Saturday was one of those days that left me oddly discontented. I got cranky at a threenager refusing to get out the door to her beloved music class, cranky at that same threenager resisting nap, cranky at a husband not getting around to cooking dinner fast enough. (Yes, you read that right, he was cooking dinner and I was getting cranky. I didn’t say it was logical.) Then I got cranky at myself for being cranky. And for letting my crankiness make me feel like a bad mother when I put my kid down in front of a video and walked away.
Nothing went wrong all day, really – nothing you couldn’t put down as a series of First World Problems, at any rate. And nothing that wasn’t cured by the rest of the weekend: a walk in the fresh air to take in a concert of beautiful choral music that evening; a lazy Sunday at the playground in the sunshine.
But that feeling of discontentedness remained with me. And it got me thinking not just about my one sorta-kinda-off day, but about the bigger picture: why modern mamas are just so bloody hard to please sometimes.
I came to the conclusion that us modern mamas, wonderful as we are, have a tendency to sabotage ourselves by committing what I have decided to call the Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Motherhood. These sins generally hurt no one but ourselves, and I’ve yet to meet a mom who doesn’t commit any of them (I for one generally commit at least three by lunchtime every day).
A disclaimer: Sorry, this list contains no lust or gluttony. Modern mama sins, as it turns out, are a lot less sexy than the old-fashioned kind. Here, instead, are our seven:
1. Thinking Your Life Would Be Better if it was as Easy as Hers
Her life is easier because she’s single and childless and, of course, gets a good night’s sleep every night. Or maybe she has only one kid instead of your two, or two instead of your three. Or her kids are so easy; they sleep well and eat well and never throw tantrums. Or she’s got a partner who’s supportive, unlike yours, and her husband even helps with the laundry and the midnight feedings. Or she has a partner of any kind at all, since that would obviously be easier than being a single mom. Or she’s got a good job with a good paycheque and doesn’t have to look after her kids all day long. Or she gets to be a stay-at-home mom because who wouldn’t prefer to do that. Or …
You get where I’m going with this, right? The fact is, none of us really knows the inside truth about anyone else’s life. You may think the grass looks greener over there, but guess what? That life you think looks “easier” is a ball of complications and interruptions and mess and chaos, just like yours. You don’t know what heartache she’s hiding underneath that well-put-together and smiling exterior.
Which leads me to our next Deadly Sin …
I know, we hate Judgy McJudgertons. There’s nothing worse than that cranky old woman in the grocery store who raises her eyebrows at our toddler’s behaviour, or the busybody who can’t resist telling us that our child is too old for a soother or a stroller. We’ve all been there. We all hate it.
And then we turn around and just do it right back. We judge those people who judge us. We assume that the cranky old woman in the grocery story was in fact judging us when the fact is, maybe she wasn’t really paying any attention to us at all. (The world doesn’t revolve around us quite as much as we think it does sometimes.) Or maybe she was just having a really bad day herself.
Then we judge the person who doesn’t give us a seat on the bus, or the person who doesn’t hold the door at the coffeeshop, instead of just assuming that maybe they’re absent-minded, or preoccupied with some worry of their own, or perhaps facing some kind of an internal struggle that we can’t see.
And we judge other moms. We judge them for the Pinterest-worthy lunches they create for their kids and for the perfect hair and makeup they manage to achieve for school drop-off. (I mean, no one could do that if they didn’t have far too much time on their hands, right?) And we judge them (silently or otherwise) for their decision to co-sleep or to let their baby cry it out at four months old, for their choice to formula feed or to extend breastfeeding, for giving in to their toddler's tantrum or for refusing to listen to their crying preschooler, for their choice to stay home or to work outside the home.
Just stop it all. As the saying goes: Everyone you see is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.
3. Trying To Achieve Perfection
From the aforementioned Pinterest-worthy school lunches to screen-free days packed full of educational activities set against the backdrop of a pristine and neatly ordered home environment, we all have goals. Goals are great. Goals are worthy. Goals are what get us out of bed and keep us going.
The trouble only happens when “goals” lead to an endless and relentlessly frustrating quest for perfection. Because it isn’t going to happen. Kids are messy. Life is messy. Everything isn’t going to go the way we planned, and some days we will opt for order-in pizza instead of made-from-scratch casseroles packed full of organic vegetables, or an hour of Paw Patrol instead of art time with the small people.
