I post a lot on facebook about my kids. I chose my pictures and posts carefully, not for privacy purposes (although I should give this some consideration), but for the purposes of not propagating an impossible standard with a handful of rare and carefully selected mere “snapshots” of my life. I rarely, if ever, have posted a picture without a mess of toys in the background, without food smudged on my kids’ faces or their hair completely sticking up. If I happened to have a picture of me looking skinny and glamorous, I would probably chose not to post it (I couldn’t in good conscience post a glamour shot if I didn’t also post a picture of me with uncovered zits and dark circles, and greasy hair….And I’m just too vain to do that.) And as often as I post about something sweet or “good-natured” that my kids have done (they really did have some sweet huggy poses with each other on the first day of school), I try to highlight the tantrums, the messes, the mishaps….the reality.
Why? I think that it is cruel, kind of like a mommy torture, to even allude to the idea that perfection is attainable. I use “facebook” as an example, but it happens in a lot of other areas in “real life.”
One afternoon in early October, a fellow mommy of a kindergartener and a preschooler stopped me in the school hallway, hanging her head in shame, to “confess” that she had forgotten to pack her daughter’s dollar for “ice-cream day.” This mommy started tearing up, and admitted that she had already cried about it in the parking lot that morning, going over in her mind all of the ways that she had let her daughter down, but more powerfully, all of the ways that she was inadequate as a mother. I hear similar stories in therapy of women who feel SOOO inadequate for often minor parenting mistakes.
So, when I have fellow mommies making heartfelt confessions to me about their “mistakes” with child-rearing in therapy, I always am careful to balance support with accountability. This means I offer a strong dose of sincere validation and encouragement (“It is completely understandable that you made that mistake, and let’s not forget the amazing job you did with that other situation”) before providing the accountability, (“Would you like a suggestion for how to make it easier to manage it in a better way next time?”). In the case of our friends who are not “in therapy,” our friends who make minor mistakes such as forget to pack a dollar in their kid’s lunch, I propose that women (not just mommies) as a collective culture attempt to be proactive and preventative rather than offer validation and support after-the-fact.
Of course I offered this woman at the school all the understanding and validation in the world. I mean it is completely understandable (and not in the least a “failure”) that she forgot one thing. We as kindergarten moms were just getting used to having to organize and remember a multitude of details including packing lunches, knowing to wear gym shoes on Wednesdays, pack library books on Tuesdays, show and tell on Fridays, a clean towel for story-time each Monday, homework due dates, casual dress-down dates, etc. etc.
However, it got me thinking. Why was this woman SO hard on herself when women everywhere make similar minor mistakes all the time?! I could only conclude that she must not have KNOWN that women everywhere make these mistakes all the time. I see it, as a therapist in a private practice, but other mommies are not being given the gift of SEEING it! In fact, the truth was, I had just forgotten to pack my son’s dollar the week before! Of course, I shared that detail with her as she was crying in the school hallway, but I couldn’t help but think that the week before, I had simply squandered an opportunity to provide some REAL mommy support, to make her SEE and KNOW that none of us mommies are perfect.
REAL mommy support is “being real.” Real mommy support would have been me casually mentioning to the other moms waiting for their kids to be let out of school, “Bummer, Ronnie didn’t get his ice cream today because I forgot it,” on the day it happened. REAL mommy support is going to school drop-off in my pajamas, shoes with no-socks, and winter coat with my hood up because my hair is insanely messy, and holding my head up HIGH without shame. REAL mommy support is letting my own 2-year-old have his tantrum in the Target shopping cart without me showing any visible signs of shame or panic. After all, having frazzled pajama-wearing, kid-screaming moments is NORMAL. Why should we pretend it is not? Why should we deny our fellow mommies the gift of that kind of support?
Just something to think about. And, as always, excuse the errors and typos, as I’m just a mom trying to squeeze in 20 uninterrupted minutes to make this happen…..
This overthinking mommy