Monday, January 27, 2014

His Perfect Mommy Is Just a Myth

Welcome back to The Brilliant Book Club, a collaboration of five parent bloggers. To learn more about BBC, read this post or follow us on Facebook, G+ or Twitter with the hashtag #BrilliantBookClub.

And don’t forget to read what my co-founders Lauren, Jessica, Sarah and Stephanie have to say about this month’s book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman. Links to their posts are below.

There were some amazing essays in The Good Mother MythIn particular, I enjoyed (and wept while reading) powerful works by Kimberly M ("Failure to Launch"), Shannon Drury ("The Peculiar Curse of Mentally Ill Motherhood") and Shay Stewart-Bouley ("The Invisible Mother").

The truth is, however, I am not all that susceptible to the myth of the good mother -- the one whose "kids have always slept through the night," who "holds down a fulfilling job while still finding time to join the PTA, run the school's book fair, and attend every soccer game," whose "house is absolutely spotless" as editor Avital Norman Nathman writes in the introduction -- even though I know many women are confused and chastened by this picture of perfection that is, like Holden Caulfield's golden ring, always just out of reach.

The crafty, DIY, Pinterest-perfect mommy movement (myth or otherwise) does not faze me because it is not how I judge my own mothering. My goal is to do my best to raise a confident, compassionate contributor to society, to guide Henry to become his whole self, whatever that may look like. If the past is any predictor, my best will likely be sufficient. Not perfect. But good enough. That this "good enough" will unquestionably exclude homemade Valentine's Day Patties is, at least to my definition of a good mother, irrelevant.

For me, the relevant question is way more existential than whether I am a good mother, and it has preceded Henry's birth by decades: Am I a good person? What will I do of real consequence in this world? More recently, I have added a third question: How do I become a person worthy of my son's affection and esteem?

In my moments of insecurity and fatigue, while I'm basking in the unconditional, untainted love only a two-year-old can have for his mamma, I project into the future, flailing around for steady ground in a world where my son doesn't like the person I am. I am fairly certain he will always love me, as sons do their mothers. But I am difficult; that I know it, that I try not to be so does not alter the essential truth. There are many reasons why adult Henry might not like me.

And like me or not, he will inevitably come to learn, slowly or in fits and starts, how very flawed I am. If anything will make a bad mother out of me, it's that I so love the perfection I see reflected in his adoring brown eyes, I will hate to let it go. And what better way to ensure he dislikes me than to obfuscate my true nature, ugly as it might sometimes be?

What saddens me, then, is the prospect of the unavoidable day my son realizes his perfect mommy is just a myth.


Please be sure to read this week's posts by my Brilliant Book Club co-founders: