The things my mother didn’t do.

As a member of the newest generation of moms, I think I can speak for us all when I say that we are under a lot of pressure to be it all and do it all, at home and in the workplace. Things have changed a lot since our moms were moms, and their moms before them. I mean, we have the Internet to tell us how to do things, Pinterest to tell us how to do them pretty, and Sheryl Sandberg to remind us that no matter what we’re doing, we’re not doing enough. The billionaire Mom/CEO-hybrids are setting standards and raising bars with every speech they give and book they write. If they can “lean in” to such success, why can’t I just get that month-old load of laundry done and brush my teeth once today?

As a new mom, I tend to find myself reflecting on all of the things I’m not doing. Or that I am doing wrong. Or that I wish I had done but didn’t. Because when you’re under so much pressure it’s hard to see things through rose-colored lenses. If you feel like every aspect in your life could unravel at the slightest tug of the wrong thread, it becomes all too easy to focus on how you’re screwing it all up instead of how your kicking ass. I could tell you 50 things I didn’t do (or did wrong) recently, but would be hard pressed to find any kind of extraordinary accomplishment.

For example, take how my kid is on his 4th ear infection in a row and, like the terrible mother that I am, I never even noticed. Or how I forget to write all of Charlie’s milestones in his baby book and have to reference back to old Facebook posts to write down the actual date of a first word or step or haircut. Or how I completely forgot to take his 1-year milestone photo, even after a religious 39 weeks of pregnancy bump pics and 11 monthly growth photos – just slipped my mind. Or how I Febreezed his dirty jeans yesterday so they might pass for something resembling clean clothing when he showed up at daycare. Or my recent favorite, how I gave my 17 month old ice cream and pizza for dinner because I just couldn’t muster up the energy to make another meal, let alone a healthy one.

Whenever something isn’t perfect, if I feel overwhelmed, or whenever things seem to deviate slightly from normal (as if “normal” even exists with a toddler), I’m certain it’s because I’m doing it all wrong. Because I wasn’t cut out for this. Because I’m a fraud.

But as my child threw a blood curdling, body thrashing, hour long tantrum today – first because I wouldn’t share any of my ice cream, then because I was trying to share my ice cream with him, then because I wouldn’t let him dump the entire container of ice cream over his head – I got to thinking, all of these imperfect moments can’t be solely the result of me sucking as a mom.

And, that got me to thinking about my own mother. She’s the only point of reference that I have for this job, and I wonder how she could do it so well (to 3 kids, by herself) when I seem to just barely be keeping my head above water with 1 and 1 on the way. Which then got me thinking about all the things she, my awesome mom, didn’t do.

Like how not a single Christmas can go by without me reminding her that while there is a “Baby’s First Christmas 1979” and a “Baby’s First Christmas 1982” ornament to put on the tree, there is no “Baby’s First Christmas 1983” ornament, from the year I was born. Or at least there wasn’t until I bought one for myself off eBay and put it under the tree a few years ago. And this usually turns into a discussion about how sparsely filled out my baby book is and how there are only about 10 baby photos of me in existence. Total 3rd child syndrome. Interestingly, not one of these things ever made me feel less loved as a child or even as an adult.

My mom also didn’t buy us every toy on the market or put herself into extreme debt to keep up with the Joneses or make sure we had everything we ever wanted. Even though we didn’t understand why she couldn’t just “write a check” for candy and toys in the line at the grocery store, if she didn’t have the money and we didn’t absolutely need it, she didn’t get it.

Along those same lines, she didn’t pay for my entire college education or let me rack up ridiculous amounts of debt going out of state for a communication degree – even thought I, for whatever ungodly reason, so badly wanted to go to a school in the armpit of America that I probably would have sold my soul to the devil to make it happen at the end of 12th grade. Sure, she helped me as much as she could financially. But I wasn’t given a free ride on her bill. Not even close.

And after my father died, not once did my mom let me have an excuse to feel sorry for myself or believe that the world owed me something. Yep, life is unfair and it really sucked, but having it rough as a kid didn’t mean I had a get out of jail free pass for the rest of my life. Lots of kids have tough circumstances and tough childhoods. Some harder than me. Life isn’t always fair, toughen up.

