Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The "Together Mom" Myth

A friend of mine is struggling. She says she's a horrible wife, a terrible mother, and a worthless person. She sounds just like I did when I had PPD, except her youngest is already in school, so probably not... I was talking to her about the Myth of the Together Mom, and thought I'd share my little mind game with all of you.

See, I used to fall into the trap of thinking that the other moms I saw had it all figured out - that they were pros at this mom thing, and that it was as obvious to everyone else that I was totally faking it as it was to me. Not faking love for my kids, of course I love them, but faking the whole "having it together" thing. I would see other moms, who often had more kids than I have, and they'd have their hand-decorated, home-made, organic, peanut and gluten free cupcakes for the class party, and I'd show up with boxed cookies from Kroger (and I forgot to check the label, and the damn cookies are "made on machines that process foods that contain nuts...." Oops). Or I'd see a mom with three perfectly matchy matched children acting angelic in the mall as I struggled to get my kid away from the money-eating carousel - they looked like the Stepford family, and we looked like the World Wrestling Federation, and I'd think, "How do they do it?!"

I've figured it out - or at least figured out a way to live in the same world with the Stepford moms without losing my mind. Now, when I see those "together moms" I think, "Yeah, she looks all put together, but I'll bet she's got $100,000 worth of credit card debt!" or "Sure, those cupcakes are organic and homemade, but she's operating on 92 minutes of sleep and a whole bunch of speed today..." Of course I never VOICE these opinions to the "together moms" I see... I just smile inside and think, "Yeah, sister, your hair is coiffed and your makeup is perfect, and I could bounce quarters off of your abs even though you have 6 kids, but you've got a secret too..."

Now that I'm a little further down this Mommy Road, it has come to my attention that people see ME as the together mom! HA! HAHAHAHAHA!!! I call my mom or sister at least once a week to tell them that if they don't come down and get these kids, I'm going to put a sign on them that says, "Free to good home" and stick them in the front yard (they rarely show up, and the kids are both still present and accounted for - they understand my hyperbole). I spend entirely too much time on the 'net, and my kids watch WAY too much TV. I have vices, things I feel guilty about, and secrets just like everyone - just like you - but I present my "together face" to the world, just like everyone else. And unless you know me well, or catch me in a vulnerable moment, you'd never see those vices, guilts, and secrets.

Another friend of mine says, "Being a mom isn't hard work, but it's constant." I think that's partially true - it is constant. Kids just never stop needing (even when they're grown, from what I've seen!). It takes a lot of effort to be someone else's caregiver, and when you find yourself in the position of caring for a whole family - running to lessons, wiping noses and butts, dropping off, picking up, three meals and two snacks a day, making little decisions (what's for dinner? snack now or later? fight to get her to nap or give it up?), making big decisions (vaccines on schedule? preschool? work or stay home? vacation or new roof?) all the time, it can really wear you out. When you find yourself in the unenviable position of caring for aging parents and young kids, or caring for yourself or your spouse through a chronic illness, or just trying to spin all thirteen dozen plates in the air without letting anything fall - it gets hard. It's hard for everyone. No one has it easy in this mothering gig. No one.

In our western culture, the mother really is the heart of the family. As the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy." It's a lot of pressure to be "on" all the time, to be "together" all the time, to be "healthy" all the time - and it's easy to bend, it's easy to break, under that pressure.

But we owe it to ourselves, and to our husbands and kids, to be as together as we can. And I really believe that it's necessary to let go of some of the "shoulds" of motherhood - I should make organic, free range, peanut free cookies instead of buying something for school snack, I should make all the kids' Halloween costumes, I should make all their birthday cakes from scratch, I should turn off the damn TV and interact with the little weirdos 24/7, I should...... The only true should-ism is that you should put less pressure on yourself to be Donna Reed and spend more time on the stuff that really fulfills you and makes you happy. Your kids are going to remember that you were content for a lot longer than they're going to remember those perfect cupcakes.

The irony is that once you let up on some of your own pressure on yourself, once you start to give yourself some wiggle room, some grace, you enable yourself to be a better mother.

What do you think? Do people think you have it "all together"? What's your dirty little mommy secret? Leave an anonymous comment if you want - I honestly can't see who's who in the comments when they're anonymous. Help my friend realize that we're all in this together, and that none of us have it easy, by leaving a little confession.


Mimi said...

