The mythical mom

mother and son silhouette

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I was deep in conversation with my boss about our current parental challenges when she tossed something at me I didn’t expect: she called me a “better than average mom”. Me? Really?

Not really being sure what constitutes “average”, but being wholly surprised that I could be considered above that waterline, I pointed out what I tend to see on Facebook that often induces my own sense of being behind that particular curve.

There are the moms who seem to be able to handle it all…

…their hair and makeup always look spectacular.

…they always rock these sweet outfits that make them look so ridiculously cute.

…their kids are on multiple sports teams each and the schedule seems to manage itself.

…they’re so lovey-dovey with their spouse or significant other that you wonder if they’re secretly still newlyweds.

…they always seem to be cooking the most amazingly complex, attractive food that takes a ton of time and that their kids just LOVE.

…they’re typically on their way to or coming back from a workout where they just crushed a personal record or finished off the latest Beachbody DVD.

In other words: they’re fricking fantastic at being moms AND getting it all done.

Or are they?

My boss (probably) rightly pointed out that we typically only take pictures at our best. True enough, I don’t see a ton of people taking selfies in meetings when they’re being told that the thing they’ve been working on is getting sidelined or defunded in favor of something else. And rarely do they stop to take video of little Timmy having THE MOST EPIC MELTDOWN EVAR AND ISN’T IT SOOOOOO FUNNY. In general, you don’t see these same moms showing snaps of their ultimate bedhead or how they look trying on the pants that don’t really fit super-well because women’s sizing is complete bullshit and any size in one designer may be a complete other size in another designer.

In other words, while we show all of these pictures of us at our best, it’s easy to assume that when we don’t have those ourselves we must be at our worst. We’re psyching ourselves out, seeing pictured perfection that’s lit just so and snapped with costly digital SLR’s–not looking at the reality when the accent lights are put away and the best you’ve got is the camera on your old iPhone 5.

I don’t know that there’s a perfect mom out there, although I think that every mom who tries to be perfect is striving for something that looks like success to them. And it’s really easy to fall back on the assumption that if little Timmy isn’t an A student who plays three sports and two instruments, who volunteers in his spare time and cleans the house, that somehow you’re a failure as a parent.

The thing is, it’s not our responsibility as parents to outshine each other; our responsibility is to raise civilized humans that can grow up to be improvements on the original models. We shouldn’t be setting ourselves up to assume that every mom who rocks some fab blow-out is looking like that all the time–nor should we ignore those times when we look in the mirror before heading out and our own hair looks REALLY FRICKING CUTE. Call it out. Note it. You don’t have to take a picture of it to remind yourself that it happened.

My idea of the actual average mom is someone like me:

…she has a pretty full day, whether that day is spent at home, at a business, or somewhere in-between.

…she has those days where she looks really adorable or hot, and she has other days where you wonder if she needs to do laundry and learn about that thing called “a comb”.

…she cooks as healthy as she can based on what she can afford–both in time and money–and she makes choices all the time about whether she can “afford” to cook more than one meal or if the kids will just have to deal with whatever’s put on the table. (This also assumes that she’s the one doing the cooking, which may not be the case.)

…she wants to be healthy, for whatever definition that is in her mind, and she could always do more–but she’s trying. And some days, she just deserves credit for even thinking about trying, because even that can be hard.

…she maps out her schedule in her head on a daily basis, trying to figure out how to keep all the moving parts of her life from colliding in spectacular fashion.

…she sometimes yells at the kids because they’re not always behaving like those smiling, happy-faced kids that you see in those random posed pictures.

…and–most importantly–she deserves a freaking break every now and again, because perfect doesn’t and shouldn’t exist.

Our kids won’t always be perfect, either, and misbehaving isn’t always a sign of bad parenting. Sometimes it’s just fatigue or hormones or hunger or stress or any one of 1,000 other things that we can’t tell because the Psychic Hotlines just don’t work.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all should cut each other some slack–and we need to save a bit of that for ourselves, too. It’s hard to unlearn years of self-suppression, but maybe we each deserve the opportunity to consider ourselves “above average” from time to time.

Can we survive the terrible tweens?


