As it so often happens, I read, heard, or saw a number of things this week that have collided in my head in one big messy pile that took some time with a pen in hand to sort out.
The first was the movie Bad Moms, which I heartily recommend. I went in thinking that I’d get a few good laughs and a fun afternoon out with some girlfriends. I came out with my head spinning with a mix of killer one liners and soul stirring feelings.
You see, without giving away any huge plot twists, the whole movie is about that endless struggles that moms face, dealing with societal pressure to be the “perfect” mom all while desperately trying to hold on to who we really are.
Come now, you know all about struggling to be the perfect mom. But how about we admit that, between the picture perfect parenting displayed on Pinterest and the endless Fakebooking that everyone is guilty of to some extent, the perfect parenting bar is set impossibly high.
The worst part is that we’re somehow tricked into feeling like we can’t ever stop trying to achieve perfection, that the day we rest on our laurels even for a minute everything will be stripped from us.
The race to perfection starts as soon as you first discover you’re expecting and the “shoulds” start pouring in. Except they’re not couched as “shoulds” they’re couched as “if you love your baby you wills.” Which is like a million times worse.
If you love your baby you’ll take these horse pill vitamins.
If you love your baby you’ll stop eating sushi, drinking coffee, taking hot showers, sleeping on your back or on your stomach.
If you love your baby you’ll spend a gajillion dollars on this crib, this stroller, this booster seat, this electrical outlet cover.
If you love your baby you’ll quit your job/keep your job; switch to all organic; stop eating dairy; nurse until he’s 15; only dress her in sustainably grown organic cotton.
The “suggestions” never end.
And of course we love our babies, so of course we want to do everything that is suggested. Because what do we know? We were just handed a squalling bundle and these “helpful suggestions” are the only damn manual that exists. (Don’t even get me started on the What to Expect series. Just don’t.)
The thing is, the suggestions don’t EVER end. Your kid just gets bigger and the stakes, so it seems, just get higher.
You go from buying bottles that perfectly simulate a mother’s breast to one day finding yourself pulling up at school, dropping your perfectly dressed kid off, hoping no one notices that their carefully homemade lunch isn’t 100% organic, or that you used the cheap detergent on their clothes.
Or, if you’re like me, you gave up the pretense way back when they were tiny and you realized that you simply couldn’t keep up and stay sane, so you just drop your Target clad kids off at school with their processed lunch and try not to judge yourself as harshly as you assume others are doing.
You’d think that the pressure lessens a bit when the school years start, that you have a little more time to to process everything and make your own decisions, but those are the years when you are simply expected to do more. Volunteer. Work. Exercise. Homework. After-school activities.
It. Never. Ends.
So, by now, for almost a decade, your entire life has been about doing everything “right” according to a code that has been created by a nebulous collective. You have spent countless days watching what everyone around you is doing to make sure you’re meeting this code’s standards.
So when you start freaking out about turning 40 and everyone around you says “The 40’s are amazing, that’s when you stop caring what others think!” your brain literally stutters to a stop.
A childhood of attempting to meet parental expectations.
A teenagehood of attempting to meet peer expectations.
A young adulthood of trying to meet first boss expectations.
A young parenthood of trying to meet societal expectations.
And now we get to be ourselves?
How, pray tell, are we supposed to know who that is?
I’ve been grappling with that all summer long.
Then, yesterday, while I was walking the dog, I was listening to the Beautiful Writers Podcast and heard I either Glennon Doyle Melton or Martha Beck (can’t remember which, sorry) saying something along the lines of
“Women define themselves by the people they love — wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter — which is why we’re always terrified, because at any moment the very things that define us can be torn away from us, leaving us stripped of our identities.”
So, yeah, there’s that too.
So, in short, we define our identities by the people we love and determine our actions by what we assume people think we should be doing.
No wonder women are always stressed.
We need to stop. Like today. Not embrace the Bad Mom movement, just the Real Mom Doing Her Damn Best to Be Herself While Caring for Her Family movement. Because we’re more than bento box lunches shaped to look like Spongebob Squarepants or whatever else we’ve decided our kids can’t live without.
So here’s to remembering that we are people outside of the people we love, and that the people we love love us for who we are, not for what we do. Because we’re freaking awesome just the way we are.