Being a modern-day mom is not for the faint of heart. Contemporary culture has made this already impossible job description all the more difficult by providing an overwhelming number of baby products, ever-changing safety guidelines, complex parenting philosophies, and endless opportunities to feel like we’re doing it wrong and everyone knows it. Moms are often categorized by their parenting preferences and interactions with other moms. We make women and parents define themselves by asking them what type of mom they are: crunchy or conventional, helicopter or free-range, have-it-all-together or hot-mess? I bet all of us are a bit of each mom type, but the one thing I know for sure is that I'm a hot mess mom and honestly, I love that about myself.
I gave birth to my first child in 2012 and my identity transformed overnight. Once a medical administrator, I was now a stay-at-home mom. Days that had been previously filled with commutes, cubicles, coffee dates, friends, and nights out dancing now revolved around diaper changes, breastfeeding, laundry, dishes, sleep schedules, and burp rags. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was definitely culture shock.
I met this new version of myself with the same tenacity, organization, and focus I'd given to my career. I researched all of the things. I created efficiency systems for keeping all of the baby socks neatly paired and ordered within the dresser. I came up with a daily schedule of meals, naps, and developmentally stimulating activities. I vacuumed every single day. I thought that if my mothering looked flawless from the outside, maybe I would be the perfect mother on the inside, too. And I was able to maintain appearances for a while. People would come to visit the baby and exclaim, “How is your house so clean?!” Friends would reach out to make plans, and I'd feel a sense of pride when I told them that Wednesdays wouldn't work because that's the night we see live children's music and do art projects together. I managed to fit every little detail into a nice, neat box. I ran our life from a spreadsheet. And I was miserable.
If we missed a baby-centered, sensory-rich activity or I didn’t make the elaborate dinner listed on my weekly meal plan, I felt like a complete failure. The more time I spent shaming myself for perceived shortcomings, the less time I had to enjoy my life and my family. This pursuit of perfection wasn’t serving me and it wasn’t serving my kids. Then one day, I had a realization. When I looked back on this time in my life, what would I hope to see? Would I say, “Remember how clean our house was during those years I got to stay home with the baby?” Doubtful. It was much more likely that I'd want to reflect on cuddles, songs, naps, and silliness. Unfortunately, my impeccable schedule hadn’t left much time for that.
I am nothing like the mom I set out to be and I’m OK with that. Our “schedule” looks like whatever gets us all through the day in one piece.
So I tried my best to let go of my ideas about how to do motherhood “right.” It wasn’t easy and it took a lot of practice. I started trying to just be with my son. Connecting, playing, and living slowly. Bonding, responding with empathy above all else, and truly savoring each and every moment. This is a nice idea, and one that I still strive for at times, but what I found was that I don’t actually enjoy every moment of motherhood. Turns out, I don’t like being trapped in my house with an inconsolable child, covered in human feces, breast milk, and veggie purees. It just so happens, I can only play peek-a-boo for so long before I want to rip my face off. I can fantasize about making Pinterest-worthy crafts using baby footprints in homemade finger paint all I want, but more often than not, those bonding art projects devolved into me wrestling a crying child covered in lumps of flour and food coloring while neither one of us had any fun. Imagine my surprise when I realized I hadn’t stopped trying to be perfect at all. I had just shifted my focus from one unrealistic ideal to another.
Fast-forward four years later, and my son is practically a little man. He's constantly in motion, usually yelling, and often smashing something with unbridled glee. His baby sister joined our family 10 months ago, and she is just as sweet as can be. Most importantly, I am nothing like the mom I set out to be and I’m OK with that. Our “schedule” looks like whatever gets us all through the day in one piece. On good days, we end up having a lot of fun, too.
After trying everything possible to get my kid to eat, I’ve all but given up on making dinner. Now my son just gets a snack plate with most of the food groups represented, even if some of them are just for decoration. My daughter gets finger foods, purees (homemade or store bought), and a bottle (breast milk or formula). I’m apparently trying to set a record for how many nights in a row an adult woman can eat PB&J with a side of string cheese for dinner. (For the record, I think I have a real shot at making history.)
I've picked up my son from school wearing pajamas (sans makeup and bra) more times than I can count. I regret nothing.
Occasionally I miss cooking, so I’ll throw something together. Sometimes we end up with a beautiful, healthy meal. Other times I try to feed my family what can only be called “mystery CrockPot” and we are forced to order pizza.
I am chronically late. I used to make excuses like, “We had an unexpected diaper change right as we were walking out the door!” but now I just accept that I'm never going to get anywhere when I plan on it. I apologize when I get wherever I'm supposed to be, and then I move on. I've picked up my son from school wearing pajamas (sans makeup and bra) more times than I can count. I regret nothing.
I may not be the mom who brings homemade coq au vin to the preschool potluck. But I am often the one who forgets the diaper bag and shows up with a baby covered in poop and has to borrow a diaper. And wipes. And a change of clothes. For the baby. Oh, and maybe, if they have it, for shirt for me, too.
I truly do my best to treat both of my children as whole people with respect, kindness, patience, and empathy. They are fiercely loved and they know it. But sometimes these kids drive me nuts with non-stop questions, demands, blatant disregard for rules, major attitude issues, and straight-up property damage. On days like that, I yell, throw my own tantrum, let everyone watch TV for way too long, or scroll Facebook instead of being actively engaged. And you know what? My kids are happy and healthy anyway.
I may not be the mom who brings homemade coq au vin to the preschool potluck. But I am often the one who forgets the diaper bag and shows up with a baby covered in poop and has to borrow a diaper. And wipes. And a change of clothes. For the baby. Oh, and maybe, if they have it, for shirt for me, too. I promise I’ll wash and return everything most likely sometime before the end of next year.
So let’s just call it what it is: I am a hot-mess mom. And I wouldn’t change that for anything. Being a hot-mess mom allows me to model certain values to my children that truly matter to me: My kids know their worth isn’t determined by accomplishment or appearance; we are inherently worthy of love and respect. They know it's always OK to make mistakes and the best we can do is take responsibility for them, make them right whenever possible, and try to do better next time. They know we can all laugh at ourselves and admit when we’re embarrassed, and that they don't have to be good at everything. But most of all, the kids know nobody has it all figured out.
I love being a hot-mess mom because for me, that’s what’s real. And more than anything else, I want to show my kids that it’s OK to always be authentic to themselves, even if that means being late, socially awkward, and with nothing to contribute to the potluck except a bag of store-bought tortilla chips.
At the end of the day, the kids are OK.