There’s No Such Thing As Perfection

I was pushing M in the swing at the park yesterday. In the swing next to us was a chubby, blonde toddler who was at M’s adjusted age, 16 months. My daughter is talking more. She’s slimmer. She looks like a girl, not a baby, in a tiny body. Yet, she doesn’t really walk. People are always curious about her age, because she doesn’t look like she’s 19 months old. And she doesn’t look like her 12-month body either.

I chatted with the other mama about all sorts of things, and we were talking about communication, which with toddlers can be so frustrating. I told her that J barely talked at 2 but that my niece knew 60 signs before she could talk well. I said it, while shaking my head, as evidence of how different children are, but I think she took it as so many new moms do, as evidence of her failings as a mother. She looked down and said, “That’s amazing. I wish I could do that. I’m trying to work from home and care for my daughter, so I just don’t have time for things like that.” I didn’t at all mean to point out her weaknesses or discover her insecurities as a mother! I had just admitted that my son barely said a word at age 2! So, I quickly said, “Oh, well my niece just took to it. She loved the Signing Time DVDs and learned so many signs from them.” I wanted to add that she was doing just fine as a mother. She was pushing a lovely, healthy, and obviously happy baby in a swing at the park, so she should be kinder to herself. I wanted to tell her that one of my insecurities is that I wish I could incorporate more projects and fun activities into our daily lives, but that the kids are so young and so active right now (especially my little troublemaker, M) that I’m exhausted just caring for them. At the end of the day, the house is filthy, the kids are filthy, and I’m splayed on the couch, totally done-in, and I have nothing to show for it. But, when did the bar for us become so high? As mothers, we’re not good enough if we stay at home or if we work or if we play constantly with our kids or if we let them entertain themselves or if we have structure or if we provide creativity. We’re always critiquing ourselves.

You know what? I dearly love my mother, and she wasn’t perfect. But, I wanted her when I was sick or sad or scared. I called her name at night, and I knew she would come running. I loved how smooth her cheeks were, how young her baby face (even in her 40s) was. She was feisty and hot-headed and sometimes strict with me. She wasn’t always on the floor playing with me, because she was cooking or cleaning or caring for my baby sister. But, she was always in my corner, she was always my advocate, and I always had the sense that she was nearby, just a call of “Mama?” away. Sometimes, as mothers we’re so worried about the job we’re doing that we forget that our kids don’t expect perfection. They expect love and for us to just try our best.

As preemie mothers, we feel even more guilt, because of all the things we feel we put our kids through in those early days and weeks and months. So, I’m sensitive to the other mama on the playground, pushing her daughter and thinking, “Another thing I’m not doing. Signing with my baby.” But you know what? None of us is perfect. We’re all just trying to do our best.

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