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Are you too invested in parenting highs? 

At the Motherhood Activism, Advocacy and Agency Conference we have been talking a lot about the expectations that are put on mothers and the expectations mothers put on themselves. In my post yesterday, I mentioned a series of questions that Amber Kinser asked about forgiveness and the need for us to forgive our mothers, our children and ourselves:
Can we forgive our mothers for not being omnipotent? Can we see imperfect children (including ourselves) and not blame the mother? If we could forgive our mothers for not being perfect would that make it easier to forgive ourselves? Can we forgive our children for coming into our lives at the wrong time? For being too needy? For not being needy enough? Can we forgive them for remembering things differently than we do (especially if that paints us in a bad light)? Can we forgive our children for having a better life than we did and not appreciating it? Can we forgive our children for not being all the things we wanted to be but weren’t or can we forgive them for being the things we wanted to be when we couldn’t. Can we forgive ourselves for all of our imperfections, poor choices, failures and inadequacies.

But there is one question she asked that I left out of that list because I wanted to write a separate post about it and start a discussion on it with my readers. She asked:

Are you too invested in mothering highs (supermom moments)? Does that set you up for disappointment in other moments?

What do you think? In your quest to be the best parent that you can be while also being realistic about the fact that you are not a perfect parent, do you calmly swim with the ebb and flow and good and not so good parenting moments? Or do you seek out those supermom moments everyday and beat yourself up for being a bad mom when you cannot live up to that? If it is the latter, what do you think you can do to turn it in the former?

Image credit: Legends2K on flickr
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Reader Comments (20)

I tend to be a middle-of-the-roader on this one. While yes, I do absolutely love (and show off about) parenting highs, I don't beat myself to death about the not-so-high moments.

What I do is look at the situation (like bedtime, for instance, my 5yo NEVER wants to go to bed and almost always insists on sleeping in our room, which we only give in to for a treat once a month), then try to think of ways I can improve my parenting techniques. Sometimes I'll even brainstorm and write a list of the things I come up with and go from there.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

I think there's an even more complex intertwining of the supermom moments and the realism over not being a perfect parent. In my experience, it's en vogue to admit that you're not a perfect parent, as if you're just so in touch with reality and so much more chill than those other moms who are out there killing themselves to be perfect, but it all feels like such an act. It's as if you're supposed to be supermom without ever admitting that you think you've accomplished anything.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBalancingJane

For me, there is no conscious investment. But I've recently noticed a subtle, almost unconscious investment in some idea of The Good Day in Which It All Works Out. This Monday, for example, was a perfect spring day here, weather-wise. But we had had some difficulty getting ourselves together in the morning, and I was probably a bit cranky with the Critter, and we got out later than I had wanted, and so my first thought upon stepping outside and seeing the full green leaves and brilliant blue sky was something along the lines of, Ah, well, next time. As though, because our morning routine hadn't gone smoothly, I couldn't enjoy the day just as it was, right then on my way to the park with my son, late or not. I have since been noticing many similar thoughts — subtle dismissals of now in favor of some vision of perfection.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

Annie, thanks for the mention! I'm much better at detaching from the highs than I used to be, but it is a daily struggle still, probably for most of us. It's a theme I seem to revisit in my writing. Here's the main post in which the idea was rooted that I shared in my keynote at the MIRCI conference: http://amberkinser.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/necessary-losses-part-2/

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Kinser

As I move further away from 'new' motherhood I find myself letting go of those supermom moments. Five years in and I'm grateful that I'm learning to just enjoy being with my boys: that there doesn't have to be an 'aha' or 'wow' moment but just being present with them, not distracted/worrying/multi-tasking. When I focus on those seconds and minutes of enjoyment the whole day seems better: I'm not disappointed or frustrated or wanting more.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara

I had to have a serious talk about this with myself recently. My 14-month-old daughter fights sleep like it is the end of the world. I hold her, she fidgets, in her crib on her own, she cries, and on the worst nights she even cries if we lay down with her and try to hold her still. (Last week, she fidgeted so much when she was half asleep that she actually pitched herself out of my lap, and disaster was only averted because I grabbed her feet before she hit the floor. We both cried over that one.) I was so invested in her sleep that if she went to sleep easily, I would congratulate myself, do a little happy dance, brag to DH, and then, on the nights where it was harder (and sometimes it takes hours and we have to eat in shifts), I would wind up feeling like I must have screwed something up and was taking serious hits to my self-esteem. After talking with a mother of grown children about these sleep issues, though, I found it that this sort of thing is more common than I thought, and was able to accept that this is just part of DD's nature, perhaps not a reflection on my magical baby sleep powers. When I calmed down about both sides of it, I was able to stay calmer, even on the nights where I'm cuddling her until after 9, despite the fact that she's clearly exhausted beyond all reason.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJess

I love that comment Rachael and can definitely identify with it too. Especially when I've planned a special day and it doesn't go right, I get really disappointed.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you for the inspiration and for sharing that post with me and my readers. It is great to read the context in which those thoughts were developed.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I'm so glad you've found that space Sara. :)

I've had a few days like that recently where I felt really good about those moments and then Julian said to me, at the end of the day, "why didn't we do anything today" or "why didn't you play anything with me today." But that goes back to the "can we forgive our children when their memory of events is different from ours?". Sigh.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I would have to say that I used to be, in my daughter's first 2-3 years, but that I've really gotten over it. She's 7 now and I also have a 3-yo and I really don't feel any need to be supermom. The mothering I do now feels much more honest, natural and unforced. I think over the years I have sifted out the grain from the chaff in my parenting - what is important and what is not - and have also come to realize that children are not well served by parents trying to be perfect. They need good parents who are really just average people living normal, authentic lives.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

I don't know if it makes it better or worse that I have this problem in many areas of my life, not just parenting. I live for the outstanding moments, and I feel less than when I miss them.