She didn’t let me call out sick from school if I wasn’t, or deflect blame on to someone else if I did something wrong. Like the time in college I got a $300 parking ticket for parking in a handicapped spot and called her crying. Add that to the list of all the times I’ve called her crying, where she responded, “what do you want me to do about it, I’m at work.” Whether it was a civil offense or detention for being late to class, the world’s smallest violin always taught me that if I did the crime, I’d have to do the time.

I’m sure my mom will read this and think for a fleeting moment, I should have done better/more/less/etc. Or, Why is my daughter throwing me under the bus in her blog?! But as I keep thinking about all these things she didn’t do, I am growing more and more thankful for each one of them. Because I realize now how every thing she didn’t do contributed significantly to who I am as a person today. Like how not having everything handed to me makes me appreciate the things I do have. Or, how paying for something myself makes me work harder to get it. Or how I’ve grown a thick skin and become a survivor. How I learned to try really hard not to screw up, but if I did that it’s better to just own up to it and apologize. Or, how the “little” insignificant things (ornaments or pictures or perfecting Pinterest crafts) are in no way an indicator of love, and how she showed me the real way to love.

For every flaw I might be able to point out in my own mother’s parenting, I can think of a hundred things she did right. For every thing she didn’t do, or maybe didn’t do quite “right” – she made me who I am. And I am pretty fucking awesome.

So, the new generation of moms needs to chill out and simmer down. Your kid isn’t even going to remember half the crap you’re not doing. And if they do, it’s certainly not going to hold a candle to all the ways you are awesome. You’re doing the best you can. Let the mom guilt go, and remember the most important thing is to show your child how loved they are. If you’re doing that, you’re doing okay.

6 thoughts on “The things my mother didn’t do.

  1. Yep. I recently found myself feeling guilty for not doing as much as my friends did with their kids on the weekends. And then it occurred to me that while I spend all week long with my kid doing cool stuff, and tend to think of the weekend as my time for a bit of a break, my friends all had jobs outside of the home that made week day adventures nearly impossible.

  2. I love this. Some days I feel like every time I go online I face a barrage of gentle parenting, home educating, Pinterest-perfect parenting advice (sorry, that was truly terrible accidental alliteration – ack! I did it again!). There are blogs where parents rant about having seen a Really Bad Parent lose their shit with their kid in the grocery store, and people getting really assertive about how if we have a problem with our kids behavior we need to just get it all together and be totally zen, allowing them the freedom to truly be themselves even if that means they potty train at 11. And don’t even get me started on Alfie Kohn.

    My main problem with all of that is that I don’t really “take what I like and leave the rest,” I read it and go, “I’m not doing that. I’m not being unfailingly patient, I’m using punishment. Just the other day I yelled at my kids. They’re watching TV again. I suck.”

    So thank you. This piece is an antidote to all that pressure to be perfect.

  3. Thank you for this. It was a huge relief to read it after another day of “imperfect” parenting. I unfortunately tend to be a perfectionist in everything I do, and while I’ve learned to chill out somewhat, you’re right that there is just too much pressure for parents to do everything perfectly. And you’ve also opened my eyes to the fact that this is more true of our generation than of generations of parents before us.

  4. OK, first off – thanks for this post about your Mom. I’m younger than her, but older than you. Glad she raised you the way she did. Makes me feel better. Secondly, my children actually had chicken nuggets and ice cream at McDonalds on a weekly basis when they were little. They got to play in the germ infested jungle gym while the other moms and I got to relax and drink coffee. All these kids survived and none are even remotely obese. Your toddler eating pizza and ice cream is ok. You got your grains, your dairy, some protein and at least one vegetable from the tomato sauce. As my good friend JK always said – throw in some baby carrots and you got yourself a meal. Chill my friend. It’s all good.

  5. I can relate so well to this. As the youngest of four and with a mom who was anything but smothering, and yet gentle and loving. Recently I read somewhere something along the lines of just letting our children be ordinary instead of extraordinary at everything. Clicked, just like your words in this post. Thanks. Pretty fucking awesome! 🙂

  6. Michelle, I love the style in which you write about the journey of parenthood. What is your Twitter feed? I would love to follow you. I am an expecting father and I am passionate about providing a better world for families to exist in. Here’s to simmering down and chilling out!!!


Leave a Reply