The Not So Perfect Mother
10.27.11 What our children learn when we’re not our best selves
I am of the firm belief that children are put on this earth to teach their parents a thing or two about life. The biggest lesson they teach us is that we’re not perfect. In fact, sometimes, we’re soooo not perfect that we wind up teaching our kids some valuable lessons too – that perfection is over rated and sometimes the best we can offer our children is our humanity.
Let me give you an example. My kids recently called it to my attention that fairly often my facial expression registers as cranky. This makes them hesitant to approach me on important matters such as, say, permission to go somewhere I probably don’t want them to go or to watch trash on TV I’m certain they shouldn’t watch or to ask for money to buy something they seriously don’t need. The truth is, I don’t feel cranky all that often. At the moment when they think I’m wearing my cranky-face, I’m probably just relaxing or distracted and thinking about something entirely unrelated to my kids. I may be tired, contemplative, bored or simply not wearing any makeup but chances are, I’m not the least bit cranky.
The other day, my son asked me “What’s the matter mom, are you mad?” and I answered, “No, I’m not mad. I’m a little stressed out right now because it’s been a tough day. I have a lot on my mind, the dishwasher’s busted and my feet hurt, but I’m not angry.” “Huh, that’s weird,” he answered and walked off so baffled he forgot to ask for whatever it was he wanted from me.
It seems to me, my cranky-face is working for me, if it lets me off the hook from lobbying too many unreasonable requests. But if my go-to facial expression keeps my kids at arms length when they need to communicate with me, then maybe they have a valid point. Maybe my kids are teaching me that we’d all be better off if I put on a happy face more often.
My friend is pregnant with her second baby and can’t keep her hands off the ice cream. Her son is in middle school and while somewhat horrified that his mother is pregnant (“OMG, they’re so old and they still had sex!”), is also sweetly protective of her. He walked in on her in the middle of the day watching TV with a massive bowl of ice cream in her lap, and teased, “You totally killed that half gallon this morning, didn’t you?” She looked about as guilty as if he’d caught her with a half gallon of whisky and answered, “Ummm, well, not quite that much, but I just can’t help myself. It’s all I want in the world right now. I know I said I’d back off on it. I know it’s bad for the baby and me and I should be eating carrots and broccoli instead. I know I tell you not to eat so many sweets, but I JUST WANT ICE CREAM, OK?”
She was close to tears at this not-so-wicked confession and the underlying guilt she felt for calling in sick to work that day. Her son sat down beside her and said, “Chill out, Mom. It’s ice cream, not ax murder. You’re not killing any body. But why aren’t you at work?” “I don’t know,” she answered, “I just couldn’t do it today. I’m so tired. If I had to sit through one more stupid meeting….” Her son laughed and said, “Whoa, Dude! Mom! You called in sick to stay home, eat ice cream and watch Dr. Who reruns? There’s no way you’d let me do that. You gonna share?” She handed him her spoon and they spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying her mental health day together.
We’ll spend most of our children’s lives trying to be our best. We’ll give up sleep, food, fun, friends and a whole lot more in order to give our children what they need. But once in a while, what they really need is to see that their parents aren’t perfect; that we have down days and cranky faces. We eat too much ice cream and feel sorry for ourselves. Our feet hurt, we’re tired and sometimes our kids aren’t the only things on our minds.
When that happens, our children learn something valuable. They learn that their parents are just a couple of plain old humans, doing their best to make their way in the world. We’re not perfect, but we don’t have to be as long as we’re pretty good most of the time. Just remember the wise man’s words: “Chill out, Mom. It’s ice cream, not ax murder.”
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to email@example.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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