Perfection. Expectations for perfection. That’s a killer.
As women, we expect perfection in every venue. Why? Because we are bombarded with those expectations from every direction; the media, churches, family culture, social culture. We see and hear it so much, we believe it. We want to be perfect mothers, with perfect children, in a perfect house, with a perfect job. In every profession – women are told to lean in, lead, fight for what you want. The message is clear – you can do all, be all if you are willing to work HARD. You don’t have to be perfect just precisely excellent with a side of accomplished. (You didn’t really fall for that smokescreen, did you?)
As soon as you become a mother – you realize the fault in our stars. Unless you are very wealthy AND willing to let someone else raise your child – you are now at a crossroads. Nurture baby or nurture career? Oh sure, you can do both if you don’t mind not getting any sleep. If you don’t mind rearranging your entire priority list:
List one: marriage, job, fitness, self, house, dogs — List two: baby/job, house, dogs, marriage (delete fitness and self – NO TIME)
I’ve always maintained that men are LUCKY. They are never faced with the same hard choices. Theirs is usually the main income – since they can earn twice as much, even for the same position (THAT’S yet another aggravation! But that is a post for another day…). Usually, even if they want to be an involved father – they will never have to choose NOT to work to take care of the children OR to take a lesser paying job so they have a more amenable schedule for childcare OR to only work part-time (giving up any chance of true success or advancement in a particular career) OR to change their goals in lieu of being more available to the rearing of their children. Rarely do men/fathers have to make those choices. Instead, they are able to maintain their jobs. They continue to advance – passing over their female counterparts who are not able to keep the same pace because they have children at home. Children who get sick at daycare and have to be picked up. Children who have special school events. Children that a mother is not willing to leave with a sitter so that she can take extended business trips. (Sidebar: This is NOT always the case. There are fathers who DO rearrange their lives and jobs for the benefit of their children/family. And there are women who do choose to take the extended business trips and leave their children with a sitter or spouse).
The truth of the matter is for all of the advances the women’s movement has made, there is still a LONG and hard climb ahead. The truth? We can’t do everything and we can no longer expect PERFECTION. Women are running themselves into the ground. The higher percentage of women can’t lean in because they’ll topple over. Time for a reality check and it is up to each individual woman to stop, breathe and reevaluate. There is a third list: Self, marriage/children (because it is hard to separate those two), job, fitness/dogs (kill two birds with one stone!), house, (delete perfection).
Being a mother is a very hard job. It changes every day because your kids change every day, they are growing, learning, changing. What worked with the kids two weeks ago, might not work today. Listen and watch your children – try to understand them – but understand also that they have good and bad days just like you do. Sometimes, there is no understanding. Sometimes, they cry or scream for no apparent reason. Sometimes, you’ll cry right along with them. Always remember that you are the mother – but you’re growing, learning and changing too. Any mistake from yesterday is a lesson for today. They can’t be perfect children and you can’t be a perfect mother. Accept that and move on. Never give up and never give in.
No matter what your profession – perfection is a lofty goal. It won’t define you, it will devour you. It will take time to break free of those old expectations – but start today. Work toward accepting efficiency, not absolute perfection. It can be done if you’re realistic and if you monitor that little misogynist bastard voice in your head.
I remember when my fourth child was born and I had just gone back to work. I realized I was exhausted and resentful. I was angry at my husband because he wasn’t stepping up enough. I felt like a bad mother because all I wanted was some peace and quiet, time to myself without having to answer to anyone. I knew something had to give. That something was ME. I rearranged everything so that I could keep, not my sanity, but my head above water. I started to run (metaphorically not physically). I started to keep a list in my head so that I didn’t miss anything and I could anticipate what was coming next. I stopped reading the paper. I cooked quick and easy meals; though, for me, it was rare to eat it while it was still warm. I exercised late at night when the kids were in bed. I eventually had to give up a job that I loved so that I could find more reasonable childcare and so that I could be more available as a mom. Anytime there was a difficulty at school or with the behavior of one of my kids – I felt so much shame. I was not the perfect mother that I aspired to be. I felt so alone, sad, tired and inept. I’m pretty certain that every other working mother on my block felt the same shame and sadness – we just didn’t share it with each other.
Now, I am older, wiser. I have time to process my own feelings about those difficult times, I can read blogs and self-help books that help me learn to identify the triggers and stumbling blocks. I have a better understanding. We will never be able to avoid the social directives and influences about perfection, not completely. There are still times when I find myself succumbing to the feelings of shame, self-doubt and even some self-loathing and fear of my imperfections – even in my old wise age. Was I a bad mother? Did I do enough? Are my kids okay? Would they be better now if I had been better then?
All we can do is continue to remind ourselves – where we came from and where we are now. Our predecessors worked hard to pave the way – we have a long way to go – our daughters will be glad we maintained the path.