From the moment we hear our child’s first cry, we are immediately encouraged to perform the role of long-suffering, ever-vigilant, hyper-nurturing and self-sacrificing mother. It begins with the breast or bottle debate and doesn’t end until we are put to rest. Each decision we make is put under a microscope and analyzed to see if it fits with the social construction of motherhood.
Instead of bonding over our common struggles, women often take the opportunity to rip each other apart. A school of piranhas can sometimes be more friendly than a group of mothers engaged in a “more motherly than thou” contest. We seek to find fault with someone else’s behaviour in the hope that the little mistakes and regrets that we make on this journey are somehow not so bad.
One would never realize that the first Sunday in May is for honouring mothers from watching the commercials that have been airing on television. Like every other supposed holiday it has been turned into a great consumer fest:
The greeting card, jewellery and flower industry go into over drive as they try to convince everyone that the best way to honour their mothers is to buy a card filled with words written by others, or flowers that will die in a week. The various industries play on your emotions, reminding you of all of the sacrifices that mothers make throughout the year to convince you that buying their item will be the strongest expression of appreciation and love that you can make
Meanwhile, now that the weather is getting warmer and park season has started, the community gathering and public shaming of motherhood has once again begun. How many times have we sat in the park and the conversation turns to how some woman isn’t watching her kids closely enough, or the kid with the grape juice stain on their shirt becomes representative of the various ways in which his mother is failing? A smudge on the cheek or some dirt under the fingernails can be enough to get you permanently labelled the neighbourhood slacker. It can make you scared to leave the park bench that you are sharing with these women as you know the minute you stand up, they’ll be gossiping about the fact that it’s been six months since you’ve had your second child and you are still carrying around the baby weight.
Nothing about being a mother is easy. As you run around the house trying to grab supplies because for some ridiculous reason you decided that you could be in two places at once and even the dog seems to be in on the conspiracy to make you prematurely grey, knowing that you will receive those silent looks of judgment as you once again arrive late to your daughters ringette practice and your sons soccer game is enough to spur you into hyper drive, ensuring that once again you will forget something. It is almost a certainty that whatever is most needed like a helmet or soccer cleats will be left securely on top of the fridge or on the dining room table in plain sight.
Our focus of attention is on that one mother who seems to have it altogether. You know who I am talking about – the one whose purse is loaded with an item for every emergency ever imagined in the history of motherhood. From snacks to antibiotic hand sanitizer, the woman seems to be right out of Stepford. No matter how many times you congratulate yourself on taking a shower that day or feel pride in the fact that you actually found the time to do more than a courtesy brush of your hair, her perfection makes you just want to sit in your own eternal time out.
The secret to surviving the sideways looks and the barely audible moans at your lack of togetherness is remembering that behind closed doors, no matter how perfect your neighbourhood mommy of the year appears to be, she too has emergency chocolate hidden for when the world seems about to implode. Yes, it can be less than pleasant when you check on your child after realizing that he or she has been quiet for way too long, to discover that they have decided to wash their siblings hair in the toilet or have coated themselves in peanut butter but hey, it’s nothing that a quick soak in the tub cannot cure. Acknowledging that you are not unique and you are not a failure if your house does not look like a page out of Home and Garden can invoke a sense of freedom and comfort greater than taking off our bra at the end of a long stressful day – if you just embrace the insanity.
Decide from the beginning that no matter how hard you try and no matter how much you love your children, at some point they are going to embarrass you. It would be so much easier if children would simply not speak until they learned about self-censoring, but you won’t be the first mother to have her business broadcast by an overly chatty four year old.
The next time that you are in the mall and you see a four year old going positively nuclear while a desperate mother hisses instructions through her teeth, instead of rushing to judge or thinking about how you would handle the situation differently, take the time to be thankful because the next time it could be you with over tired, hopped up on sugar, little demon masquerading as your child. The wonderful thing about admitting defeat is realizing that while you will forever be imperfect and fanatically troubled as your childs future psychiatrist will attest to, at least you are not alone on the insanity ride of a lifetime.