We sat on the swings, watching as our kids played in the wet mulch. She slowly rocked back and forth and moaned, “This is so hard. I don’t think I’m doing it right. Maybe I need to read more parenting books.”
You don’t need another parenting book
My heart sank because I knew exactly what she was describing: the guilt, the shame, frustration, trying so hard in what felt like a losing battle while others appeared to be having an easy time. And I also knew that it wasn’t a parenting book she needed; in fact, that was probably the opposite of what she needed.
I could only nod my head and disagree. I nodded because what she described was the same battle we all face. Feelings of incompetence as a mother, feelings of failure linked to our two-year-old’s behavior, feelings that we aren’t doing enough, aren’t doing it right, that we aren’t enough.
And I disagreed, because although I get stuck in the same mental battle, I’ve seen with my own eyes that she is an amazing mom. I’ve watched her patiently talk to her three-year-old, lovingly rock her one-year-old. I’ve seen her laugh with her kids and encourage them to be bold. She is protective, and she loves them with every ounce of her being. She shows up every day: despite sleep deprivation, illness, grumpy kids.
The battle can feel lonely
It is true, everyone else seems to have their lives together. Our brains take the perfect pictures from Instagram feeds and happy moments viewed in public and digests them as the one and only reality. We look back to ourselves, through an opposite lens that highlights our weakest moments, our downfalls, our fails.
The battle feels lonely and we isolate ourselves because there is no way anyone else has a messy kitchen, no way anyone else has lost it when reasoning with a three-year-old, and certainly, no one else feels this incompetent.
The media markets to our insecurities
And this is what media preys on- marketing to our biggest insecurities and isolations. Pumping out parenting books, launching stretch mark products aimed at our abdomens and thighs and boobs, Instagram influencers who somehow have perfect bodies, moms whose kids eat all their broccoli, moms who have their kids reading by age two.
We eat it up. If only I could follow the rules of fit mom, and broccoli mom, and educator mom, then I could crank out perfect children- ones who are well adjusted and healthy and have the IQ of Einstein.
When we convince ourselves that our reality is shameful and must be covered up, we join the club, beating ourselves up. And pretty soon, we tell ourselves that we are a horrible parent and that no one has reached the lows we have.
But here’s the thing: the answer doesn’t lie in striving for that we cannot reach. The answer does not lie in reading another parenting book, it doesn’t lie in a new pair of yoga pants, or a clean kitchen.
Perfection doesn’t exist
The answer is that perfectionism will not make us happy, nor does it exist. And that unless we want our kids to experience the same cycle of guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy, we need to let them see us as imperfect and okay with it. They need to see that we don’t have perfect bodies, and we won’t always say the right thing, and that sometimes, we have no idea what we are doing.
And that despite all of these things, they are loved regardless of their imperfections, and that we can love ourselves despite ours.
You are beautifully imperfect
So, no, mama. You don’t need another parenting book. You are beautifully imperfect. You are on the same boat as the rest of us. You are not failing. Start questioning the voices that tell you that you aren’t enough; the ones that question your ability to parent; the voices that rip you down. Unfollow the Instagram accounts that strengthen the critical voice in your head. Take a break from your phone. Remind yourself that snapshots of other people parenting at their best, are simply that: snapshots.
It’s not about having perfect kids. They don’t exist. And it’s not about being perfect ourselves- that’s not possible.
The magic is in the journey. It isn’t at the end, when things are all perfectly wrapped up into a bow. Our kids will be okay without perfect parents. In fact, they will thrive. And when we recognize that the perfect parent is simply a mirage, we will thrive too.