Perfection is a moving target. This week, the Cut explores the allure of trying to achieve the impossible.
Parents — especially modern ones — judge themselves constantly. A recent survey of young parents showed that mothers in particular feel judged and are more judgmental of themselves than fathers. But sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, we’re actually doing things right. Here are ten mothers on one thing they feel they have done perfectly as a parent.
The Lunch Expert: “I am obsessive about lunch packing. No matter how crazy the mornings are (and they are usually so crazy), I’ve always packed a really outstanding lunch for both of my kids the night before. I find it calming to just stand there and think about how to make it nutritionally balanced and also visually appealing five nights a week, so even when I’m tired, I put in this last bit of effort in. I am pretty sure it’s not appreciated on any level, but what is? Anyway, it makes me feel balanced and accomplished even at the end of a day that would otherwise feel like a failure.”
The Happy C-Section: “I gave birth to my daughter perfectly, I have to say — not in anyone else’s book, probably, but in my own. Though I planned on a ‘natural’ birth with no drugs and a doula, what I got was a C-section at 37 weeks because my daughter was sideways and I had preeclampsia. But I recovered easily, and I never looked back and questioned if things could have been different. I learned a lot about accepting that life is unpredictable that day, and I also learned how tough I actually am.”
The Planner: “I manage my family’s schedule perfectly, or nearly perfectly. Now that we have a baby, that often means asking for my husband’s help. I send him updates — doctors’ appointments, reminders for long-term projects, messages from caregivers — and he is responsible for setting up an alert. It works! I still run the show, but it’s nice that we’re both involved and can spend more time just hanging out with our 6-month-old.”
The Thought Leader: “I’m proud to be raising my son progressively, and I hope that he’ll be as open-minded as possible. He may be young, but he’s more socially aware than a lot of adults I know. Scout respects, and understands, the differences that make up people’s identities (the best his 3-year-old mind can). I hope that his compassion towards everyone on this earth rubs off on those around him.”
The Nutritionist: “Somehow, amazingly, I’ve managed to raise a pretty good eater. Most of the other small children in my family are completely unable to sit at the table and have dinner at holidays because they can’t sit still and they don’t eat 99 percent of what’s been made, but from the start I really set my mind to making sure I would raise a kid who eats most everything. And he does, and all it took was several years of effort!”
The Sleep Wizard: “My twins are good sleepers, which I know from other friends with twins can be almost impossible. They go to bed pretty much on time at night, they sleep in long unbroken stretches, and at almost 3, I feel like I have accomplished what we set out to do when we really put our minds to it when they were 6 months old. I feel like it’s been good for their moods, and it’s definitely been very good for mine.”
The Fit Mom: “Here’s a selfish thing: I got back in shape after my baby perfectly. This is more about fitness than it is about weight and it didn’t happen immediately, but when my daughter was 7 months old, I decided that if I couldn’t sleep as much as I used to, or do a lot of the things people without kids do (like drink too much on a Thursday night), then at least I could get myself feeling physically my best again. I really believe that I did a better job as a mother once I started taking care of my exercise routine.”
The Social-Media Winner: “Is it a cop out to say I don’t believe in perfection and that makes me feel better than a lot of mothers? One thing I’ve been really good at doing, that a lot of my friends suffered for, was avoiding the Facebook/Instagram jealousy where you see someone else’s life and think, ‘Why are they doing a better job than I am?’ I don’t feel that way. I don’t even really look. I just stay the course and feel like I am happier and a better parent for it.”
The Perfectionist: “I’m a perfectionist, so this is tough. Giving up that idea of perfection is something that comes along with adulthood, but I found that with each of my kids (I have three now), it went away a bit more. These days I am happy if everyone goes to school wearing matching shoes, but I have managed to float by these years feeling really pretty happy and also knowing that somehow my marriage is still really good. That feels like a huge accomplishment.”
The Penny Pincher: “I saved money for both of my kids’ college educations, something my parents never did. I had to work through college, which took almost six years and left me with a lot of debt which I am still actually paying off. I feel like the most important thing I can do for my kids is to make sure they have something saved so that they can continue their education. It probably won’t be enough, but I feel good every month putting that money aside.”
The Eventual Potty Trainer: “When my oldest daughter turned 2, she suddenly became interested in potty training — for about a week. At first, I tried to get her back into it, but I quickly realized she just wasn’t ready, so I made the conscious decision to be like Elsa and let it go until she decided she wanted to do it on her own. She is very strong-willed, and I just knew it would be a battle unless she was totally ready. I literally never mentioned the potty again. Thirteen months later (!), Rose started using the potty on her own and never looked back. What I’m proud of is knowing my own kid, listening to her, and then letting go of the pressure to push her to a milestone at some arbitrary time.”