Week by week — over 100 of them already — I’ve lived my new life as a mother, marking each little milestone in my daughter’s progress. I write them in a book: Zelda’s first bang trim; Zelda’s first time touching a jellyfish.
But when it comes to thinking of myself, well, much of the time, my first reaction is to focus on the ways that I fall short. Mommy’s first daytime cry into a towel. Mommy’s second time at work with milk on her jeans. The ways that I fail, to be blunt, are the things that I count more easily than the ways that I succeed. Partly, this is just how I am built: I am a harsh critic of myself and I am almost never satisfied. Though this kind of self-scrutinizing can be helpful in a career, in motherhood it can quickly billow from a “hey, I didn’t do the best job today” to “Wow, I feel like a total failure all the time” simply because each day is filled with tiny missteps or disasters. Every day feels raw and terrifying; we’re trodding into the unknown together.
But it’s not just me: The whole territory of “parenting” today feels like a fucking scam, like we’re setting ourselves up to feel constant agony and blame from day one. That, or we’re being set up from the outside. The potent myth persists that “having it all” somehow means more than “I have a job and a family with children.” I do, voila! All hath been acquired. But the myth part comes in the pretending that others who also have it — this “all” — are better at it than we are, their lives more balanced, their jobs higher-paying and more fulfilling, their bosses more understanding of the kid puking every third week, the late mornings and early duck-outs. Others have better marriages and more sex. Other women never used formula, not even fucking once; other women lost their baby weight faster. Other babies sleep through the night, and they did it on their own without any effort; or they don’t, because they sleep in bed with their mothers where they belong. Other mothers didn’t WANT to go back to work, they WANTED to stay home. Other mothers didn’t need drugs in delivery. Other mother’s babies have never seen a television. Other babies eat only organic. Other mothers don’t compare themselves to other mothers, of course. Everyone else’s “all” can look pretty superior, from the outside gaping in, and many days, a mother might just be inclined toward envy or yes, to self-judgment.
But you do learn, in spite of yourself. You go from knowing nothing about children to being basically a doctor, a child psychologist, an entertainer, an opera singer, a pediatric sartorialist, a chef for a specialized palate. You acquire these skills day in, day out, over the course of weeks and months. You become adept at multitasking at a level you’d never even considered. You do performance art while cooking, you make lists in your head while editing your work. You do this, I do this, and I do it all, most days, without ever saying, “Damn, I am fucking awesome. In fact, I’m so great at this I don’t really need to think that other mothers are better than me anymore, ever again, because I know — I’ve always known, honestly — that for me and my daughter, that’s not true: For us, I am the best mother on the planet. Full stop, end of story. Move on, I am grand.”
This realization came to me at 4:30 in the morning on the third night I was in the hospital with my 2-year old, who had pneumonia. She’s home now, and she is doing fine. But that shit was real and I have to tell you, I’m not the same. In the course of moments, I realize now, looking back, that within me all along has been the best possible version of me. The best possible mother. The one who would know what to do, who wouldn’t let her fears rule a bad situation. The one who I grew up thinking I could never be but meanwhile always was. Yeah, I see it now. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
On the one hand, this avowal, that I am great, the best mother on the planet, could be read as simply more one-upmanship, a flipping of the damaging script I just ran through above, the one where I am the failure and all the other mothers out there are better than me. But, no, this is a call to action: a simple assertion that I am doing the absolute best that I can, and that I do not compare myself to others in this life. It’s a reminder of who I always was before I was a mother: a woman who didn’t worry what others did or wanted to do, but simply attended to her own business, happy enough to be here, happy enough with what had come her way. This is a really basic, but, I find, revolutionary revelation, a new mode of being in an old body: Here I am, the best that’s ever been.
Don’t compare yourself to me, other mother. Just understand that no one, I mean fucking no one, is better than you are. Because this revolutionary idea, it doesn’t just apply to me, but also to you, and to every mother out there. We are the best mothers on the planet, even when being mothers isn’t nearly all of what we are. It doesn’t even begin to describe us, and yet, for some reason, it is the mother who needs respect the most, and who rarely gets it in an unconditional way.
Parenting, we all know in the core of our beings, is not a competition. Nothing in life actually is, but parenting least of all. Oh, sure, you may want to compete and try to beat YOUR OWN parents, but even that is probably a fool’s game, you know this on your best days, you’ve got this much figured out.
It’s okay, of course, to want desperately to be the best possible mother, part and parcel of being the coolest possible woman: No one would judge you for cherishing that dream. But remember, I’m literally begging you to remember, to hold onto the fact that you are the best possible you already, because you’re unique and beautiful. Yeah, this is kindergarten stuff, actually! But this world is fucking brutal and I feel beat up sometimes, I feel god-awful and like I’m doing a shit job when I dare to compare myself to other people. DON’T DO THAT, EVER. Why would we do that? FUCK THAT. Be yourself, be as awesome as you are, love yourself, and remember: you’re the best fucking mother on the planet.
I mean, what do I know, though? Oh right: I know everything. I am awesome. :)