From as young as I can remember I’ve wanted a family with several kids. At night I would lie awake with thoughts about my future husband, kids, and home. In my mind I had it all laid out on how amazing the kids would be and what great parents they would have. Being a stay at home mom was at the top of my list of careers (along with being a lawyer, though I didn’t know how I would manage to be both), and it was exciting to fantasize about this world I created.
This article first appeared in The Fibromyalgia Magazine, July 2019. Get the digital copy of the magazine from Pocketmags.
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My Dreams of Being a Mom
As I got older and developed various health issues minimizing my chances of becoming pregnant, my dreams of having kids slowly evaporated. But not entirely gone. I held on to a sliver of hope that if I was truly meant to have kids, then I would. Maybe not the four I dreamed of, but at least one.
Years later my dream of having kids grew brighter than ever after discovering my husband and I were pregnant with our first child. I learned that pregnancy, if obtained, would alleviate many of the symptoms of endometriosis. Turns out, it’s true. The pregnancy had complications later in the third trimester which led to an early birth, but up to that point it was a great pregnancy.
By the end of January 2012, we had four children ages six, five, two, and newborn. My hold on hope did not fail me, and over the years I alternated between career and stay at home mom. All my dreams had come true and I was living the life I had fantasized about when I was young.I'm not the #mom they want me to be, and that's okay. #fibroparenting #beingfibromom #fibromyalgia #parenting Click To Tweet
But I Wasn’t Happy
However, I was not happy. Not truly happy and certainly not enjoying life. Sure, there were happy moments and I loved the little family, my husband and I created together. But I was suffering with so many other health issues while trying to mimic the way other moms were living and acting.
All the other moms seemed to have it together. No one seemed to be struggling the way I was, and I was barely holding on. Fatigue, pain, anxiety, and depression was an all consuming presence and relentlessly plaguing my body and mind. There was no escape, so I thought, and the only way to cope was to keep up with the other moms. I didn’t know how, but I knew I must.
Society Defines ‘Mom’
You see, there are all sorts of standards forced upon moms, and constant demands of living up to whatever society has defined as ‘the typical mom’. Moms respond by doing whatever it takes to meet (exceed, rather) all these expectations of outrageous proportion while maintaining some sort of illusion of keeping it together without any faults, flaws, or rest, apparently.
The expectations of not only raising kids that are well-mannered, well-behaved, and achieve academic excellence, but to also meet the demands of motherhood in the form of volunteering, baking, and saying YES to it ALL while doing it.
In other words, society has created the elusive ‘typical mom’ which is often interpreted as the ‘perfect mom’ – the ‘role model’ or cookie cutter shape that all of us moms must conform to.
What does the ‘perfect mom’ look like?
Does this ‘perfect mom’ have:
- a trim body?
- well-kept, brushed hair?
- make-up daily?
- an outfit free of stains, rips, any bodily fluids not belonging to yourself?
- or matching shoes and purse?
The ‘perfect mom’ is expected to:
- volunteer at charity events.
- not only attend PTA events, but to be an active member/volunteer.
- participate in baking events.
- have a model home at all times.
Let’s discard this stereotype and get real here. The perfect mom is comparable to that of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. We know they aren’t real, but each every Christmas or whenever a tooth falls out we work hard to maintain this illusion of what we KNOW isn’t real. Which is funny because we know the ‘perfect mom’ doesn’t exist – or even in the realm of possibility – yet we help maintain this illusion.
Playing the ‘Perfect Mom’ Game
As a result, a majority of moms are constantly judging, criticizing, and condemning other moms. This leads to moms perpetually exhausting themselves with having the cleanest house, cooking the made-from-scratch meal every night, volunteering for every event, baking for every bake sale, hosting every get together, on and on. What are we competing for? Why are we wasting this energy to play a game where no one wins?
Back when my kids were younger and I was unhappy, it was because I was partaking in the ‘perfect mom’ game. I nearly broke myself trying to measure up to this unjustly appointed mom model. For six long, stressful years I struggled to have the best meals three times a day, the cleanest house with not one thing out of place, kids always dressed in their best clothes, volunteering when I knew I was already over committed in other areas, etc.
Did I succeed in any category? Yep! I sure did! I succeeded in being the most stressed out, exhausted (physically and spiritually), and on the edge all the time. These charades I was playing was affecting all of my relationships with my husband, kids, mom, dad, sister, and grandmother. I was rude, snippy, and thoughtless to everyone in my immediate circle. I was told that being around me was like ‘walking on eggshells’. Ouch. The truth really does hurt at times.
I Succeeded at Failing
In reality, I was neglecting my marriage when I should have been holding it up. My kids were cranky and unfulfilled when they should have been just having fun. Those moments in your kids’ lives that you don’t want to miss was being seen through a smokescreen of striving for perfection.
My sisters and parents? Well, they didn’t come around much and I don’t blame them. For a while, on two separate occasions, I lived in the same city as my parents, grandmother, and sister, but rarely saw them or visited them willing rather than out of obligation.
And for what? FOR WHAT?? To live my life where I’m constantly worried about how I measure up against the mom next door? The mom I don’t even know her or her kids’ names, much less what kind of mom she is? Or not even care if we could be good friends because she might be better at this mother competition than I am?
Purely ridiculous. Insane.
The Turning Point
In the winter of 2012 – 2013, it all came to a tipping point. And by tipping point I mean it all came crashing down around me. All that I had worked to maintain shattered right in front of me. Literally, I crumbled and sobbed right there in the middle of my bedroom.
I wept for the real me, the one I was hiding inside for fear of rejection or ridicule. I cried for trying to be someone I wasn’t or couldn’t be. For pushing myself to the literal breaking point for the opinion of others. I wept for the mom my kids deserved and for the wife my husband married.
In the midst of it, I stopped and listened to myself. What I heard was:
What was happening to me?
Who was I becoming?
Why was I playing this game every single day?
What satisfaction was I reaching at the end of the day?
Who was really benefiting from it all?
Did having the best cupcakes at that one event makes me a better person?
Or did cooking from scratch every night empower me in some way?
Or maybe having the cleanest house among my neighbors was giving me the right to stand a little taller.
No. It wasn’t. Actually, none of it really mattered in the larger picture. I was causing more damage to myself and those around me more than helping them.
I’m Not the Mom They Want Me To Be…and I’m Okay With That
Everything I was doing up to that point went against all that I thought encompassed motherhood. Being a mom is supposed to be about enjoying our kids, laughing with them, and applauding them to be themselves. About uplifting and encouraging our mom friends because we all need it time and again. Building friendships, being who we truly are, and inspiring our kids to be the same. Motherhood should be about helping you to be the best mom you can be and making you stronger with the unity of other moms in motherhood.
It’s about passing your secret stash of chocolates to the mom struggling because you truly understand and empathize with you were once there and will be again. It’s about looking at the mom with the screaming child in the frozen aisle of the grocery store and saying, “it’s okay – they get tired and stop screaming eventually” with a knowing smile because we’ve ALL been that mom at one time or another. And wouldn’t it have been grand to have another mom tell you it’s going to be okay?