Recently on one of the homeschooling lists, a mom who is just beginning to homeschool with two children (6 and 4 years old), posted a frantic message that said she did not think she could manage homeschooling because she did not measure up to the great jobs everyone else seemed to be doing with their kids. She received many warm and thoughtful replies, encouraging her to change her perspective and to understand that none of us are really supermoms (although on occasion, to the outside world it may seem so). This column is dedicated to her, and all the rest of us moms, who at one time or another (and in some cases many times) doubt ourselves and wonder how other people manage.
About two weeks ago, I decided to buy a slip-n-slide and a decent size blow-up pool for my 9 year old daughter and friends. I did so, because while I intend to get to the pool with her this summer, I know it won’t be every day, and it is hot here in Northern Virginia
in the summer. That was my only intention. Totally selfish (keep her cool, busy and happy).
As soon as we got home, she wanted to set-up the pool and slip-n-slide and so we went about the business of doing so in our front yard and common area (we live in a townhouse and our backyard is not big enough). Within about 15 minutes we were joined by several of her friends from the neighborhood, and before the evening was over, we had seven kids and most of their parents hanging out with us. Of course popsicles were broken out for all, and everyone had a good time.
So what is the big deal you ask? Here it is. When one of the other moms came to join us, she started it off by saying: “So aren’t you the Kool-Aid mom on the block!” For those who don’t know what this means (as I did not the first time I heard it), it refers to ‘back in the day’ when cool moms gave Kool-Aid to the kids when they came over to play. In the ‘olden’ days, most moms did not do that (Kool-Aid having no nutritional value and full of sugar), but of course most kids loved Kool-Aid and if your mom was one of the few who served it – you were very lucky. I know in our family, Kool-Aid (and the lack thereof) was the source of many ‘you are the meanest mom in the world’ discussions between me and my mom.
Now the comment is innocent enough. And I know my neighbor did not mean anything nasty by it. Well – I guess. Yet, there was, and is, something judgmental about that comment. Even though everyone had a good time, especially the kids, two weeks later I still feel somewhat uncomfortable about the situation. Did the other parents think I set out these toys for the kids to make the parents feel bad because they did not think of it? Or to make me feel special or better than them? I wanted to reply then and now: “No! It was to keep my daughter busy, happy, and cool. That is all. Not to make anyone else think anything.”
So that brings me back to the living up to standards, measuring up, and comparing our parenting and homeschooling styles and actions. On the listserv, one of the other moms made the following observations (thanks Jenny – you said it so well!):
“I think one of the worst traps women can fall into in life is the one of comparing themselves to others. It is safe to say, IMO, that it is *never* productive. Ever.”
Jenny went on to say in reading an article on this very subject the author stated that when we compare, we are usually left feeling “less-than”. And when we feel “less-than” we do one of two things: beat ourselves up or trying to level others around us to whom we feel inferior. Alternately, if we compare ourselves and we don’t feel ‘less-than’, we typically feel superior. (How many times have you compared yourself and felt equal? Be honest, it is usually that we feel either inferior or superior. Now, there is an ugly truth.) Feeling superior is a trap as well. No one is truly superior to someone else, because we are all unique, no two people have the exact same situation (resources, education, intelligence, skills, energy, etc.). To quote Jenny again: “The uniqueness of each human is precious and valuable, as well as the uniqueness of each family. There is no formulaic way to travel through life.” Feeling superior is a false pleasure – and soon we are brought back down to reality for some reason or another.
Jenny brought up another important point from the article was that when we are in the act of comparing ourselves to others: we rarely have all of the information, so the conclusions we arrive at are consequently not accurate. Wow – this is such a powerful idea, so obvious, yet most of us forget it when we start looking around and thinking “how come I can’t do “fill-in-the-blank”.
Case in point. One of my friends is such a cool mom (in my opinion). She has two boys for whom she is the Scout mom, the chauffeur, the cheerleader and other such things. Her house is always open to their friends and is set up to maximize the chances that kids would want to hang out at her house (she has a cool game room any kid would love). Her house is always spotless (although she claims that is not true). She is always looking to make healthy, delicious meals (she likes trying new recipes – although not always appreciated by her family). She is smart and active. I like her!
But, you know what? She is so hard on herself. She thinks she could do more, do better, do different. She wonders if she should work outside the home also, if she should be volunteering for different good causes, and why she is not more ‘fun’. She sees herself as being in the background, not really involved with her family.
What??? I would like to slap her a couple of times. Maybe more.
Why are we so hard on ourselves? Who ever said we had to be everything, all the time, in every way, to everyone? Why do we buy into this impossible model?
Even when on the outside it appears someone has it all together, you don’t know at what price they pay to get it that way. Another friend of mine was truly a supermom from the outside. She always looked like a model (great figure, great clothes, perfect hair and makeup – even when gardening!), her house was a decorator’s dream and always clean (spotless). She went everywhere with her kids (games, vacations, etc). Perfect, right? But I knew what others did not see. She lived on four hours of sleep a night, sometimes less. She worked late into the night and early in the morning to keep her house perfect, so during the daytime hours she could do everything else for her kids and husband. And . . she was totally stressed out (big surprise, right?). In public she did not let it show. But she was on all kinds of medications for nerves and other medical issues brought on totally because of stress. Her kids knew not to upset her at home about certain things, because she would loose her temper and rant and rave.
At what cost did she keep her life this way? Just to be Supermom and Superwife? Why? Life is so short and so precious. Why waste the energy on such matters?
Jenny said: “We do ourselves a disservice to pretend to each other that we have it all figured out. How can we ever have it all figured out? The very nature of life is that it is constantly in flux. The moment we think we finally figured out a system, or a way that works, something shifts, and there's a new thing to wrap our brains around.”
So with those thoughts, I offer these ideas to you.
First, no matter what you do, you will not stop other people from comparing themselves with you (the good, the bad and the ugly). When that happens – just let it flow over you – others need to discover the truth for themselves.
Second, don’t compare yourself or your kids with anyone! If you do that you will go crazy. You can stop yourself from comparing yourself to others. I try to remember that what I see on the outside of a situation is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath there is the bulk and the reality of the situation. Realistically no one is perfect at everything (yes, I do keep telling myself that). Everyone has different skills, challenges, resources, energy, money. We are not POD people. So don’t treat yourself as such.
Third, if you really want to change something about yourself, your home, your family . . for your sake (not to be supermom), then set some goals that you feel comfortable with – and work on it. In my case, I am trying to be a better housekeeper. But I have to be realistic with myself. My house will never, ever (in a million years) be perfect. It will not be the design statement of the neighborhood. If I am lucky it will be clean enough so that when guests come over they don’t run out the door screaming or thinking they need to decontaminate themselves. See? Realistic goals.
Fourth, allow yourself to fail. Forgive yourself if and when you fail. No one can be the best, or even passable, at somethings. If you can’t look like a model no matter what you do – so be it. Accept it. Rejoice in it. Move on. Focus on the great things about you. If you have a hard time figuring what those great things are, get your kids, your spouse, your friends to help you make a list. Read it several times a day – until you don’t need to read it any more.
Last and most importantly, remember the main issue is to create the best environment and have good relationships with your family. Kids and spouses may notice the perfect home, wife, mom, husband, father, whatever. But what they will cherish is the relationship they have with you; being with you; knowing you; sharing their life with you.
Linda, is a multi-tasking (translation: crazy) mom of three, homeschooling since 1992, world traveler, dreamer, writer (baker, chef and bottlewasher).