My New Year’s resolutions all have to do with motherhood.
Regrettably, before I can write one sentence, the topic gets dicey. Guilt, self-defensiveness, even panic, rise up like tidal waves.Of course I can be a better mom. Of course I want to be the best mom I can be. We all do. Motherhood is the most important, and hardest, endeavor most of us ever tackle.
We moms are inordinately unsympathetic towards ourselves. My observation is that, ironically, good moms are particularly harsh. The bad moms – let’s be clear, I’m talking only about outright abuse and neglect here – don’t seem to criticize themselves, so I don’t think New Year’s resolutions are going to reach them.
What about the rest of us, average-good-greatish moms? Will criticizing ourselves actually help?
I’m reminded of my lifelong quest to lose five pounds. When I was age 15, 20, 30, and 40, I desperately wanted to be just a little skinnier. Now, looking back at photos of myself at those ages, I looked great. Five pounds would not have improved my physique one iota.
Why couldn’t I see myself clearly, in real time? Is it possible that today, as I sit here ruing the extra five (ok, maybe fifteen) pounds sitting on my lap, I look just as good? Or good enough?
Same with motherhood. Twenty five ideas spring to mind about how I could be a better mom. Cook more nutritious food for my kids. Don’t yell at them so much. Teach them – without nagging – to clean up their rooms and care sweetly for their siblings. Gently encourage them to get better grades in school and donate more of their allowance to charity. Make them read for 45 minutes a day instead of 30!
But maybe my view of motherhood is like all those photos of me at younger ages. Could it be that I’m a great mom as is?
To test this theory, I took out an old album from one of my roughest motherhood patches. I was working fulltime, 10-hour days at the Washington Post. My three children were ages five and under. My husband seemed always to be on a business trip, far far away.
In my favorite picture from this time, I am lying on the couch with the kids crawling over me like ants. My eyes are closed – in bliss or exhaustion, it’s not clear. But I look happy, and my kids look happy.
My first thought, looking back in time, is: that’s a good mom. A tired one, but a good one. Just like those old photos of skinny me.
Five minutes before or after that photo of the four of us on the couch, I was probably yelling at the kids. I bet I fed them frozen fish sticks that night for dinner. And let them watch TV instead of reading T.S. Eliot.
Instead of making a list that feels like thinly disguised condemnation of all I’m not and may never be as a mother, I think a wiser, more useful New Year’s resolution would be to tape that photo to my mirror. Let it show me, because apparently part of motherhood is being blind to your own beauty, that I’m a good enough mom, without any New Year’s Resolutions.
Maybe the best promise to ourselves this year, as moms, is to seek acceptance, not perfection.