The post below originally appeared on Huffington Post and while it focuses on parenting – especially parenting young children – I think that it is something that can apply to all of us and to many aspects of our lives. (P.S. Sorry for the occasional swears, Mom.)
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
— Jill Churchill
Listen. We’ve been seeing each other for quite some time now — at the playground, in the grocery store, waiting outside gymnastics class. I will admit, there have been times when I think I might have seen that look in your eyes — that I’m-in-over-my-head look — and I know that you’ve seen it in mine. Yet we nod and smile at each other. We ask “how are you?” and we respond with “Fine.” But even as the words pass my lips, I know that “fine” is a lie, and yet I say it, and you say it, because we know that’s what we should say.
We say we’re “fine,” but some days, what we really mean is this: We are exhausted, overwhelmed and have no idea what we’re doing. We might be sick of racing around town trying to find the perfect treats for the class party. We might be exhausted because we stayed up until midnight trying to create the perfect birthday party invites, researching Halloween costumes online, returning work emails and packing lunches for the next day. We might feel frumpy and unattractive because we haven’t had the time to put on make-up for a week and we haven’t gotten a real haircut in half a year. We might feel guilty because our grocery cart is much heavier on the sugary cereals, frozen pizzas and processed foods than the organic strawberries, quinoa and plain yogurt. We might worry about our kid who is struggling with math or the one who is having trouble making friends. We might go to bed at night, so very tired, with a mental list of all the things we didn’t get done running through our head and we might wake up, still so very tired, only to be greeted by tiny voices demanding waffles and the shrill tttrrrriiiingggg of new emails adding to our albatross of a to-do list. We see the other parents who seem to be moving effortlessly through their day, wearing smiles and manicured nails, going to baseball games and returning home to their pretty houses and we think, how do they DO it? Why do I feel like I’m barely treading water?
Coursing through our veins, amidst the rat race and all the competitive parenting, is the stinging electric current of our loud and nasty inner voice saying, You’re not good enough and You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing and You’re totally fucking this up. And underneath all this noisy inner criticism and doubt, all we really want to hear is a quiet but reassuring voice saying, You’re doing a good job, a damn good job.
Of course, we can’t say all of that, so we just smile and nod and say we’re “fine.”
Like I said, some days (most days?) we’re exhausted, overwhelmed and have no idea what we’re doing. I know it and you know it. As parents today, we are spending more time with our children and working harder and longer hours than ever before. And if the pressure to attain work success and be the World’s Best Parent weren’t enough, now we’ve got Pinterest and Facebook and all the other online ways of “keeping up with the Joneses” to remind us of all the things we could — nay, should — be doing better.
So, here’s what I propose: let’s just quit the bullsh*t. Let’s stop saying “I’m fine” every goddamn time someone asks how we’re doing. Let’s ask for help and be kind to ourselves. Let’s let ourselves fall apart every now and then. Let’s quit this sport of competitive parenting. Let’s stop trying to do everything and be everything and, for the love of all things holy, let’s just stop these conversations about whether we can or can’t “have it all” (news flash: no one can). Let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and be happy as good enough parents.
I know what some of you might be thinking. Our kids deserve our best not just “good enough,” you might say. You can’t be a lazy parent, you might remind me. Parenting isn’t about taking the easy way out, you might lecture.
Yes, yes, I know. But let me be clear: being a good enough parent does not mean loving or caring for our children any less. It does not mean teaching or disciplining or guiding our children any less. It just means less pressure, less perfection and less bullsh*t. Good enough parenting isn’t about taking the easy way out or letting our children raise themselves. It’s about putting an end to all of the internal and external pressures to do everything and slapping a smile on our face while we’re doing it. It’s about not saying “I’m fine” when what we’re really feeling is exhausted, scared and confused.
Let’s be honest, some days it is tough enough to get out of the house on time for school with everyone wearing shoes and matching socks; we don’t need the pressure to pack cute and creative bento box lunches or make sure the kids are wearing clean underwear. Hey, at least they are wearing underwear, right? As this dad pointed out, it’s hard enough to discipline our kids and teach them to be kind and honest; why not cut ourselves some slack and be a little kinder with ourselves?
Your kid went to school with his teeth brushed and shoes tied, but hair unbrushed? Good enough!
Dinner has been pizza and baby carrots for the past three nights? Good enough!
Date night consists of wearing your good yoga pants (or maybe just the clean ones), putting the kids to bed a little early and binge watching Mad Men? Good enough!
You’ve packed the kids’ backpacks with Lunchables and Capri Sun for the past week? Good enough!
You’ve only showered twice this week? Good enough! (Isn’t that what washcloths and ponytails are for anyway?)
Your exercise routine consists of chasing a toddler around the house each morning to get his shoes on? Good enough!
Your kids only bathed twice this week, one of which was a chlorine bath during swimming lessons? Good enough!
Parenting is hard, damn hard, with a very high learning curve. Every day I learn a little more and grow a little more as a parent, a wife and a woman. And every day I feel this strange mixture of awe, confusion, frustration, love and inspiration. But while improvement is a good and noble pursuit, seeking perfection is an unrealistic and futile fool’s errand. And, honestly, all of this pretending that parenting isn’t hard, that it isn’t damn hard, that it doesn’t feel like a kick in the crotch some days, is freaking exhausting, if you ask me.
Parenting is tough enough without all of the competition, judgment, one-up-manship, and the quest for perfection. Maybe we could just assume good intentions in others and ourselves and carry on? We’re all trying to raise good and kind people. We’re all loving our kids in the best way we can and with all of our hearts. And we’re all asked to fulfill many roles and wear many hats — spouse, friend, sister or brother, son or daughter, friend, coworker, employee, boss, community activist, volunteer or what-have-you. And with all of these roles that we play and all of the hats that we wear, it’s hard not to feel like we’re failing at something, at everything. As a good friend once said to me, “Each day I fail at something, it’s just a question of what.”
We have enough stress and pressure and commitments, why do we insist on adding to the list of failures because we don’t feed our kids an all-organic, sugar-free diet or sew handmade Halloween costumes or assemble Pinterest crafts on the weekends? Why do we continue to try to be the perfect parent and the perfect employee and the perfect spouse? Why do we continue to smile, nod, and say we’re “fine?”
Well, I can’t do it anymore. I’ve stopped trying to be the perfect parent; I’m striving for good enough now.
And, you know what? As soon as I stopped focusing on being a perfect parent and more on being a good enough one, I heard those quiet words that I had longed to hear for so long: You’re doing a good job, a damn good job.
And you know what else? So are you.