Give yourself a break. Today you don’t have to be perfect. Today, it’s fine to just be.
4. Thinking That There’s Only One Right Way To Do It
This one will kill you. It will kill you because you will refuse to let anyone, even your own partner, help you with it – whatever “it” happens to be – and you’ll do it all yourself. Whether it’s the right way to fold the laundry or the right way to pack lunches or the right way to put the kids to bed, if you think you’re the only one who possesses the magic ability to do it “right,” you will make yourself insane. Full stop.
Plus, it’ll make you seriously annoying in mom conversations when your well-researched, carefully formulated opinions about feeding, sleeping, screen time, playground etiquette, child care, pick-a-hot-button-topic-here make you unable to understand that maybe, just maybe, there’s more than one “right” answer for all those issues moms face every day.
Find what works for you, and go with it. But don’t ever think you’ve found The One True Path. (Because I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve found it already. You really should try to be more like me. Ahem.)
5. Report Card Thinking
I call this one “report card thinking” in honour of those of us small nerdy children who loved nothing better than seeing the long list of A’s that we proudly trotted home to Mom. Trouble is, now that we are Mom, we’re still sometimes trapped in thinking that life is one big report card.
It’s like we think someone’s going to be there to give us a gold star for every milestone our kid reaches first: that it’s some kind of a race for our little darling to roll over, to sit up, to crawl, to walk, to formulate her first word or first sentence, to potty train, to sleep through the night, to reach whatever the next so-called developmental milestone is. Instead of remembering that, in fact, every kid reaches every milestone at his or her own pace – and that our little darling’s future is not going to be determined by whether or not she rolled over at 12 weeks, took her first tottering little steps at nine months, or spoke in fully fledged paragraphs by her second birthday.
It’s not a contest. Let’s stop trying to win.
(Feel free to reward yourself with stickers, though. I’m all for stickers. Like, for every day you manage to feed your kid and put her to bed in one piece, you get a sticker. Or a glass of wine. Whichever.)
6. Assuming the Worst
Understandably, having a child instantly ups the ante in the anxiety department – how can it not, when you have suddenly become responsible for the life of another tiny, dependent little human?
This only becomes a problem when it leads us to see bogeymen around every corner. When every stranger at the park becomes a potential threat. When every camera-happy tourist becomes a potential perv trying to sneak photos of our child. When every person who comes a little too close to our child becomes a potential abductor.
I’ve been in the world for a lot longer than a lot of the mothers I know (45 years, to be precise), and I still firmly believe that this planet of ours is a fundamentally good place populated by fundamentally good people. Yes, practise caution and common sense and safety for your kids. But don’t let yourself – and them – live in fear. There’s a lot of good out there, and you’ll never find it if you’re busy shutting out hypothetical danger.
Adding all of the above up, you come up with what may well be the ultimate deadly sin of modern motherhood …
7. Overcomplicating It
The greatest thing about being a 21st-century mother is having instant access to information about anything we could want to know about parenting. The worst thing about being a 21st-century mother is that same instant access. What with the ability to seek expert advice, to ask questions in online forums, to solicit wisdom from other moms in moms’ groups, to read pieces by experts and bloggers covering any topic we could imagine, we can inundate ourselves with information to the point of making ourselves insane.
And, along the way, we can forget to consult the best expert we have: ourselves. We’re moms. We inherently know stuff. We’re already armed with intuition, gut instinct and an overflowing abundance of love for our little ones that means we’d do just about anything to keep them safe and healthy and happy. That’s really all we need.
More importantly, if we’re busy researching and re-researching and cross-referencing the experts on the issue of the day, we’ll forget to take the time to do the stuff that matters.
Like play with our kids. And listen to them. And cuddle them and snuggle them and laugh with them and sing with them and dance with them and tuck them in at night knowing that whatever else we may or may not have done that day, we’ve loved them to pieces. And that we’ll be there for them again tomorrow to fix what didn’t work today.
We’re amazing, mamas. We really are. We could just make our own lives so much easier if only we could get out of our own way sometimes and let life happen.