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Let me start this off by saying something that should go without having to be said: I love my children very much. Even so, the tween years may just put me in the ground. Or, more likely, they’ll make me desperately wish that my body didn’t hate alcohol so much. Sure, the “tween” years are typically defined as ages 10-12, but it’s clear that dd is advanced for her age, since we’re seeing signs of tweenage at the tender age of 9 years old. *cough*

I remember pretty vividly what I was like as a teenager. Let’s say it wasn’t pretty for my parents. I feel like I spent most of my teen years grounded or in some kind of pre-grounded status, hovering between “I slammed that door” and “I’m about to slam that door”. It was the standard issue, run-of-the-mill thing where you want to have freedom and independence (to a point) and constantly feel like you are bumping up against boundaries or requirements that seem restrictive.

“Do the dishes”

I think I pretty much constantly avoided doing the dishes, leaving them for my already overburdened mother, because I just found them to be a chore. I pretty much always considered doing the dishes an awful task until I had dd and suddenly found my sink overrun with dishes and my “works” for my breast pump. My life felt completely out of control: I wasn’t able to produce enough milk for my newborn daughter, I had absolutely no idea how to communicate with this tiny individual who seemed to expect that I’d know EVERYTHING about taking care of her, and there was the rest of my life to balance with all these new responsibilities. Doing the dishes suddenly became hypercritically important. To this day, it’s understood that I’ll disappear into the kitchen for as long as it takes to get the dishes done following any dinner party or get-together, to the point where people have to track me down. It’s not that I’ve become anti-social; I’ve become anti-dishes-in-my-sink-and-on-my-counter-overnight. Call it irony, if you will. I prefer to think of it as cosmic payback for all the crap I put my mother through.

“Clean your room”

OK, so this is one where I’m still pretty much a mess. My “filing system” at home and work is typically chaotic piles that look like posed pictures for a manual on how to be a hoarder. Occasionally, I’ll just lose what’s left of my cool and ritually toss things en masse into a trash bag, and haul it all out without much in the way of sorting or dividing. I’ve learned to let go of my attachment to things I’ve collected over the years. And so it is that when I look at the kids’ rooms and see stuff all over the floor or their dressers, I just nod and consider it genetics. My mother used to threaten to go through my room with a steam shovel. It’s more likely dh will take that hard-line with the kiddos, while I’ll just roll my eyes and move along. As long as the clothes are clean and there are no mammals in the house other than those I’m related to by marriage or blood, I’ll generally shrug it off. I’ve been to friends’ houses where the clutter was so thick that you couldn’t walk without having to step ON things or sit ON things. We’re nowhere near there–and there would be either an intervention first or we’ll get invited to be on a reality TV show (which would trigger an intervention).

“Watch your mouth”

Ah, this is my downfall. My ass continues to be smart to this day (as my father will surely attest–though I’d like to point out that this is MOST DEFINITELY a dominant gene that he passed down to me). After all, better to be a smart-ass than a dumb-ass. And so, it’s completely unsurprising to me that my children have inherited this trait as well. “Backtalk” is actually something that’s both annoying and completely necessary, in my mind. Sure, the kiddos will tend to lose nine out of ten arguments on things where they just want something for the sake of winning the argument, but if they give me a real justification for why they think I’m so wrong (and they’re wrong), they may win. Lately, the tween hormones have gotten dd more on the shrill shrieking tip than just the standard backtalk; it’s like she’s found some really awful frequency that would make most dogs run for cover. I’d actually rather that she just fussed at me or pushed back on me verbally rather than tried to rupture my eardrums.

And yes–I fully expect that there’ll come a time when the kids start swearing at me/us. What they don’t hear from us, they hear from their friends at school (which is how it worked for me). Self-censorship only goes so far. I could avoid using every profane word and they’d still learn them–plus more. THANKS, URBAN DICTIONARY.

*      *      *      *      *

We’re lucky that dd still thinks boys have cooties. It’s 6-year-old ds who has a close girl friend (he’s too young for those last two words to be together). Frankly, I’m not sure how ready I am for the talk beyond what I’ve already had–and we have already done a variant of the talk. Well, I’ve had one with dd. I assume I’ll need to do much the same for ds at some point soon, but it’s hard for me to forecast when.

“I have to help every day. It’s so boring!” – ds

I get it, kid, I really do. I feel ya. Been there, done that. Reliving this and watching them start down the path of *all the hormones at once*, I feel badly that it’s yet another thing I can’t shield them from. And yet, it’s a rite of passage, so here we are.

Time to buckle up; it’s gonna be a long few years.

