Is motherhood a contest?
When I was a younger mom, there were places that I would go with my children where I felt like we were on display. Or in some kind of competition. Storytime at the library. Church. Homeschool group meetings. Places where other moms would be able to see – and judge – the fruits of my parenting and homeschooling based on how the kids behaved or how interesting I was to talk to. I loved the idea of hanging out with other moms…but in reality, I sometimes hated it. It often felt like so much pressure that I could barely make myself leave the house. I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious when I was around other families, because it seemed like everyone else was a supermom, with superkids, and my kids and I were just barely clinging to the very last shreds of normal.
Falling short and getting discouraged
Everywhere we went, I met other moms who had cool jobs, grew all their own food, paid attention to the news, and still found time to volunteer for everything. Their kids were adorable, wore nice clothes, and played a bunch of sports and instruments. I couldn’t help but wonder…was I the only one noticing how out of place we were? I used to get really discouraged, and even though I loved my kids and I loved spending time with them, I would start freaking out about how we needed to change everything we were doing so that we could catch up to everyone else.
Then, one day, I had a mom at one of these mom gatherings compliment me on how patient I was. (Probably because all of my kids were running around screaming while hers were quietly eating a homemade casserole in hand-made, matching outfits). Now, if you know me – if you really know me – you know that I am not patient. I may be more patient than I once was, due to the nearly endless opportunities I’ve had over the last 18 years to practice, but I would still never refer to myself as a patient person. There are many days where it takes every ounce of self-control I possess to keep my temper in check. But to this mom, I appeared to be so patient that she felt moved to compliment me.
She even asked me how I did it (I said I had no idea).
I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation, and how this mom was so admiring of a quality I didn’t even think I possessed. So I wondered…why, when I was with other moms, did I spend so much time obsessing about myself and my kids and how we were being perceived? Why did I feel so inferior to other moms? Why did I think that I had to be so many things – smart, confident, organized, well-dressed, well-informed – to be liked? Why couldn’t I let others have their strengths and gifts, and let myself have my own strengths and gifts…and be content with that? Why did I want ALL the strengths and ALL the gifts and get envious and discouraged when I (repeatedly) discovered that I can’t possibly be or have it all?
As usual, I’m being an idiot
Why didn’t I focus all of that energy on getting to know and encourage the other moms? Were they feeling insecure too? Were they looking at me and imagining that I had it all together, while they were just barely hanging on? Why were we all so scared of each other?
I wanted to be friends with these women, but I didn’t think they’d like the real me. And, a part of me wanted to be BETTER than them at something…at everything, in fact…because that’s the only way I thought I could feel comfortable with them.
And then, I realized that I was being an idiot. People do not want to be friends with perfect people. They want to be friends with REAL people – people who are honest with themselves and about themselves. People with humility and a sense of humor about how flawed they really are.
I know now that if I want to be someone’s friend, I will eventually have to be vulnerable with them. I will have to admit that, yes, I always have a stockpile of frozen pizza and potato chips and marshmallow cereal on hand. I am not teaching my children Latin, I sometimes throw recyclables in the trash, and I occasionally forget the name of our vice president.
One of the best things I can do when I’m around a bunch of other moms is to expose some of my flaws. If I admit that the kids had Pop Tarts for breakfast and we’re all wearing yesterday’s underwear, maybe I’ll stop being someone else’s supermom and start being their friend.
Nobody needs another supermom; everyone could use another friend.
Totinos Pizza is its own food group
Last week, we went to my favorite homeschool group. It is chock full of sweet, intelligent, down-to-earth, Jesus-loving women. I used to be afraid of them. We usually bring our own lunches, which my kids never eat (instead, they beg their friends to share their lunches, because by anyone’s standards, everyone else’s lunches are better than ours). So I decided that instead of our usual peanut butter and jelly, I’d bring frozen pizza – clearly a step up, since it’s hot and contains more food groups. I started chatting with another mom who was in the kitchen getting her family’s lunch ready to go into the oven, so I asked her what she brought. What was it? Homemade turkey pot pie. With homemade crust. And turkey they had raised themselves. So did I spend the rest of our time together feeling embarrassed and inferior and imagining how disgusted this other mom must be? Nope. We laughed, and her kids ate her wonderful pot pie, and mine completely ignored the pizza (because they had already filled up on Oreos and potato chips), and we enjoyed the rest of our day together.