Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How to be less-than-perfect without really trying

She had four – count FOUR – young sons.

I’d brought along just the two daughters.

She was splashing amongst the toddlers in the kiddie pool, pretending to be a quacking duck and a spinning windmill.

I was hiding amidst the lounge chairs with a Reader's Digest, wishing my girls would stop inviting me to play.

She kept a perfectly sweet pitch to her voice at all times.

I was having trouble not rolling my eyes when my younger pled for the tenth time, “Look at me, Mom!” while jumping in the water.

Then this random stranger really outdid herself. She turned and gave her full attention to my daughter and said, “Well, look at you!” with a huge, warm smile.

Suddenly, I wasn't annoyed with Happy Homeschooling Mom-of-Four anymore. I wasn't thinking about her at all. I was thinking about me. What's wrong with me? Why can't I just drag myself out there and play with my kids? Why don't I have the energy and patience to be present with them in this special moment? Why am I such a loser?

Fortunately, before the flood of guilt totally engulfed all sense of reason, I was rescued by the truth. Which is this: I usually am that perky lady in the pool. Most days I'm the energetic one, the one who plays on the floor with her kids, the one who draws other people's kids into our games. Perhaps I’m even the perfect mom other moms find annoying.

But today I wasn't. I was a second-rate, maybe even third-rate, mother. I was lazy, tense, and a wee bit selfish with my time. On this particular overcast day at the pool, I just wanted ten minutes to myself. Was that too much to ask?

Every good mom is a bad mom sometimes. We might prefer to spend our bad-mom days at home, out of the keenly observant public eye, but we don’t always get to make that choice. Days like these seem to choose us. And while calling a sitter or huddling the kiddies in front of the TV is perfectly understandable, there are a few other ways to ease the scorch of a bad-mom day. They will require some will power and a little bit of work, but thankfully, these options involve no regrets.

Stop Comparing Yourself

If you spend time looking for her, there will always be a mom out there better than yourself. But keep in mind that you – and only you – are the one your kids adore, and nothing will change that (except, I am told, adolescence). Know that your perfection doesn't teach your kids much about how the real world works. However, when they witness you struggle through your imperfection, and make right choices anyway, you give your children a real-life example to learn from.

Be Honest

Clearly and calmly explain to your kids that you really need some quiet time today. Older kids will especially appreciate your transparency and may even take the lead on entertaining the younger ones. Children yearn to show you how responsible they are, but rarely get the chance when they have Miss Perfect for a mom, toiling and fretting to make life equally perfect for them. If being honest doesn’t work …

Wait ‘Em Out

Your kids will eventually get the idea that you aren't a playmate today, and, crazy as it may seem, your absence won’t kill them. Remember that the reason they're begging you to play is because you're usually so attentive and present with them. So hey, take their annoying-ness as a compliment to your parenting!

Dip Your Toes in the Pool

When all other options are exhausted, you may have to make this choice – like I did, quite literally. I couldn’t snap my fingers and change my mood, nor could I avoid being disappointed in the change of plans. Instead, I had to take things one step at a time, one task at a time, one big toe grazing the surface of the cold water before I could ease in my whole tired body. Sometimes bad moods can suck us into a place that is hard to crawl out of, but our little ones give us the perfect reason to try.

And here's the beauty behind these small hurdles overcome: sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes the very act of making a few small, right choices is enough to change the trajectory of an entire day. And before we realize a change has taken place, we have become our whole selves again – the selves we like. We are wading and splashing and singing and laughing – maybe even spinning like a windmill – and the sun finally peeks out from behind the clouds.


  1. Great post - works the same for grandmas too

  2. Thanks, Ann. I take that as a huge compliment coming from such a distinguished author as yourself.

  3. A truly good mom will admit that she is a bad mom sometimes. When someone has to tell you (and show you) what a great mother she is, it is to convince herself.