I believe that moms should be imperfect.
This is a difficult belief for me to embrace, because for a long time, I thought my mom was perfect. My mom was gentle and loving and soft-voiced. She baked bread. She took dinner to sick neighbors. She ironed pillowcases. Don’t snort at that. If you remember the feel of a freshly ironed pillowcase under your tired, soft cheek, you know how comforting it is. I remember that feeling, but my kids won’t, because I don’t iron their pillowcases. A perfect mom would iron their pillowcases, right?
In another display of maternal perfection, my mother never yelled at us, something many of my friends remarked on. I, on the other hand, occasionally turn into an adult specimen of that all-too populous species, the full-throated domestic shrieker.
There’s more. It’s all bad. I do not have dinner on the table at the same time every night, I do not insist that we always eat together, I have been known to serve my children meals in which fresh vegetables are most conspicuous by their absence.
In my own defense, I have to say that I have a terrific range of ridiculous accents and bad jokes, the employment of which can often diffuse a tense Mom-Kid interaction. Also, my kids can tell me just about anything or ask me just about anything, a freedom I never felt with my mom. I’m a fabulous baker. And I’m always ready to read to them.
But my mother’s calm, centered way of parenting eludes me. I continue to focus on my inability to be like her. Once I asked my mom if she’d ever thought that having kids was just too hard. She looked at me as if I were speaking Martian. “No,” she said. “I never thought that.” Then she changed the subject.
Not long after that short conversation, I began to remember some things from my childhood. Like how when my mom was angry, she withdrew. Her voice grew clipped and brittle. She’d give us the silent treatment.
This memory was a huge relief, because it meant she wasn’t perfect after all. While my mistakes are out there for all the world to see–and hear, if you’re close enough–hers were buried so deep they were subterranean. So while my mom looked perfect on the outside, she wasn’t. And if she wasn’t—well, then, I don’t have to be, either.
Maybe someday my daughter’s friends will say to them: I loved coming to your house. Your mom was so goofy! She laughed a lot. And she was always baking something for us to eat.
And my girls will say, Yeah, but were you ever around when she was mad? It was awful!
At least, I hope that’s what happens. Because I don’t want to burden my daughters with the illusion of having had a perfect mother.
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