I used to be a perfect mother. Then I had children.
Seriously, back before I had children, I was an elementary school teacher. I watched my students and their parents, and I knew which parenting strategies I would emulate and which approaches I would definitely avoid. Though I refrained from offering parenting advice – you know, based on my whole 22 years of life experience – I had imaginary conversations in my head and real conversations with my husband about what some of the parents were obviously doing wrong.
As it turns out, it’s way easier to parent imaginary children than it is to parent real ones. Who knew?
One of my favorite quotes these days is attributed to a man named John Wilmot. “Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.” Yeah, that’s me. Six children and a whole lot of trial and error.
I had some pretty strong notions about how to be a perfect mother and raise perfectly behaved children. Somehow, I failed to remember that children are not quite so easy to program. They have personalities and minds of their own. Sometimes, no matter how consistently a momma has taught her daughter to stay in bed, no matter the consequences doled out, the three-year-old will hop up and use her bed as a trampoline every single stinkin’ time the momma leaves the room. One particularly exhausting night, I asked my daughter, “Do you like having consequences?” She matter-of-factly replied, “No, but I do loooooove jumping on my bed.”
Yeah, my imaginary, pre-children daughter would never have said that.
This same daughter actually looked at me one day when she was in elementary school and said, “How about you worry about you and let me worry about me?”
Again, not something any of my imaginary children ever would have uttered.
None of my parenting theories covered how to handle a note home from a second grade teacher requesting that I speak with my son about making disgusting noises with his armpits in the middle of class. My imaginary children would never become obsessed with armpit farts! But real children embarrass us. They laugh hysterically over real bodily functions and even over real fake bodily functions. Like armpit farts.
I also did not understand the power pure exhaustion has to lower one’s standards. When I first started out in this parenting thing, I made homemade play dough. I baked and decorated Christmas ornaments with my children. We mixed up, then rolled and cut out and baked and iced sugar cookies to deliver to elderly or sick church friends on Halloween — while wearing themed, coordinating costumes. One Halloween, my children were dressed as the characters in Little Red Riding Hood; another, we were all cowboys and our cookies were shaped like boots and cacti. For real. We have pictures to prove it — much to the humiliation of my daughters. (Really, Mom? You MUST use those pictures of us on your blog?!? That’s not embarrassing AT ALL.)
I also regularly ironed clothes — matchy-matchy or coordinating outfits for everyone every Sunday morning for church. We looked like we were dressing for an elaborate photo shoot nearly every week – my girls in their smocked jumpers and white tights, my boys in their plaid shirts and coordinating sweater vests.
Now, I’m just tired.
Recently, my ten-year-old son, Silas, ate his piece of cheap, frozen pizza into the shape of underwear. As his brothers admired his sculpting skills, he smiled proudly, holding his briefs-shaped pizza as I snapped a picture. I chalked it up to arts and crafts time for the week.
I gave up the idea of perfection long ago. These days, I’m satisfied being a good enough mom. I dropped three of my boys off at Vacation Bible School one night this summer, and none of them were wearing matching clothes. They don’t care about matching, and I just couldn’t muster up enough energy to care either. Two of them were wearing flip flops because they couldn’t find clean socks to wear with tennis shoes. And while we’re on this subject, keeping track of and matching up clean socks in a house full of people should be a level in Dante’s Inferno. Can I get an Amen?
Most nights this summer, I have hugged them goodnight and reminded them to make their rooms what I like to call Fire Safe – if our house were to catch on fire, do you have a path through your room so you won’t trip crawling out and so firemen don’t break their necks coming in to save you? Yes? Ok, then, good enough.
After six children, I’ve learned that perfection isn’t reality. And these children give a momma huge doses of reality, believe me! I choose my battles. Some things are worth high standards, and some things — well, for some things good enough will do. And sometimes, even the few high standards won’t be met. So we apologize and forgive and try again. Because perfection is a nice notion, but it’s impossible. At least, in a family with real children.
And I’d rather be an imperfect mother of imperfect, real children than a perfect mother of imaginary children.