It wasn’t a quick death. There were times that it was a little painful, seeing her slip away…waste away… and knowing deep down that if I tried a little harder, I could revive her. Ultimately, her death was the only cure for the symptoms that were ailing her. Guilt because giving 100% at everything wasn’t enough. Stress because it was hard work always trying to top the last big WOW moment.  Irritability because the list of “shoulds” was long and downright unattainable. 

Several years ago, I was Perfect Mom. In my head, I never earned the title, though I strived hard to wear the crown. I had always hoped there would be a glitter sash. (Blatant lie. I hate glitter.) Here are just a few of the expectations I had for myself.

Shoulds for Perfect Mom

  • Perfect Mom’s kids should always be dressed in adorable, ironed outfits, matching whenever possible. Your child’s appearance is a direct reflection of your ability and commitment to parent properly.
  • Perfect Mom should always be on top of the kids’ school and social calendars. This means storing all this information in your head and annoyingly helpfully reminding everyone around you that parent-teacher conferences are three months away on a Tuesday night and that you already have a sitter scheduled. Your kids are never late for events or playdates, ever. In fact, you’re at least 10 minutes early for all functions. People who show up late annoy the living daylights out of you.
  • Perfect Mom’s house should always be clean. Seriously every room in the house. You never know when someone is going to wander into the master bedroom closet on a random Thursday. Your house should always appear ready to put on the real estate market at a moment’s notice, just because.
  • Perfect Mom should make everything from scratch. Bonus points for including flax seed, quinoa, or kale. Only bad moms poison their children with food from a box. Buy a 20 pound bag of flax seed and stir it in everything. Homemade soup, homemade granola bars, homemade applesauce…really you can hide it in anything if you try hard enough. If your kids request raw kale for a snack, you’re doing it right.
  • Perfect Mom should make her kids’ coordinating Halloween costumes. Honestly, what is wrong with people who go to Target and buy the same lame costume that other kids will have? Even if it is sold at Target and your kid wants it, you should have your mom come over and stay up until the wee hours of the morning to help make a costume that is the same as Target’s offerings, yet totally different.
  • Perfect Mom should have a strict limit on screen time and never waver. Shame. Shame. Shame. TV rots brains. Your children’s brains must be perfect, therefore they shouldn’t watch any TV. However, for the sake of showering without an audience, you are allowed to let them watch exactly two (2) thirty minute educational shows per day, but only if you can’t fully engage them in putting together puzzles instead.

Thank you, Jesus, for shining the light on my not-so-humble ways. Perfect Mom was a huge grouch, and even though she appeared to be have it all together, she was barely keeping her head above water.

When I look at the Shoulds now, I can honestly say that I laugh hysterically. (In addition, I feel a little sad that I thought this was the yellow brick road to being the ideal mother.) Here’s a little juxtaposition of Perfect Mom vs. Real Mom.

Shoulds for Real Mom

  • Real Mom’s kids should be dressed in clean clothes (most of the time). Not gonna lie. In the summer, there are days that my kids wear an outfit, sleep in it, and wear it again the next day (maybe more). I pretend not to notice. Guess what? Less laundry. They are literally saving the environment through their laziness. And ironing? I realize now that I had far too much time on my hands with only two kids. I bought outfits that really needed to be ironed in order to be presentable. Now, it’s cotton knit all the way. I see beautiful dresses and smart little outfits that I hastily grab, and then the light bulb moment occurs. Needs ironing. They’ll never be able to wear this. And now, I coordinate their clothing once per year for photos. I have a teenage boy in men’s clothing, a tween girl in junior clothing, a six year old girl in big kid clothing, and a baby boy in toddler clothing. Coordinating outfits can take literally weeks of time.
  • Real Mom is totally winning if she gets all kids to all activities on a regular basis. Ten minutes early is now translated to consistently five minutes late. There is virtually no way around this. I can plan to leave an extra ten minutes early, but something will derail this master plan. It never fails. Someone will lose a shoe, have to poop, lose a tooth, have an anxiety attack over turning off the last five minutes of a tv show, need a snack (microwave popcorn? REALLY???), get stuck in a Halloween costume from three years ago. You name the absurd delay; it will happen. And now, I have no idea when we’re supposed to be somewhere without my iPhone calendar glowing in my face. What’s today’s date? I think it’s February. I’m not sure.
  • Real Mom’s messy house is totally fine. (Unless it’s being featured in an episode of Hoarders. In which case, please try harder.) I try to keep the family room, kitchen, and the guest bathroom clean. That is not always an attainable goal. People from our church moms’ group have commented on how clean our house is. Thank you for buying into the facade, ladies. If you want to know what our house typically looks like, take a peek at the laundry room or the master bedroom. That is reality. I distinctly remember one day when my friend Denise came over on short notice. I answered the door and the first thing I said was, “I didn’t clean the bathroom for you. This is the level of our friendship now.” Her reply was, “Good.”
  • Real Mom does what works to feed her family. Ok, so I do love to cook. I make a lot of things from scratch. However, I have let go of the pressure that every. single. thing. has to be homemade. We have four kids. We buy in bulk from warehouse stores. And I am totally fine with it. In the Perfect Mom years, I made my own organic granola bars. They cost a fortune, and no one ate them. I spent a lot of time and money on food that I threw in the trash. If that’s your scene, by all means, do it, but only if you enjoy it and your kids will eat it.
  • Halloween Costumes. Umm, yeah, I covered that here. No shame in store bought, Mamas.
  • Real Mom knows that sometimes screens are her best friend. I used to be an absolute crazy person limiting the screen time. It made my kids more obsessed with getting to watch tv/use the iPad. It made me crazy getting angry over saying “No” all the time. Now there are days that I literally beg a kid to go to the other room with the Kindle so that I can help another with homework in peace. They are all still really smart, well adjusted kids who play with friends and read way above grade level. It’s all ok. No one will die over watching three episodes of Word Girl in a day. Even Girl Meets World incorporates history lessons and social issues. Mickey Mouse teaches colors and numbers. It’s not like they’re watching Nightmare on Elm Street marathons in the basement.That was reserved for the moms of the 80s. (Hi, Mom! I still have nightmares about Jason and Freddy!)

Sometimes, I think back with nostalgia and miss Perfect Mom a little, but now I know this, and I want ALL my mom friends to know it too. The Perfect Mom race is one that you will never win. There is no finish line. There is no checklist that says, “If you ______________, _______________, and _____________ (fill in your own blanks…Never buy fast food , Get your kids through senior year without missing a day of school, Never expose them to swear words, whatever is on your list), then you have succeeded.” If you keep this Perfect Mom craziness up, your list continues to morph over time, so that the check boxes are never filled. And you are never filled. You continue believing that you are not a good enough mother unless you can make the whole entire world perfect and filled with joy and never a sad or disappointing moment for your kids. 

It’s ok to let her go. It’s ok to let her fade. If you can’t stand to watch the slow end, then pull the plug. Perfect Mom isn’t all she’s cracked up to be. And Perfect Kid? Her beautiful, ironed dress is itchy, and she’s not eating the homemade energy bites.


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