I often find myself facing two paths as a mother: Do I do the minimum and call it good, or do I set out on a quest to be the best?
Most often, I choose the first path — the one that means using boxed cake mix, buying store-bought pizza on Mondays and turning the cartoons on in the afternoon. The second path is the one that has given birth to things such as Pinterest. Oh, I have wandered down this dangerous path from time to time, staying up late to laminate a new chore chart, planning weekly educational museum trips and making homemade garlic seasoning.
But I am beginning to think this quest to be the best mom is making motherhood so much harder than it has to be. For example, a friend of mine recently sent her first child to kindergarten. She was appalled by the number of back-to-school gift ideas on Pinterest. She didn’t know these types of teacher gifts were in vogue now, and she was adamant that she would not be sending in a homemade pencil holder saying, “You’ve got the Write Stuff.”
I had to laugh because I was right there a year ago when my first started school. It seems like everywhere I turn there is some crazy new normal making motherhood more of a competitive event than a state of being.
Sack lunches must have an adorable theme such as “Under the Sea” with hot dogs shaped like squids and goldfish. Santa isn’t even good enough anymore. Oh no, you have to have an Elf on the Shelf to truly capture the spirit of the holidays. Don’t forget to design your leprechaun trap for St. Patrick’s Day, make Valentine’s cards with a real lollipop coming out of your child’s picture while also sewing up a hilarious and topical Halloween costume.
Now I’ve been sucked into this “best mommy” trap many times. Once I decided to throw a Candyland-themed birthday party and ended up forcing my family to all dress up like characters such as King Candy. I also made this cake with my sister:
If you’re like me, you immediately rolled your eyes at that picture and then 10 seconds later said, “That’s awesome. I’m doing it for the next birthday party.”
But after that party, I decided such over-the-top birthday hoopla could not be an annual event in our house. It simply isn’t where I want to spend my time while my children are young.
I decided not to get sucked in by ideas on Pinterest or things I see other mothers do. I must choose wisely how I spend these precious years. I now try to pick only activities and projects that my children and I can do together or that make me happy. If I’m doing it because of some need to be the best mom, I won’t do it. If it brings me more stress than happiness, it’s out.
But that’s easier said than done. This summer, for example, I got it into my head that I was going to have an educational theme for every week of the summer. We would do art projects and activities to go along with each theme and then culminate each week with a trip to a museum. I know that sounds a little stressful, and I don’t even really love museums, but I thought it was worth it because I would be THE BEST MOTHER OF ALL TIME. Other mothers would be awed and other children would wish I was their mother. If the summer ended with my children carrying me on their shoulders while chanting, “Best Mother Ever,” then so be it.
Yea. We went to one museum. We read one book about planets. I now have a bunch of guilt and a bag of unused supplies in the storage room.
Here’s my problem: I want to win at mommydom. I think all moms have this desire even if they don’t admit it or even recognize it. We are smart, talented women, and many of us left successful careers where we were encouraged to be the best. Now we are home with our kids and we still want to win. That’s not a bad thing. For the most part, we have admirable intentions. We want to give our children the best childhood, and we want our children to have the best mom. We want to win at motherhood for their sake.
But if there is a winner, there has to be a loser. So here’s the sad part: That loser isn’t other mothers; it’s our kids. You know, the kids who would rather draw with chalk all summer than go to museums. Kids would rather have a mom who got enough sleep and isn’t cranky on Christmas than the hilarious hijacks of the Elf on the Shelf.
It’s the kids who lose when moms compete — with each other and with ourselves.
The fact is, the kids don’t care if the garlic seasoning is homemade or the cake is from a box. In their minds, there is no competition and no best mom. There is only mom. They don’t love the crafts or the parties or even the holiday traditions. They love me for who I am and how I make them feel.
And when they kiss me and tell me they love me, I win.