A few days ago, I had a stellar mom day. In addition to writing and entertaining my toddler, I also made fresh apple cider (from apples we'd picked ourselves) and used it to make apple cider donuts from scratch. I was really proud of myself, and eagerly awaited the opportunity to show off my tasty accomplishments to my bound-to-be-impressed-and-appreciative husband when he got home. Finally, that moment came. He bit into one, declared, "Oh. It's good," and kept going about his nightly business. I felt deflated, instantly reminded that sometimes, having it all together as a mom is totally overrated.
"It's good?" I was so pissed I could have dumped the rest of the cider over his head. After all that effort — not just making everything from scratch, but doing so on a work day, in between story time and playground antics and diaper changes and errands and everything else with a toddler in tow — that was all he could muster? "It's good?" I'm a freakin' miracle worker over here, I thought. In addition to crushing my normal daily Monday grind, I overcame a poorly-written recipe and everything to make some pretty damn tasty treats. Where TF is my parade?
Then I realized something: I had no one to blame for my hurt feelings but myself. My disappointment stemmed from my own decision to over-emphasize what he might think of it — something I couldn’t control, and that shouldn’t be a referendum on my success that day — instead of appreciating the experience and prioritizing what actually mattered: the opportunity to play with my son in the kitchen, and share my love of cooking, and to enjoy some tasty fall treats together. I'd been craving those donuts for weeks and I finally had them and they were really good. Did I really need some sort of "Best Wife And Mother" Award on top of that? Nope.
I ate the remainder of the donuts in the span of two days, and enjoyed every last bite. (Especially once I dipped them all in butter and extra cider, and rolled them in cinnamon sugar.)
The moral of my petty drama? Always look for your upside, Mama. As in, “What’s in this for me? What do I get out of expending this effort?” If the answer is “nothing, except the possibility of praise or imaginary bragging rights,” don’t even bother. Know your values and your priorities, and then do what really matters according to both. Do what makes you feel good in the moment, as well as stuff you’ll be proud of later. But never, ever hang your sense of accomplishment or fulfillment on outcomes that are beyond your control, including and especially other people’s reactions or gratitude. ‘Cause most of the time, when we think we're doing something by having it all together, ain’t nobody else paying attention.
Oh, and eat all the f*cking donuts. Times like the following may remind you that having your sh*t together as a mom is overrated, but satisfying a craving totally isn't.
When You Realize Your Own Parents Didn’t Worry About A Lot Of This Stuff, But You Thrived Anyhow
To be clear: I am most definitely not saying to ignore research-backed advancements in child safety and related public health interventions. There are plenty of folks whose parents didn’t know all that we now know to keep kids safe and healthy, who aren’t around to say that they “turned out OK.”
But some of the stuff contemporary moms beat ourselves up about, are things we can totally let slide. Yeah, it's nice to have it together enough to get professional photos taken to commemorate all of their infant milestones, or to throw an amazing, impeccably themed birthday party each year. But most of us didn't have any of that stuff, and we're no worse off for it.
When You Hang Out With Your Best “Hot Mess Mom” Friend
A hot mess mom is a great friend to have. You always love hanging out with her, her kids love her to death, yet she's not trying to jump through any of the "Look at me, I'm so together" hoops you are. Clearly it's not all that important.
When You Go All Out And Nobody Notices
See above, re: donuts. I'll say it again, do the super-on-point shtick only if makes you happy. Treat any other attention or accolades as a bonus.
When Your Kid Poops Through Their Perfectly Put-Together #OOTD
Bonus points if they poop through their fabulous outfit before you even leave the house.
(Confession: if I'm really proud of one of my son's daily looks, I snap a pic of it before he even gets off the changing table, in full recognition that it might not last much longer than that.)
When You Realize How Many Other People Get To Influence Your Kid, Too...
As parents, we are our kids' first teachers and we undoubtedly have an influence over their lives, both in how we choose to care for them and in the environmental choices we make for them regarding where they live, which schools they attend (or don't attend, in the case of homeschooling and unschooling families), and related situations.
But a parent is one of thousands of people our kids will encounter directly, to say nothing of the millions of people and ideas they'll be exposed to through books, the internet, and other media. A sizable body of evidence suggests that in addition to societal forces that individual parents can't influence, a child's peer group may influence them more than their parents can, too.
...And You Remember That You Don’t Control Everything Your Kids Do Or Become
As parents, we matter. No question. However, our kids are autonomous people, so while we and our choices have some influence, a lot of what ultimately becomes of our kids to do with the influence of other people in their lives, circumstances beyond our immediate control, and their own choices.
When You Remember That Adulthood Is Nothing Like School...
There are no grades and there is no transcript and you're not trying to get into Mom College, 'cause there's no such thing. If you're someone who used to beast those kinds of challenges, and you're applying that same mindset to parenting, chances are you could be doing a lot less and still be getting the same results.
...And Nobody Is Keeping Track Of All Your “Extra Credit Projects”
Our main charge as parents is to keep our kids safe, healthy, and feeling loved, and to help them learn enough practical skills to survive in your absence. Literally everything else beyond that is an extra, and no one is keeping track of that stuff. We don’t get extra points ('cause parenthood isn't a game) or years of life or anything for baking Pinterest-worthy cupcakes versus buying them at the store, or for always looking totally chic when we volunteer for community events. If making those kinds of crafts or expressing yourself that way brings you or your kids joy, totally do it. But if it's going to be even the slightest bit of a hassle, it's not worth it, because nobody else cares.
When Your Child Is A Toddler
(Or a teenager, I’m told.) Kids this age are more capable than they've ever been, so they're both unduly confident in their own abilities — and thus, capable of quickly getting themselves into a ton of trouble they can't necessarily get themselves out of — yet not nearly experienced enough in life to understand how little they really know. As moms, we can have some stellar days when our kids are in this phase, but we definitely shouldn't wager our sense of self-worth on it.
Having it mostly together is a huge accomplishment when you've got a tempestuous, rapidly-changing kid (or more) to account for; totally together might be a bit too much to ask. These are moments to just buckle down and survive, and hope the foundation you’ve laid at other moments in their lives will carry you through without too much discord.
When Everything Goes To Hell Despite The Fact That You Brought Your A-Game
Some days you wake up early, plan the perfect looks for you and your little one(s), pack the perfect homemade snacks/thoughtful hostess gift/everything else, practice a cute greeting with your little one, get to whatever event with ten minutes to spare, yet nobody notices — and the door to wherever you're trying to be is locked, anyway. And then your child is tired and cranky so they don't want to participate in any of the things, let alone deliver the cute message you rehearsed. And you realize you could have both just rolled out of bed twelve minutes before it was time to leave, slapped on a fresh diaper, and had the same result. Oy.
When You Don't Have Your Sh*t Together And Everything Turns Out Well, Anyway
As a recovering perfectionist, I'm always galled (and eventually humbled, and grateful) when I totally phone something in and get rave reviews anyway. Like when you're only on time for second story time because you were that late to the first one. Or you forget about a birthday party but happen to be in the area with a new toy you accidentally left in the trunk after your last trip to Target (pro tip: keep tissue paper in your glove compartment!), and everyone greets you like a celebrity, anyway. And in all of the above scenarios, all your kid cares about is getting to climb stairs or jump up and down (which he could do anywhere) and play with the toy he brought with him (which he could play with anywhere).
We bust our butts trying to do everything perfectly, but in the end what other people get out of our effort isn't necessarily connected to how much effort we put in. Aiming for "good enough that I can appreciate it now, and not be too embarrassed later," is a perfectly worthwhile choice; beyond that, you're rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns.