I recently shared a dinner with a childhood friend who is a successful TV producer and the loving mom of a beautiful toddler. Over our umpteenth plate of sushi, we tearfully confessed to each other that we felt we were failures -- no good at life and probably terrible mothers to boot. The evidence of this? Our messy houses and the fact that we don't cook dinner as often as we'd like. No Gwyneth Paltrows, we. Oh yeah, and both our toddlers can work iPads.
As soon as we said it, we couldn't help but express our anger at the sentiment. The tyranny of perfection: What joy does it ever bring to our lives?
And still, I daily bemoan the fact that I fall so far short of the picture I had in my head when I envisioned being a mom. That mom cooked homemade bread with her child in a sun-dappled, perfectly organized kitchen. She engaged in creative play that included only colored silk scarves and toys made from sustainable wood sources. She never yelled or guilted or bargained. She blissfully went to mommy-and-me yoga with her equally blissful infant. And of course she still had plenty of energy left over to have a rocking love life after the baby was asleep.
I'm not sure when exactly I imagined that I would work, what with all the organic seasonal cooking and nightly sing-alongs and wild sex I had planned. And as for the mommy-and-me yoga, I dare you to try it with my kid sometime. My son makes yoga into a contact sport.
Little by little, I've watched nearly every aspect of my ideal mom self crumble under the weight of real life. I thought about this last night as we watched our favorite Yo Gabba Gabba episode for the millionth time. Before I actually had to figure out what I was going to do with my kid when my husband was out of town and I had to fix dinner or make a phone call or do the dishes, I considered TV to be the ultimate evil. I imagined that thirty minutes of Sesame Street a day would inevitably turn into having a brain dead thirty-five year old who still lived at home and watched Battlestar Galactica reruns all afternoon.
Well, my kid is still three, so I can't tell you what the outcome is going to be. But I can tell you this -- we watch TV around here. Not a ton, but probably an hour a day most days.
So when I sit at dinner with my friend and say that I'm a failure, in some ways it's true. I failed at being the kind of mother I dreamed of being. But this failure, like most of my failures in life, has brought me more wisdom than success ever would have. Because when I was still the perfect mother (before I was actually a mother) I was tremendously judgmental of other parents -- for allowing TV or plastic toys or fast food or any one of a host of other things that I considered to generally signal the downfall of humanity. I'm forced to reconsider these judgments when I find myself watching Toy Story with a fleet of fighter jets lined up on the coffee table in front of us.
I now think that these transgressions are a lot less important than I once imagined them to be. More important is the fact that I have softened as a person and my heart has opened. I am less inclined to judge others now, and that seems more relevant to parenthood than my ability to keep my child's life free of media and my garden weeded. I have found nothing in my life as humbling as being a mother. And I would far rather model humility for my son than perfection.
Jillian Lauren is the author of the memoir, "Some Girls: My Life in a Harem." Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review Daily and Vanity Fair, among others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, musician Scott Shriner, and their 3-year-old son. She blogs about motherhood, adoption, writing and being a rock wife at http://www.jillianlauren.com/blog/. Her novel, "Pretty," comes out in August 2011.