"Effortless Perfection," meet "Flailing and Failing"
It's possible to keep up that charade for quite a while, if you are willing to work hard to pretend that it's easy. Women at Duke have found that this effort comes with the price of eating disorders, stress-related illnesses, anxiety and doubt. But even beyond those costs, the fact is that eventually, real life prevails. Imagine those unrealistic expectations rolling over to marriage and motherhood, and you have a recipe for serious disappointment brewing. As I say in Mojo Mom, a great deal of the shock of motherhood comes from the gap between expectation and reality rather then reality itself.
So let me share a corrective narrative. Lately my life as a Mom has been as far from "effortless perfection" as possible. Instead it's been about "flailing and failing." At times I have felt like I've done things in the most difficult way I possibly could, while obtaining terrible results. This is why Mojo Mom is a book about motherhood rather than a parenting guide!
Last Friday there was no school and my daughter had a friend spend the night, which was a lot of fun, but as soon as said friend put on her coat to go home the next morning my daughter declared "I'm bored!" Whew, no "long tail" of contentment from that activity, eh? After lunch we went to a neighborhood Halloween festival, which somehow just wasn't quite fun enough for her tastes. My daughter was cranky, tired, and hopped up on sugar by the end of the afternoon. And I was annoying even myself with the Mommy pronouncements coming out of my mouth. Pick up your coat...come on....come on now...I am leaving....bye...COME ON I REALLY MEAN IT NOW I AM SERIOUSLY MAD.
My daughter has also reached the age where I have suddenly become the most embarrassing person in the world, and I was surprised to feel that this opinion was really starting to work its way through my defenses. So on Saturday night I felt compelled to tell her later on that I didn't like feeling like the lamest person in the world. My ill-timed comment hit her the wrong way and she just got mad at herself. More Mom flailing and....thud, that one landed with a plop.
So by the end of the weekend I just felt like everything was a battle: getting up, mealtimes, bath, bedtime. When I finally made it to the post-bedtime finish line on Sunday night, I was really pissed off when I found out my husband had eaten all the chocolate ice cream. So I snapped at him, too. I was mad about the ice cream and also jealous that his Daddy-parenting style is really paying off now. (For a good perspective on this I recommend Anthony Wolf's book, It's Not Fair, Jeremy Spencer's Parents Let Him Stay Up All Night. Wolf explains the different sides of a child's personality, the Baby Self and the Mature Self. The Baby Self comes out more with the primary nurturer in a child's life. So while there is a lot to learn from my husband's parenting skills, I can also stop being surprised--and blaming myself--for the fact that my child's Baby Self likes to come to Mommy.)
But things gradually went back to normal on Monday. Our whole family needs structure and the school day is a good thing, especially after a 3-day weekend. My sense of humor returned. There was still no ice cream on Monday night so I broke into our Halloween candy stash. I discovered the candy I had bought a miraculous two weeks in advance had melted because I'd left it in the car for too long. How's that for punishing my attempt to plan ahead?
I could tell that I was starting to get my mojo back because instead of being upset, I just decided that a little bit of melted and refrozen chocolate never hurt anyone. With the holidays coming up, it's time to start taking the easier path whenever necessary. Holidays are tough on Moms, as we are called in to put out all sorts of last minute holiday "crises." It's important to realize that even if the kid's costume isn't perfect, or the turkey is dry, or the tinsel doesn't get hung up, it's more important to get through this stressful time with your sense of humor and compassion toward yourself intact than it is to project an illusion of perfection-- effortless or otherwise.