I agree with one of the comments above. Being an imperfect parent is becoming "en vogue" these days, but that really only applies to comical situations. It doesn't work on the days when I haven't had time to wash the cloth diapers and we put the baby in disposables. No one else cares but me and I still get down on myself for it.

And don't even get me started on the fact that it is Sunday and I'm in the beginning of a 33 hour shift at work. I work 50+ hours a week but I still cook super-healthy from scratch meals almost every night because I NEED to prove I can.

That's probably not a good thing, but at least the dinners are yummy . . .

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

The lows of parenting coupled with my own imperfections as human being have inspired me to start my own blog. My four year old has really been teaching me that there is much to be learned in the lows. I just hope that despite my imperfections it will be my love that my children remember most!

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLani

Aw, yeah, that is normal.. My one-year-old son acts tired around 7pm, but he's not ready for sleep until after 9. He falls asleep almost on the dot at 9:30 and I've learned that even if he's getting clingy and crabby, it's not worth trying to put him to sleep before that time. Before I wised up, part of our bedtime routine had become saying goodnight to everyone, going upstairs, dinking around for a half hour, coming back downstairs, playing, and then starting all over again. How confusing that must have been. The time between 7 and 9 were difficult with my first baby too. She pretty much nursed on and off for two hours, or cried.. unless we had her outside. That became the time we spent on the porch or going for walks in the summer. It's a hard time because that's the time everyone is tired and trying to clean up and get ready for the next day. But babies kind of take over those hours for a few years.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I often refer to switching my son's school as my best parenting move ever and joke that even if I do nothing else right I'm covered. There is a certain relief that came with that.
I do still fret about the fact that the homework situation often results in my son and I coming to blows and I get down on myself when I don't handle our conflicts with total composure and perspective. But I have to admit I comfort myself by thinking of the school thing and saying to myself, "You're a good mom. You can do this. What do you need to do to fix it?" Often it is apologizing, which doesn't come easily for me. Apologies and forgiveness are very closely linked, I think.

I've found a good follow-up to apologies is a conversation about how much we are alike. I'm quite honest with my daughter about the fact that the things she does that annoy me the most are the things that she probably learned from me (or inherited). That leads me to say things in a more constructive and less confrontational way, like, "WE need to work on not interrupting each other." and "WE need to be more patient with each other." and "WE should get everything ready the night before - I'll make sure I know where my car keys are, and you put your homework in your backpack." I also note things we are both good at, as well as individual strengths. Being a good mom is not about making a good child. We are all still becoming the best person we can be. My daughter's growth is her responsibility - though I am her guide, it's her journey.. But I'm on a journey too and my growth is my responsibility. So we can support each other. Life isn't about being a good mom, its about being a good person, which is something I would be working on even if I wasn't a mother... I just wouldn't be so acutely aware of it because I wouldn't have this little living reflection of myself in my house.

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I think that's a great point, Julie, that highlighting your own process/progress for your child models that we make mistakes, we learn from them, we move on, we hope to improve. I'm hearing a lot lately about the "growth" mindset and the "fixed" mindset. "Growth" seems so much healthier to me. So I am trying to switch over and I should remember to be open and honest about that with my kids.

I don't think that I've ever been disappointed in my little girl. Then again, my wife tells me that I barely human when it comes to emotions like that: I never really get mad, jealous, or disappointed.

Everything my daughter does is magical and wonderful, and the things that aren't, I smile and deal with :).

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave Higgs-Vis

Nothing tears the wind out of my sails like bed time. After working all day, making sure homework is finished and giving my four year old constant attention for 3.5 hours while making dinner, feeding the pets, giving baths, writing checks for schools stuff and doing a bit of laundry - I'm exhaused. But it seems that bedtime is when the girls need a little extra of me to ask me questions, read them a book, and a drink of water please. And by that time I have little left but the mental capacity to drag my legs up the stairs. And I want to be supermom and read stories, stroke cheeks, cuddle and answer all their questions but some nights I just don't have it. I try not to feel bad about it but it's hard. So on the evenings I don't have anything left, I get up earlier and make them pancakes or read them a book during breakfast. I'm sure when they are older they won't remember the few nights where I told them I loved them and to just go to sleep. Hopefully instead they will remember all the times I laid with them and rubbed their backs and answered questions and read them 3 books :)

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTanya

Annie, I think this post has the wrong focus -- unless this is one of the many times that I misunderstand :) The highs are what we live for! Happiness comes from reliving the best memories over and over, not wallowing in the worst or comparing the mundane to the best that ever was. People climb Everest to remember the pitching of the flag and every difficult thing they did in the months and years before that was part of pitching that flag. I say cherish the parenting highs and don't dwell in the rest, or at least attribute the rest to the high.

Besides fond memories, happiness in the moment comes from spending time with loved ones. Therefore, almost every second spent with a child should be happiness, even when changing a diaper.

What a fascinating question.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

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