“You know what you need, Mommy?” my oldest son asked me one morning while I was pouring cereal into a bowl shaped like a bulldog’s face.
“What?” I wanted to know. “What do I need?”
“You need one of those necklaces with our initials on them. You know, the ones with the letters for each kid’s name?”
“Yes, I know those necklaces.”
“You should get one of those. All the moms at my school have them,” he told me between bites. “You need to get one too.”
“Why do I need to get one?” I asked, a bit confused.
He smiled at me happily.
“So you can finally be like all the other moms.”
A handful of words shouldn’t crush you — shouldn’t make you question yourself as a mother. But when you’re already questioning yourself, and then someone — not just your son but anyone — brings up the exact thing you’ve been worried about, it doesn’t really take much to push you over the edge.
I hadn’t worried about what my jewelry — or lack thereof — said about me as a mom, but I was glaringly aware of how different I was from the other mothers at Jackson’s school events. I just didn’t know that he’d noticed as well.
I grappled with his statement for days. His suggestion to be like all the other moms meant that he recognized I wasn’t like them already. It meant that he saw me as different.
What he noticed is that I’m not like the other moms because I work — a lot. I very rarely get to drop him off at school or pick him up. Because of that, I made a special effort to volunteer in his classroom every other week — but that wasn’t right either, because even though I sat in the teeny tiny chair cutting papers and stuffing homework folders like the other volunteers, I wasn’t in jeans or yoga pants. I was in high heels and a white blazer that I should have known better than to wear on the day they were making teepees out of brown modeling clay. (Another mom was sure to point that out to me.) I was wearing that outfit because directly following that session at school I was heading to a meeting. Like most working moms, my life is a constant juggling act.
At the time I hoped that committing to extra projects for my boys would make up the difference. So I’d overwhelm an already overwrought schedule by agreeing to plan the big fund-raiser for their class, or being on the board at preschool, or taking off an afternoon to cover soccer practice. I thought the extra effort would win me brownie points with my boys, but it didn’t. My children were little, and their memory stretched only as far as yesterday. Even now they don’t care about today’s business trip, my looming book deadline or the staff t my office who count on me to pull my weight. My kids care that their friends’ moms went on the museum field trip yesterday and I didn’t because I was flying to Chicago for work.
Having kids in school feels stressful for me. My three little people have totally different schedules to keep track of, and my baby girl has her own agenda. I’m pretty regimented about using a system to keep their lunches organized, but now that the boys are older, they want to have lunch at school — but only on specific days. So now tracking the cafeteria calendar is a part-time job, as is making sure their lunch cards have enough money on them to get the teriyaki chicken this Thursday. There are field trips and performances. There are bake sales and carnivals. There are dropoffs and pickups and banking days when they get out an hour early, and if Jackson — God bless him! — didn’t remind me about them, I’d likely forget every single one. There are so many things to remember, and I guess what ultimately stresses me out is the idea that other moms — at school or out there in the wild world — are somehow way better at keeping track of this than I am.
I am one of the most organized people I have ever met, and even with all of my planning, I still am constantly forgetting things or remembering them at midnight the night before they’re due. And no matter what I do or create or volunteer for, some mythical “other mom” at school has done it better.
“Yes, Mommy, you can buy the T-shirt we need for make-your-own-T-shirt day, but Liam’s mom grew organic cotton plants. Then she hand-separated the seed from the fiber before spinning it into thread and fabric for the shirt she sewed him herself.”
I can’t even begin to keep up, and the stress of trying to do so can make me crazy.
So this year I made a big decision.
I’m over it. I am utterly over the idea of crushing back-to- school time — or any other part of school for that matter! So I might not volunteer in the classroom this year — though count me in for store-bought goodies at the class parties. And I might not make it to every field trip, because even if it means I’m the jerk of all jerks, I hate chaperoning field trips. Also — gird your loins — a babysitter will likely pick up my boys from school more than I will.
Moms, you should parent in whatever way works for your family and spend less time worrying about other people’s perceptions of how you’re doing. We should stop being so hard on ourselves and instead focus on the good work we are doing, the results of which are evident in the awesome little people we’re raising.
Taken from Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Copyright © 2017 by Rachel Hollis. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.GirlWashYourFace.com.