“What size T-shirt do you wear?” said the text from my daughter, the oldest of my three children.
“Medium. Why?” I replied.
“I’m buying you a shirt for Mother’s Day.”
“World’s Best Mom?” I responded, in jest.
No reply. So a few seconds later, I typed back, “World’s Okay-est Mom?”
This elicited an “LOL” along with a smiley-faced emoji.
And I’m perfectly okay with that. I don’t want to be the World’s Best Mother. At one point I did, but then I realized two important things about parenting.
The first is that to be the “world’s best” implies that there is some inherent competition among myself and all the other amazing mothers in the world. That includes the moms I know, who all are incredible women doing the best they can for their kids. And the moms I don’t know around the world, who face challenges, obstacles and hardships that I might have no idea how to overcome.
I’m not looking to be better than all the others. These are my peers, my teammates and my role models. We’re all in this together. There is no need to measure my strengths or limitations against other women.
The second reason I don’t want to be the best is that it is just too hard.
When my oldest was a baby, I wanted to do everything right. My desire to be perfect was stifling. I couldn’t make a move based on instinct; I had to read and research and ask questions. Not wanting to make a mistake made me unsure of my every step. I was overwhelmed by internal pressure, instead of the bliss I should have felt at getting a chance to fall in love with this beautiful human being I had brought into the world.
As my daughter got older and I had more children, that pressure to be the best continued to be stifling. I couldn’t always get a healthy meal on the table, make sure every school project was correctly glued or muster the energy to read a bedtime story with distinct voices for every character.
By the time my kids were teens, it felt as if I was making more wrong decisions than right ones. I tried, I failed, and I kept trying — even when doors slammed, eyes rolled and occasionally the words “You’re the worst mom!” were shouted at me.
That’s when I realized I was never going to be the best. It was impossible, unattainable and, frankly, part of the reason I was floundering. I needed to change my parenting goal. I could try my best, but this ideal of World’s Best Mother would elude me forever. And that’s okay; I’m okay. Being the Okay-est Mom is okay.
Now, instead of berating myself for not making a homemade cake, I pick one up at the grocery store and throw a few extra sprinkles on it. I am sometimes a few minutes late to soccer practice pickup, and it’s fine. I’ve brought store-bought doughnut holes for a snack because I didn’t have time to slice apples. I try to make my son’s lunch every day, but sometimes I throw a cold slice of pepperoni pizza in the bag when I haven’t gotten to the market. He never goes hungry, and his friends think his mom is kind of cool.
I’ve allowed myself to skip the bedtime story some nights, when I’m tired and just want to read a magazine alone in bed. I let the kids stay up late sometimes to watch the end of a game or movie, instead of insisting they get the recommended eight hours of sleep. I realize that the lost sleep is made up in a few days but that the snuggles I receive for this treat warm me much longer. On occasion I have lost my temper and yelled. But rather than admonishing myself, I realize that I’m human. I apologize for overreacting, and we move on.
It turns out, now that I’m not trying to be the the best mom, that I’m a much better mom, and a lot happier. I realize that sometimes things will fall through the cracks or I’ll make a dinner that no one likes. I won’t be able to make it to every soccer game or dance observation, as much as I would like to. Sometimes I’ll make an unpopular decision or realize in hindsight that I should have handled things differently. My advice, though given with the best intentions, may not always be perfect or save the day. But when my kids make mistakes, I forgive them. And when I mess up, they forgive me, too. I love them with all my heart, and they know that. It was me — not my children — who put unrealistic expectations on myself to be the best, so I’ve learned to accept my imperfections and, most important, to forgive myself.
This Mother’s Day, I’m happy to accept the award for the World’s Okay-est Mother, along with some breakfast in bed and a day off from laundry, because I really do deserve it.