The world is constantly evaluating women based on what it means to be a "good" mom. The tide is always changing on some things -- there was a time at which women really thought they were ensuring their child's best health by feeing them formula, while now the tide has shifted so far in the "breast is best" direction that you almost have to hide in shame if you did not breastfeed your infant -- however, there are other societal expectations of mothers that remain fairly universal:
Good moms keep a tidy home.
Good moms get their laundry done and make sure their children have clean clothes.
Good moms make sure their children always look neat and put together.
Good moms look after their children's nutritional needs responsibly.
Good moms play with their children as the ever-willing participants in whatever schemes they may devise.
Good moms look after their children's education by getting them to school on time and ensuring they do their homework and being actively involved in what they are learning.
Good moms always put their children first in life, no matter what.
By all these accounts, my mother is super mom. I always kind of knew this too. I would go to friends' houses and see stuff like unwashed dishes in the sink and think "Geez, my mom would never leave dishes in the sink." I had friends who did their own laundry in elementary school. I didn't even do my own laundry in college. My mom couldn't even braid hair until I was seven, yet some of my earliest memories in life are of standing in front of the mirror in my mom's room while she would use her gold-plated brush with the soft bristles to brush the tangles from my impossibly thin hair and form it into some sort of tidy hairdo. I have vivid memories of needing to drink a glass of milk at dinner table every night, and I knew never to even think of asking for soda on a weekday (although, if my dad was in a good mood, and I ate all of my dinner, I could sometimes convince him to help me make root beer floats for dessert). My mom made the best voices for my "little people" and was even willing to play the boy parts if I wanted her to. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I was ever late to school (and if I was, it was probably because I threw some fit about getting dressed). As the ultimate PTA mom, my mom knew practically every kid in my elementary school -- she still remembers kids I don't think I ever even knew. In fact, my mom is such the SuperMom that now she SuperMothers my children (and sometimes me). It is as if being a mom is just what she was meant to do.
It's not that I don't think I am a good mom. I know I am a good mom. My kids love me and are excited to be with me. They are happy when I come home from work and enjoy the time that I have off work. When Tiana plays "mommy," with her dolly, she kisses that doll constantly and strokes her affectionately. She lays the doll down in her crib (yes, her doll has a crib) carefully and sweetly tucks her in and says goodnight. If our kids are a reflection of ourselves, then I think I'm looking at some pretty good parenting.
But I am certainly not society's good mom. I'm not a "type A" person, so although I do have a sense of organization to what I do, my home is not typically seen as having "a place for everything and everything in its place." Now that my mom takes care of my kids, I find it "practically perfect in every way" every day, but this is not at all my doing or my nature. The puzzles on the floor just don't bother me. I'm going to organize them later. I'm going to write in my blog now. I rarely know what to do with Tiana's out of control hair, so I settle for just "out of her face" most of the time. My mother-in-law keeps trying to schedule hair appointments for Vinny, but if he wants to grow it "as long as Rapunzel," well then I'm content to let it be. Some of my friends had qualms about using fruit snacks as bribery for potty training. Heck, I broke out the last of the halloween candy. Poop in the potty? Have a pack of Skittles kid, you deserve it. While I will sit and do puzzles with Tiana for hours on end, I hate sitting in her playhouse -- it make me feel claustrophobic -- and I am guilty of refusing to sit through a two-hour "one man" reproduction of Vinny's favorite musicals. As much as I hassle my advisory students about their tardies, I must admit that I overslept and dropped Vinny off late to school one day this week (it was only by three minutes). Because I am a teacher, I do get many weeks where I can just be mom, and I really love it, but I wouldn't quit teaching, even if I didn't need the money.
My SuperMom worked through much of my childhood, but I never thought it was because she liked working more than she liked me or anything like that. I knew if it were up to her, she would just stay home and be supermom, but I knew why she worked -- so that we could live in a beautiful suburb with some of the best schools for miles, and so we could have a great house where I had my own bedroom, a playground in the backyard, and even a pool. Although I know that many people feel strongly convicted that a mother's place is with her children, I can tell you that I wouldn't have wanted my mom to stay home if it meant I had to share a room with my sister. And I wouldn't have wanted to give up our pool. And I certainly wouldn't have traded my excellent education for anything -- not even a stay-at-home-mom.
You know what I do wish I could have changed about my childhood? I wish I didn't have to feel bad that my parents worked so hard to give me those things. I always knew that my mom didn't want to deal with cranky customers. She did it for us. She did it just to get by. I hated that she had to just get by. And I hated the times when they hated their bosses. I hated that my dad had to get up before dawn to run call centers when I knew he wished he was using the theatre arts degree he was still paying off. But, as they say, c'est la vie. My parents did the best they could, and I could not be more grateful.
Neither Marc, nor I, work just because we have to. Our jobs are not just work. Sure, we would just work if we had no choice, but we've been dealt a good hand in life and have been able to have jobs we love and enjoy. We also have to work really hard at these jobs and sometimes this takes time away from our kids. But it doesn't mean we don't put them first. It means we continue to exist as people, not just as parents -- even me as a mom. I don't think that being a mom means you have to stop being a person. Nor do I think it would make me a better mom. My dad recently stopped me in a conversation when I mentioned taking some of "my kids" to New York again in a few years, and he said, "You shouldn't call your students your 'kids.' They are not your kids."
I sort of chuckled. "Why?"
"Because Vinny and Tiana hear you call them that and they're your kids."
I honestly don't think my kids feel that they are in some sort of competition with my students. I am sure there are times that they get irritated that I am so busy, but if you asked Vinny if he wanted me to quit, I know he'd say no. I am a role model to Vinny. He wants to be a director when he grows up. He is more irritated with the fact that I am not putting on a kid-friendly show this year than with the fact that I teach. On the occasional times when Vinny has visited my classroom, he stands in awe and asks questions like, "Where do you stand? Do your kids get to use these computers whenever they want? Do you write on this board a lot?"
A lot of people act like the absolute best thing that a mother can do for her child is to be home and be just be the best mom she can be. I think that is only true if that is what that woman really truly wants. I think the best thing I can do for my children is to be the best ME that I can be. This applies universally to the "to work or not to work" issue, as well as all the other expectations of parenting.
I am not a naturally "neat and tidy" person. I like things clean and organized, but leaving dirty dishes until the morning does not really bother me. I could force myself to be better at all the household chores. But I wouldn't be happy; I'd be stressed. When I'm stressed, I'm a terrible mom.
But when I do things I want to do... like taking a beginning dance class... then I have the patience to spend an hour a day helping my son get over his conceptual block against counting money (fingers he can count, tiny little boxes, tally marks... pretty much anything other than money - I'm working on it. I think we had a breakthrough today). When I do things I want to do, and I'm not stressed, then I'm in the mood to cuddle up in Tiana's tiny toddler bed when she asks me to lay down with her before she falls asleep, even if my tush does hang off the edge of the bed.
By society's standards, I'm not supermom. But every day I become a bit more "super me" and that's all I want for me and my kids.