the first negative report I had ever received and I was stunned. Until then, both of our children had gotten along with the other kids, earned good grades, and behaved well in the classroom.
The next few years were extremely difficult. My son continued being the chatty kid in class, struggled with math, and had social difficulties. My daughter excelled academically and socially, but soon went from being a healthy striver to an easily–frustrated perfectionist. Perfect. There was that word again.
I started to question my parenting skills. Had I been wrong in wanting to be the perfect parent? Had I made my daughter into an overachiever? Would she burn herself out one day, go to a therapist, and discover I, with my homemade costumes and cookies, was the root of all of her problems? Was I the one to blame for my son’s struggles with math? Should I have spent more time on multiplication and less time on Monet? I realized that I was not a perfect parent. In fact, I began to wonder if I was even a good parent. I plodded along, performing my parental duties without my former enthusiasm and confidence.
Then one day, I received a magnetic poetry set as a gift. I had fun arranging the words in little poems. So did my daughter. As I stood at the stove, stirring the spaghetti sauce for dinner, I watched her slide the words around, arranging them in a straight little line. She made one sentence, smiled at me, and then skipped off to her room. I read the sentence she had composed and felt joy and pride surge through my veins. She wrote: “She rose like blossoms in a garden.”
I read that sentence over and over, and each time I did, I felt as if someone was taking a weight off of my shoulders. I felt lighter, happier, because I realized that even though I had made some mistakes, I was raising two remarkable children.
I realized that parenting isn’t about perfection, it’s about perspective. Sometimes, when you’re down deep in the trenches, you lose sight of what is important.
It doesn’t matter if they have the prettiest pinafore, can correctly identify van Gogh’s Starry Night, or play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on the piano; what really matters is how they feel about themselves. They will fall down, fail a test, forget to do their chores, talk in class, call other kids names, and use your expensive Dior lipstick to finish their paint-by-numbers. Failure does not define them, but what they do after they have failed does.
I realize that I have taught my children the important things in life. They know that life is about rising, like a blossom in the garden, standing tall even in the rain, bending but not breaking in the breeze, and thriving even when weeds threaten to choke you. If I can raise my children to face life’s adversities with that kind of practicality, positivity, and perseverance, I will have achieved parental perfection.