image from Bad Moms Movie

Being a “Good Enough” Mom

So I watched the movie Bad Moms last night.  I howled with laughter at the ridiculous but somehow accurate portrayal of what it feels and looks like to be a “good” mom in this day and age.  The running around from school event to sports practice to grocery store, always just a few minutes late for everything and always feeling like you are falling short of the perfection that you are striving towards.  Or, more importantly, failing to create that happy and loving relationship with your kids that is your top priority and the reason you are doing all of this running around and volunteering and packing healthy food and watching ball games to begin with.  Because, otherwise, what is the point of it all?  But sometimes we lose sight of that original goal and we start working towards perfection in each individual endeavor instead. 


Signing up for every volunteer opportunity that we can squeeze into our calendar.  Making the best gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan treat that has ever been served at the school bake sale.  And printing out cute little labels to adorn the packaging of the treats, just so everyone will know what ingredients you used and can verify its gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan-ness.  [I’ve actually done this.  If you know me at all, I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine!]  Signing your kids up for every extracurricular activity that they are either mildly interested in or that you think would be good for their academic, athletic or emotional development.


I know that I am guilty of this behavior.  I see a program at the library or at a local park and I think, “Wow, that sounds so interesting and my kids would really enjoy that topic and look…there is nothing else scheduled on the calendar for that two hour block of time.  What luck!  I’m going to sign up and they will be so excited!”  And then I wonder why my kids aren’t more grateful for all the things that I feel like I’m doing to enrich their lives.  But the truth is that these aren’t the things they are looking for from me.  All they want is my love and my time and attention.  Love is not a question.  But time and attention?  There’s not a lot of that left after trying to fit in all of the other stuff.   And I’m not sure that they feel my love in the same way that it feels to me inside.  Sometimes it gets lost in translation.  Here are two examples to illustrate my point.


Example 1:

We recently signed up our 8-yr old for an evening chess club at the library.  He had expressed an interest in learning to play chess and I thought this would be a great opportunity for him to learn chess and for the two of us to have some bonding time together without the other two boys around.  When we showed up to the first club meeting, all of the boys (there were no girls that signed up for the club) paired off with each other and started setting up their chess pieces.  Over the course of my son’s first two games against a neighbor of ours, I occasionally leaned forward and casually offered some advice about what options were available to him.  He seemed irritated by my interruptions and wanted nothing to do with my sage words of advice.  A little bit later, one of the younger boys who had never played chess before found himself without a suitable partner and the librarian asked if any of the parents would be willing to play with him and help him learn how the pieces move around the chess board.  Since no one else jumped at the chance, I offered to play against him.  My son did not say much to me for the rest of the night.  By the time we got to the car afterwards, he was in tears and I could not understand what went wrong.  After talking it out with him, I realized that he was expecting to show up to chess club and play against me the whole time.  He was upset that this didn’t happen and even more upset that I ended up playing with someone else’s child instead of with him.  I was frustrated that I had set aside this time to be with him and do something that I thought he enjoyed and it wasn’t enough to make him happy.  (Sometimes it feels like nothing I do is enough.)  Later, I realized that all he wanted was me – my time and attention.  I would have been better off setting aside some alone time with him at home and playing a game of chess together.  But somehow the days and weeks go by without me ever stopping to pull the chess board off the shelf and offer to play with him.  In my world, it needs to be scheduled on the calendar if it is going to happen. 


Example 2:

Last month, I made several phone calls to get our 7-yr old son accepted into an after-school science club that was meant for older kids because he had recently told us, “I don’t think I’m meant to be a sports guy.  I’m really more of a science guy.”  I was so excited for him to be involved in this science club and thought it would be such a great opportunity for him.  But his reaction to the first few classes was remarkably neutral and not at all what I was expecting.  I was disappointed again and felt frustrated that I was trying so hard and not making my kids happy.  After a long phone call and some great advice from my sister, I tried a different approach.  I searched through all of his at-home science experiment books and tabbed several pages of experiments that seemed manageable and did not require any special ingredients or supplies.  When he got home from school that day, I was able to light up his day by spending an hour with him explaining and performing fun science experiments together.  This made him so much happier than the school science club ever could. 


Maybe this all seems obvious from the outside but it doesn’t stop me from thinking that I need to sign my kids up for everything that comes into my email inbox that is related to their interests. 


In the movie, the main character gets tired of trying to do it all and feeling so stressed out and exhausted at the end of each day.  So she decides to be a “bad mom” instead.  She sleeps in later, no longer prepares breakfast for her middle-school aged kids, no longer does their homework projects for them, stops packing homemade lunches, stops showing up for every PTA meeting, brings in packaged donuts for the bake sale, and generally does what makes her happy instead of what all the other moms think she should be doing.  And, because this is a movie and it has a happy ending, both the mom and the kids find that they are happier when she lets loose a little bit and focuses on what makes her and her kids happier. 