I don't have any kids, but I know that in my career people think that I am perfectly organized and "together." It's just a show. I do happen to be somewhat organized, but I misplace so many things and I'm incredibly forgetful. They also don't know that I type at least a dozen words into Word each day to make sure that they are spelled correctly. No one seems to notice...that's my little secret!

Anonymous said...

I let my kids watch too much TV also! Its no wonder they know so much spanish.. Dora and Diego are practically living in our house with us!

Have the T-shirt said...

Great post! And so true. We are much harder on ourselves as Mommies than we really need to be.

Seriously, I look back on when my boys were young and I can't believe all the stuff we did! BUT! Not too much stuff, and that's the key I think. Do all the things that really matter to you or that your kids love doing, and don't worry that the "perfect mom" is doing that and ten times more.

When you get to this side of motherhood, let me tell you, what you remember, what you really hold onto, is the wonder on your child's face at the polar bear exhibit or remembering the nightly bedtime ritual, complete with spraying "monster spray" in the closet, you let go of the kroger cookie moments, cause they just don't matter in the end.

I doubt if anyone ever looked at me as the together mom, but I know my kids look at me now as a really good mom, and that means more than anyone else's opinion.

newbuffalomom said...

My girlfriend and I used to talk about being a "good enough" mom.
We didn't need to be perfect, just good enough. Thankfully I am past the "3 under 5" year, mine range from 15-9. What I have seen is that the so called "perfect" moms usually have unhappy, overly micromanaged kids.

Just last night my husband and I were talking about how happy and relaxed our bunch is. (we have 2 exchange students here also) So yeah, we have clutter all over. I'll probably find some socks in the living room. But my kids are well adjusted, happy kids. I think I'm doing just fine.

Erin said...

I'm so right there with all of you! Last Tuesday I went to our couple's bible study without Matt. Normally there's a babysitter there, but I hadn't gotten the message in time that Katelynn would be the only kid there and it was fine for her to hang out with the adults during the study.

Well, she's her usual 2 1/2 year old self and I was totally distracted the whole time. I was feeling embarrassed and guilty every time Katelynn was loud or throwing toys over her shoulder. But I talked with my friend that hosts it at her house (who has a 4 year old and a 3 month old) and she understood how I felt but reassured me that no one was distracted by Katelynn. She would try to have a babysitter there in the future even if Katelynn would be the only kid. (Her 4 year old was with her family that night.)

It did make me feel better that she had gone through what I am and that Katelynn really will grow out of this stage. It's hard not beating myself up over it though. I'll try, but it's excruciating sometimes!

Anonymous said...

You are right. The 'Together Mom' is a myth. And we are supposed to buy into it. Yeah right! And we are also supposed to buy into Faith Hill's 40year old/birthed 3 babies body on the cover of a fitness magazine! It's called photoshop! I am grateful for days that I've showered, haven't been thrown up on, and have remembered to use the lint roller to de-hair the dog hair permanently attached to my pants! Parenting is CONSTANT and TIRING. But at the same time, one awesome roller coaster ride. And at the end of the day (hopefully a non-spit up day), I just feel grateful that everyone is safe, healthy, and that I am still sane.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

It is true. If yo think about all the things you would actually have to do in a day to be completely "together" it is insane.

Nobody could possibly do it all and still be happy.

... and yeah, my kids watch WAY too much tv.

Ellyn said...

My secret is my house is almost always a mess. There I said it. I think I look pretty put together out in the world but don't follow me home. It's bad.

Great article. I found your through the Blogher side tabs on another site.

Jeni said...

I'm glad I stumbled on your post - I definitely fall into the trap of thinking all the other moms have it all figured out. I just have a 2 year old and a baby-on-the-way, and I struggle constantly to keep my head above water - glad to know I'm not alone!

Anonymous said...

Good blog. It helps. Any comments on the "together moms" that appear to have "together kids" and a "together house"? Arrrrgggh! Each of my kids does only ONE activity (lesson, sport or music). My husband likes to see us all at the dinner table and honestly my whole family cherishes our stable family dinners. Plus, we have most Saturdays off to just sit by the pool or whatever. Is this why my kids didn't make the "Gifted Program"? I think they will still get into the local university when the time comes. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Obviously this post is about a year old.. but thank you for it... I have an almost 2 year old and I've been struggling with feeling like I just don't have it Together and other moms do... its good to remember that I'm not the only one and that I'm probably the majority. :-)