From High Heels to Stroller Wheels: Downshifting into Motherhood
Bethany, a good friend of mine, and new-ish mom, tweeted this week:
I have generally done well at everything I work hard at. This has not prepared me for how often I feel like a failure as a parent.
She and I were raised to be self-sufficient, hard-working, persistent people. We both have careers (ok, I HAD a career…once…and hope to again someday). As women in the workplace, we found certain truths to be self-evident:
- Show up. You’ll get credit for just being on time.
- Look well. You’ll get credit for looking the part.
- Speak up. You’ll get credit for having an opinion.
- Be kind. You’ll get credit for building relationships.
- Be confident. Believe in yourself, and others will too.
The only problem is, none of these, not even one, apply to being a parent.
We don’t get credit for being on time or looking the part. Our kids don’t care if we think we believe we have all the answers. We can be endlessly kind to our children and, as any of you out there with toddlers or teens can attest, they don’t respond in kind.
It’s a whole new ball-game, this.
When my first child was born I was Vice President of a small but notable advertising agency. I was the top billing account executive at the firm and had held that title for several years. I managed a small team. My clients respected my opinion, the owners respected my opinion, and my colleagues respected my opinion. I had clout. I had an office, with a door AND a window, and I got to “do lunch” with cool people at cool places, and enjoy margarita parties every Friday in the art department.
I was somebody.
I managed to keep on being somebody at work while taking care of a much bigger somebody at home, but the slippery-slope to Mommy Failure had already begun. Four years later came Number Two. It was while on maternity leave with Number Two that I started throwing baby books in the garbage can. I didn’t even recycle them! When Gary Ezzo told me that IF I did X then my baby WOULD do Y, I started to got really hacked, and maybe even a teensy bit crazy. Liars! Liarrrrs! My baby did whatever the heck he wanted to and whenever he wanted to and there was no rhyme or reason for which he did. He didn’t fit any personality profile in print…he was scrappy – in personality, and yes, in looks = pimply and scrawny and angry all the time. I loved the little stinker, but oh, how I felt like such a loser. I couldn’t make him happy!
It’s just one small person. Why can’t I make him happy? Why can’t I meet his needs?
She was lookin’ kinda dumb with her finger and her thumb in the shape of an L on her forehead…
No credit for showing up. No credit for even having taken a shower (which I hadn’t). No credit for having clout, or bringing in several hundred thousand dollars last month. Nada. It meant nothing to this wee, scrawny tyrant.
Breastfeeding was just one of many areas of failure. With my first, I couldn’t produce enough. With my second, he refused to latch appropriately and so I pumped. And I pumped and I pumped and gosh darnit I filled my doggone freezer with so many little bottles I felt like a rock star.
I can’t make you stop crying, babe, but I can feed you. Oh, yes I can.
For every bottle I was able to store away, I salvaged a scrap of my wayward self-confidence.
From high heels, briefcases, and board room negotiations to the small victory of squirreling away an extra 14 ounces today…
It was a long way to fall.
In one sense, a bit like stepping off a speeding train. Or even just stepping off one of those people movers at the airport. You stumble those first couple steps, awkward gait until everything evens out.
Only kids, they keep changing. So the adjustments and the awkwardness? It just keeps going. I’ve finally realized that I am good enough. Mom enough, as Time magazine so graciously reminded me. I am Mom Enough.
Over time, like any sailor can attest, you learn to roll with the waves. Do I still fail as a parent on a regular basis? Oh yes! But I guess I’m just used to it. You fall down, you get back up again.
I love the page in my Mary Engelbreit calendar that reads:” There is no way to be a perfect parent, but there a million ways to be a good one.” I’m ok with that, now.
I’ve been doing this for almost 9 years. I’m sorta used to being off balance. Bethany? She’s only had a year of practice. I know she’s a great mom, and she’ll continue to be a great mom. She just hasn’t got her sea-legs yet.
It’ll come. I promise, it’ll come.