I have a lot of friends who are truly excellent mothers. They are patient and kind. They are consistent but loving disciplinarians. They read all the parenting literature and actually follow the guidance (vs what I do, have a panic attack). They cook with their kids, they garden with their kids, and they take their kids to interesting and fun places from young ages without getting all stressed out. They have well-thought out "systems" and "methods." I have one friend who has all her kids' toys organized in bins, and each bin has a toy to provide a different kind of education and stimulation. AND they actually STAY organized (this on par with Moses parting the Red Sea in my book.) I have numerous friends who feed their kids no processed foods of any kind. Their kids eat seaweed and arugula cheerfully. I think most of the moms at my church actually do the activities and memorize the Bible verses the Sunday School teachers send home every week instead of throwing them atop Mt. Kid Crap that sits on the laundry counter and is eventually thrown away when it scrapes the ceiling. And lest the working moms climb on their high horses about "of course they do all this stuff, they don't have jobs," some of these moms actually DO have jobs. I know. In addition, I can't honestly dismiss these women as being shallow or one-dimensional, because a lot of them are really, really smart and well-read. And I must honestly admit they are also mostly not showy or fake people or condescending and judgy about less-than moms. They are nice people. They are just really that amazing and awesome and good at motherhood. And their kids no doubt adore them and will grow up to have countless lovely memories of their gorgeous, gentle moms who were always there for them and made their childhoods magical and delightful.
And then I have a friend who is all those things and does all those things--everything she does and is is adorable. She has 3 kids under 5, one of them a newborn (A NEWBORN, y'all). Her Facebook feed is one beautifully composed and filtered photo of her exquisitely cherubic kids after another. She herself looks cheerful and gorgeous in every photo, even the ones taken after being up all night with the newborn. She is constantly doing precious things with her kids, like berry-picking, mini-hikes, crafts, cooking, you name it. This week she posted about how every month she picks a theme for the kids and organizes all their activities and books and even the (probably) rare video around the theme, and she shared that this month's theme was bugs and how she incorporated that into your parenting during the month. Whenever she does complain about motherhood, it is punctuated with "But it's all worth it!" and I truly believe she means that.
I know this woman, and she is a really good person. I have never felt judged by her. And I know she posted this out of a generous spirit, to give ideas to other moms and to be encouraging. But I read her post and immediately felt like a failure, an emotion I then disguised with mockery and humor, the way I always do. I almost typed, "Our theme this month is once again Zoloft and booze" (and no, Mom, I'm actually not a heavy drinker. I am on Zoloft, as everyone knows). Which, come on, is HYSTERICAL. It's also very snarky and mean, so I didn't type it. Instead, I shared it with several similarly under-achieving mom friends, who offered their themes for the month, which included "takeout," "showering daily," and "video games." (And of course I am sharing it here, within the proper context of an admission that I am a terrible person).
Deep down, though, I was really impressed with her idea, and I briefly fantasized about how I might implement it. I actually love the idea of "systems" and "methods" (see my attempt at a 12-month family makeover plan), but they invariably break down (see the abandonment of said plan after two months). In my fantasy, our theme-based adventures would be miraculous times of bonding. However, realistically, this is probably how it would go in my house:
Me: Hey, kids! Guess what, we are going to start having a theme of the month. This month is going to be snakes.
Lawson: I hate snakes. I hate themes. I'm going to play Wii.
Charlotte: OK, Mom, what are the rules? which days and times are we going to do the themes? I need to know because what always happens is you make a rule, but you don't really mean it, and I end up having to enforce everything.
Me: This time will be different.
Charlotte: You always say that.
Me: Well, this time WILL be different. The first week, we will go to the library and get books about snakes and read those books. The second week, we will take a field trip to some nature centers to see snakes. The third week, we will do a snake-themed craft. and the fourth week, we will learn some songs about snakes and maybe put together a little show for Daddy.
Lawson: I don't want to do any of that. I hate songs and crafts and field trips. I hate snakes. I'm going to go play Wii.
Charlotte: No, Lawson, WE ARE DOING THIS. You WILL cooperate.
Lawson: I DON'T WANT TO COOPERATE!! (throws fit. I run into my bedroom, lock the door and do some online shopping)
Me: OK, kids, it's time to go to the library and pick out snake books!
Lawson: I don't want to go to the library! I hate the library! I hate snakes! I'm going to go play Wii.
Charlotte: Lawson, IT'S THE RULE. WE ARE GOING TO THE LIBRARY.
Lawson: NO!!!! I don't want to go to the Library!!!
Me: This time, I am standing firm and not online shopping. We WILL go to the library.
At the Library:
Me: OK, guys, here's the section on snakes, pick out some books.
Lawson: I hate snakes. I want a Star Wars book. I want a book that is basically a Wii game.
Me: you can pick out a Star Wars book, but we are also going to get snake books.
Lawson: I hate snakes! I want to go home! I want to play Wii!
Charlotte: LAWSON. YOU MUST COOPERATE. PICK OUT A SNAKE BOOK.
Lawson: No!!! (throws fit)
Me: THERE ARE KIDS IN AFRICA WHO HAVE NO BOOKS ONLY SNAKES WHICH THEY HAVE TO EAT BECAUSE THERE IS NO FOOD!!! SHUT UP!!! WE ARE GOING HOME!!!
Charlotte: Hey Mom, we need to organize our snake field trip.
Me: Hmmm, gee, I'm not feeling great. We're just going to stay home and watch movies. Do you want some ice cream?
Charlotte and Lawson: ICE CREAM!!! ICE CREAM!!!
Me: Ice cream and TV it is. I'm just going to be in my room online shopping.
And scene. You can see why I read my friend's post about her theme and feel about one-inch tall. And you can see why I then feel the need to belittle and dismiss her themes in order to feel OK about myself.
Which is not OK. The fact is, there are moms of all different types and talents (and as always, I'm talking about the normal spectrum of loving, non-abusive moms), and there is no need to tear each other (or ourselves) down. Of course, there are truly self-righteous, judgmental witches out there who think they are better than other moms because they make their own diaper cream, and those women have no place in civilized mom society. But for the rest of us, and I'm talking mostly to myself, we need to let other moms do their thing, and we need to do ours and not be threatened by what they are doing. My friend is CLEARLY rocking the baby-small-kid phase. That phase is definitely not my forte, and in fact is the 9th level of hell in my book, but now my kids are getting to be school aged, and I can see that I am getting better at this. I still can't do themes, but at least I'm not depressed all the time. And I could be totally jinxing it and will no doubt be humiliated by this statement in a few years but--I think I might actually be good at the teen phase. Mainly because I think it will be awesome to embarrass my kids all the time ("Is that your mom over there? the one with the purple mohawk wearing Christmas lights?") My friend may run out of themes by then and may need my advice. Actually, who am I kidding? She'll be FINE, because she's clearly building a strong relationship with her kids now that will carry into the teen years, whereas my kids will probably be sullen gamers who interact with me via avatar.
In any case, we are all doing our best. Some people's best is just better. And that's OK. God loves us all, and we are enough.