When is the right time for my child to do…anything?

girl walking away

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When I was a kid, the nearest playground was a little more than a quarter-mile away. To get there, I had to walk three long blocks and cross a three-lanes-in-each-direction road that didn’t have cross-walks ANYWHERE NEARBY. Somehow, we were allowed to go there without much incident. In recent days, my decision to let dd and a fellow third-grade playmate go unsupervised to the playground nearest us (well within a quarter-mile radius and not even requiring a street crossing) was, shall we say, highly challenged by a parent of the child that went with her. Granted, every parent is entitled to their own limits and I get that, but I appreciate that future meet-ups will have supervision rules discussed up front so that everybody is on the same page.

The incident got me thinking about just how little we know when it comes to when the right time is for…anything our kids might want to do. All those hard-and-fast rules aren’t so hard or fast when every household is different, and it always, ALWAYS depends on the child(ren) in question.

We had run into this larger issue of readiness a few months back, when dd first started to pester us in earnest about earrings. Over dinner with friends, we discussed the conundrum at length: Is a third grader responsible enough to take care of her ears so they don’t get infected? What IS the right age for a child to get their ears pierced? (DH blanched from one couple’s story of their niece’s lackluster approach to earring care leading to multiple infections and at least one re-piercing.)

Of course, there are people who have their kids’ ears pierced at very early ages, in which case the issue is pretty moot; initial care is handled by a parent/caregiver, and the child grows up just knowing “I’ve pretty much always had my ears pierced.” I didn’t get my ears pierced until around age twelve, possibly because my parents waited until they thought I was responsible enough to take care of them on my own.

We had originally set the same requirement for dd, until she really kept coming at us OVER AND OVER AGAIN–begging, pleading, and generally bugging the crap out of us to get her ears pierced. Finally, one night as we cuddled at her bedtime, she ‘fessed up: “All the cool third-grade girls have their ears pierced,” she whined plaintively. Ohhhh. Okay.

I told dh about this, to which he (so New Englandly) responded, “Well, that’s a perfect reason NOT to get them pierced!”

I didn’t even blink before I shot back, “You don’t understand girls.


Amy Poehler in Mean Girls

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And no, I’m not pretending to be Amy Poehler’s character from “Mean Girls”, the super-cool mom who’s totes okay with aaaannnnnyyyything. I’m just saying that I have not-so-vague memories of what it was like being a third grade girl who didn’t fit in because she wasn’t thin or pretty enough, and it sucked. A lot. And really, if dd has already announced her desire to get her ears pierced, does she need to wait three more years?

I brokered a sort of détente: dd would have an eight-week chart of responsibilities involving personal care in one manner or another (e.g. brushing teeth, brushing her hair, showering, etc.), and she had limited room for misses. If she didn’t meet all the requirements for a given day, and that happened more than twice in a week, a penalty week would be added. As it happened, we had to invoke that rule only once–and it ended up being rescinded just as quickly due to a well-timed critical show of responsibility. She pulled a massive save on a night when dh was out and I got sick; completely un-prodded, she took over clearing the dinner table and getting both herself and her brother ready for bed while I was recovering from my ailment.


DD's responsibility chart

A partial view of a much larger chart


And so it was that she got her ears pierced earlier this month, picking out earrings that were close to but slightly more colorful than the ones chosen by one of her BFFs from school. She complained mightily for a few hours about how much it hurt to have them done, and she’s not always keeping on top of cleaning them without being reminded, but otherwise she’s got it under control and she’s clearly doing well enough that I have high hopes for her making it through without infected lobes.




The thing is, the age of twelve that we initially set as a target was somewhat arbitrary; it was picked because that’s when I foggily remembered getting my ears pierced, and who knows how long I similarly bugged the crap out of MY parents leading up to that day. No matter what day or what year dh and I picked, we could always be wrong.

You’re not supposed to introduce babies to solid foods before six months old, yet there are people who have done it for centuries (or millennia), and the children still lived. Guidelines for kids’ sleep requirements and bedtimes vary depending upon the source, with general ranges being as close to a rule as you’ll find. What we know about when it’s safe or okay for a child to do so many things is often subjective, and I’m glad that I listened to my gut instinct about the earrings and let her have the opportunity to prove herself.

Giving my children the freedom to fail is scary, but it’s time to do more of that with dd. I shouldn’t always do for her anymore what she must do for herself, and I just need to be available to support her or comfort her if she stumbles or falls. I don’t know which one of us is more ready for this shift, but it’s clear we’re already finding out…together.