“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” Anne Lamott
Growing up, I was a quintessential mama’s girl and slept most nights snuggled in my mother's arms, something my dad still loves to tease me over. (Truth be told, to this day the sleepovers are my favorite part of our mother-daughter trips.) As a child, I loved to play “house” and I would recruit my little brothers to role play with me. As the “mother” of the house, I would proudly mimic my own mom, and I have to say the performance was uncanny.
Once I entered high school, my mother gracefully flowed between guardian and friend, the very best friend a girl could have. She was my confidant and spent (too many) hours listening to the trials and tribulations of teenage life, guiding me every step of the way. She was my biggest fan, front and center for every soccer game or school event.
Eventually I matured into a young woman and started playing “house” the real game. Recently, I’ve come to realize that the mimicking never really stopped. Her example was (and is) my compass for navigating adulthood. And because we share many of the same interests (killing an afternoon in TJ Maxx being on the top of that list), the older I got the more similar we became, until I reached motherhood.
Like many first-time moms, I felt completely overwhelmed by the awesome responsibility. In my case, I entered motherhood while simultaneously maneuvering a divorce, so my insecurities and feelings of inadequacy were heightened. Once I was on my own with my baby, I felt the constant pressure of too much to do with too little energy, causing me to lose patience with everyone, especially my son. The chronic sense of failure would often have me reminiscing about my own childhood. Living up to the standards my mother had set seemed like an impossible act to follow. Suddenly, we no longer seemed so similar. I felt different…less than…and I began to disconnect as my anxiety grew.
While I was still trying to identify and understand my own emotions, my mom already knew. Like so many times before, she threw on her cheerleader hat to support me through another one of life’s rocky roads. She shared some of the behind-the-scenes details from my childhood, details I couldn’t see through my rose-colored lenses. Turns out, while I was playing house or upset over the latest teenage melodrama, she was working through her own problems and doing her best to keep all the balls in the air. She wasn’t always prepared, and she didn’t know everything. She took life one day at a time, figuring things out along the way. And she emphasized that this is not only OK, this is reality.
As my idealism of the “perfect mother” began to fade, I felt more confident in my capabilities and a newfound appreciation for motherhood. It has allowed me to understand and love my mom deeper as a person. And through this experience, I’m learning that motherhood (and life) isn’t about perfection. Motherhood is about something much more awe-inspiring in its simplicity. Motherhood is a human being doing one of the most natural and beautiful things of all- taking care of another.
Even after I figured out how to navigate single motherhood, I was left surprised yet again. With my focus on balancing all of life's demands, I never thought about all of the happy moments my toddler and I would share, and how it would feel to experience them alone.