I have many women friends who are highly accomplished professionals. They are lawyers, doctors, engineers, educators. They have risen through the ranks in their respective careers. They have made important decisions as part of their duties, sometimes involving life and death situations. They are unafraid of hard work and challenging problems. They stride through life with confidence. It is only when they have accepted the role of mother that they falter just a bit. To a woman they each admit that parenting is the hardest job that they have ever held.
The demands of being a mom begin with the first signs of pregnancy. A woman’s body begins to change to accommodate the life growing within. For me the first sign that something was happening was the most extreme heartburn that I have ever experienced. Not long after those first symptoms I was afflicted with morning sickness, a general feeling that I was going to puke my guts out. The sight of certain foods made me even more ill. My high level of energy seemed to become diminished with each passing week. I never strayed far from bathrooms because my bladder seemed to be continually full. Different body parts became sore and I slowly but surely grew to feel like a beached whale. My fingers and ankles swelled to three times their normal size and I developed a limp with my left leg because the baby was lying on a nerve. In spite of all of the aches in my body I was always delighted whenever I felt the flutters and kicks that told me that I was carrying a life inside my body.
I had my children when I was in my twenties. I was thin and wiry back then, a healthy woman who had no problems either carrying my babies or birthing them. So many women are not nearly as fortunate. They have to spend weeks immobilized by bed rest. They require the surgery of a Caesarian section rather than a more natural delivery. By the time that their children are born they themselves are in need of recovery time but instead they are thrown into the whirlwind of routines required to care for an infant. They must awaken for feedings even in the middle of the night. There is little rest. Even with help the tasks of mothering are often daunting in the first weeks and months of a newborn’s life. So many things can and sometimes do go wrong. The mother experiences a roller coaster of emotions, often caused by hormonal imbalances that render her unable to maintain control. It is the best of times and the worst of times.
Those early days when mother and child bond are forever etched in a mom’s memory. No matter how many years pass she always recalls the unmitigated happiness of holding her tiny baby. Those sleep deprived nights become beautiful moments. The chores that were at first exhausting evolve into a routine, her way of life. She begins to react to the demands of her children with love. It is what a mother does. She learns how to snatch a bit of rest here and there in between the caring and the teaching and the loving. She juggles hundreds of tasks in a single day but still worries that she may not be doing enough. Her children become the driving force of her life and even as they become more able to fend for themselves she thinks of them constantly and always will.
The years go by at breakneck speed. The first day of school comes all too soon. The child begins to slowly but surely push away to gain independence. All moms want this for their children but still feel twinges of regret that their roles and relationships are ever changing. They lie awake at night wondering if their actions are building strong and healthy children who will be able to navigate the world. They chastise themselves for the wrongs that they believe they have inflicted. They are their own worst critics.
It is little wonder that the summer comedy hit Bad Moms is resonating so well with mothers across the country. Entire theaters are filled with women laughing hysterically and relating to so many of the over the top jokes. I went to see the film last week with a group of twenty ladies of all different ages and each of us found moments in the movie that spoke to us. The truth is that we are often judged the most in our roles as moms. Society in all eras has inflicted its mores and customs on mothers, often resulting in making them feel inadequate to the task. The truth is that human beings cannot be perfect all of the time. None of us have the fortitude to be without flaws and somehow when we exhibit them in our parenting they are magnified.
Bad Moms points to our tendencies to compare ourselves to others and to standards that may actually make us feel uncomfortable. It also draws back the curtain on the realities that each of us struggles to overcome. Our children are not automatons. They are individuals just as are we. As mothers we have to understand when it is right to curb our ambitions both for them and for ourselves. We have to know when it is okay to pamper ourselves and when we must be available for our children. Raising children is a continual balancing act that requires wisdom and sacrifice but not a total surrender of ourselves.
When I was a young mother life was admittedly a bit simpler. I thought nothing of allowing my children to enjoy free range time around the neighborhood. Nobody was going to judge me for telling them to play outside on a hot summer day. I did not feel any pressure to entertain them or to enroll them in a never ending schedule of activities. I gave them swim lessons and took them to the park. They learned how to roller skate and ride bicycles. When they expressed an interest in dance I found a teacher for them. I purchased art materials and let them experiment. They ran around in their bare feet and often had dirt on their faces. If anyone was thinking ill of me for being lax they never mentioned it. My biggest concern was always that I might be spending too much time on my teaching job. I worried that my girls might think that I cared more for my students. All in all I felt comfortable that I was doing my best but it involved far less than the requirements that I see being placed on today’s young mothers. Bad Moms addressed the pressures that are now overwhelming so many women who are striving to give their children the best possible environment. Sometimes today’s mothers are losing themselves in the process.
Parenting is admittedly difficult. Those of us who agree to accept such a responsibility would do well to support one another rather than constantly critique. We all want our children to do well and that means that we should suspend our judgements and competitive spirits so that we might work together. We don’t all have to rise before dawn to run around the neighborhood track so that we might remain thin. Sometimes that extra hour of sleep does way more for our well being. Our meals don’t have to be ready for the Food Network. Sometimes microwaving some chicken nuggets gives us more time to sit and talk with our kids. If the house is strewn with toys and laundry we can make a game of quickly placing everything into neater piles. Our children do not need to have the latest phone or the most stylish shoes but they do need us. Moms have enough to worry about without including the insignificant in the agenda.
I am more proud of being a mother than anything else that I have ever done. I know without anyone telling me that I was as imperfect in that role as anyone who has come before or after me. I woke up each morning and did my very best. I had to learn how to forgive myself for all of the mistakes. My girls are now in their forties and I am still their mom. These days I have to remind myself that my new job is to support them as they raise their own children rather than to tell them how to do things. They are incredible mothers so I guess I did something right although I’m not sure that I should take full credit. The reality is that all of us are the product of our mothers, our fathers, our extended family members, our teachers, our churches, our entire histories. We are all in the game of life together. Bad Moms reminds us to focus on the things that truly make our families strong.