Girl School for Grownups

Like having a big sister, but better because I can't boss you around!

The myth of the perfect mother

on March 16, 2015

In my house there was a lot of love, but also a lot of secrets. As I’ve mentioned before, my mom was bipolar and had OCD, but at the time I didn’t know these names. What I knew was that my mom was easily upset and when she was upset, she would lock herself in her bedroom for hours. As a sensitive young girl this terrified me and I did the only thing I knew how to do to make things better: I cleaned the house. Maybe if the house was nice then she would be happy.

As a child of the 70s, I grew up on The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. I loved these shows with their large talkative messy families. The Waltons was another favorite. And although I didn’t know it, I developed a composite mother figure, part Carol Brady, part Shirley Partridge, part whatever-her-name-was Walton mom, and decided that most people had moms like these ones. This made life very hard, because not only was I dealing with a volatile mom in real life, I was also convinced that everyone else had this perfect mother who taught them how to put on makeup and how to dress properly and who they confided in when they were scared or sad, and I felt undermothered and alone.

When i had kids I was determined to mom them differently than how I’d grown up. So I tried to do the perfect mom thing. I was tired and discouraged much of the time. But I kept trying and reaching for the TV-inspired mom ideal, never considering that what I was reaching for was an illusion.

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Now, with both of my sons in college, I have perspective on parenting that only comes with time. And I know two things for sure: 1) if you have parents who love you with their whole hearts, you are blessed, and 2) nobody escapes childhood unscathed. Here’s the thing: we are parented by imperfect humans who bring their baggage to their parenting. I did it. Your parents did it. And if you have kids, you’ll do it too. Does this mean you won’t be a good parent? No! And of course we should try for understanding and enlightenment in all areas, not just in parenting.

My friend Betsy works at an emergency children’s shelter, where kids go when their parents are taken to jail or the kids are removed from an unsafe home environment. She’s heard horrific stories of parents who are not only bad people but awful parents. Betsy has told me that only good parents ask the question, “Am I a good parent?” I think she’s right.

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There’s a quote that perfectly expresses how parenthood feels to me: To have a child is to forever watch your heart as it walks along outside of your body.

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3 responses to “The myth of the perfect mother

  1. Carol Williams says:

    Dear Leslie I think Macy should read this. Love, Aunt Carol >

  2. James S says:

    Great post. Parenting is at once the most difficult thing in life and the most rewarding. I sometimes think it’s like watching a movie – part thriller, part adventure, part drama, part horror. I have no idea how it will end, but it sure is keeping my attention.

  3. vera sanders says:

    Leslie you are so brave. My love to you. Aunt Vera

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