Now, I’m certainly not advocating a completely hands-off, do whatever you feel like sort of mothering.  And I’m not saying that you should never sign your kids up for a sports team or extracurricular activity.  But I do think there might be a lesson to be learned here.  That maybe it’s okay to cut ourselves a break and “do” less but “be” more. 


Or to trust in ourselves and our connection with our children enough to realize that, even though we may not be an expert in outer space exploration or amphibian life cycles, we can still find ways to teach our kids (or learn along with them) instead of feeling like we need to find a workshop or class for them to attend to learn more about the subject.


So, in my own non-movie life, maybe there is some middle ground that I can find for myself and my family where I still support my kids in their interests but I stay focused on what truly makes them happy.   The trick at this age is keeping up with their ever-changing interests and knowing when they need more stimulation and interaction and when they just need to chill out and reconnect with you. 


And when even my best intentions feel like they are not enough, I will remember this quote:

“Sometimes when we’re beating ourselves up, we need to stop and say to that harassing voice inside – Man, I’m doing the very best I can right now!” 


And that is always enough. 

Lucy and the boys

Experiencing Life and Death

Our family had to say goodbye to our eleven-year-old dog, Lucy, this past week and it was way harder than I expected it to be.  Lucy was our first and only family pet and Joe and I got her just after we bought our first house together and three and a half years before we had kids.  So Lucy was a big part of our family and had been around for as long as the kids could remember.  Even for us, Joe and I realized that Lucy had been in our lives for a full third of the number of years we have been alive!  Yet, as with so many things in life, I am finding that the kids are showing me the way and also providing me with the comfort I need to deal with my grief. 


It is my belief – based on my observations of our kids as they have experienced life and death over the past few years – that when children are raised in an environment where they are educated about life cycles but also are not shielded from the death portion of the cycle, they will be more respectful of life around them and more resilient when they need to be. 


Over the past few years on our homestead, the boys have witnessed and even participated in the humane harvesting of some of our rabbits and chickens.  Just before we begin, we all say a prayer of thanksgiving for the animals’ sacrifice before harvesting them and putting the meat away in the freezer.  And when we serve the rabbit or chicken meat at dinner, the boys are both thankful and proud of their role in providing meat for our family.  


Similarly, as the boys perform their daily chores, they realize that by feeding the chickens and rabbits and helping them to grow today they are helping to put eggs and meat on the table tomorrow.  It’s a cycle of life that is more natural than we might be led to believe if we were not raised on a farm or around animals.


When we experienced what I like to call “The Great Chicken Massacre of 2016” back in the spring, I was the one to walk outside and find three chickens dead and mangled and two chickens badly hurt but still alive.  I couldn’t stop the tears from coming and I felt intense sadness for the chickens that I knew were in pain and would need help from us to stop that pain.  But the boys were there to comfort me and explain in more practical terms that this is the reality of life and death when you are raising farm animals.  And they were also the first ones to offer to help reinforce the chicken coop so that a predator could not gain access to our chickens again.  They respect and protect life whenever possible but also realize that death is an unavoidable part of life.


As we walked out of the vet’s office after being reassured that it was indeed time to let Lucy go, tears were streaming down my face and all three boys looked up at me with wide, caring eyes and then closed around Lucy and me in one big group hug.  On the drive home, they asked many questions about what was happening with Lucy and how she would die and what would happen to her afterwards.  (These sort of discussions about life and death are always much harder on me than they are on the kids.)  Our oldest son suggested a location for a burial plot in our woods and offered to help dig the hole.  The younger two offered to gather stones to mark the spot so that we could always remember where Lucy was buried.  And in the week that followed that vet appointment before we returned for the final appointment, I often found the boys petting Lucy and talking to her lovingly, saying goodbye in their own way. 


It is my strong belief and my deepest hope that because our children have been respectfully exposed to life and death from an early age, when they grow up and are faced with things like factory farms using inhumane slaughter practices or the overfishing of our rivers and oceans or human/animal cruelty of any kind, they will know immediately that these practices are wrong and might even have the courage to stand up and speak up and do something about it.  And when they buy meat at the grocery store or farmers’ market, they will understand and respect where that meat came from and be thankful that they are able to enjoy it in a meal.  And when they are faced with hard decisions or situations in their life, they will be more resilient and will be able to see the big picture of life and death on this earth.  We’re already pretty sure that at least one of the boys is going to be a biologist or ecologist or geologist…or something else with -ologist at the end of the name!  One of the other two is currently trying to decide between being a farmer or a priest.  Tough decision, kiddo.  But seriously, whatever they decide to do with their lives, I know that they will be (because they already are) some of the most caring, empathetic, respectful human beings that I have ever known.    


If you are nodding your head to anything that I’ve said here or just want to read a similar perspective in the news, check out this article by Joel Salatin that appeared in Mother Earth News magazine earlier this year.  He puts it much more eloquently than I did and with more experience behind his words.


Rest in Peace, Lucy.  We will remember and love you always.

last day - Lucy, Joe, and the boys


we miss you, Lucy!