Listen, parents. There’s something we need to talk about. We’ve been seeing each other for quite some time now – at the playground, in the grocery store, waiting outside gymnastics class, racing out of the office to catch the commuter train. We ask each other “how are you?” and we respond with “fine.” But even as the words pass my lips I know that “fine” is a lie. And yet I say it – and you say – because we know that’s what we should say.
But what we really mean is this: We are exhausted and worried and frustrated. We are sick of racing around to five stores trying to find the perfect treats for the class Halloween party. We are exhausted because we stayed up until midnight trying to create the perfect birthday party invites, returning work emails, and packing lunches for the next day. We feel frumpy and unattractive because we haven’t had the time to put on make-up for a week and we haven’t gotten a real haircut in half a year and we haven’t showered since yesterday morning. We feel guilty because our grocery cart is much heavier on the sugary cereals, frozen pizzas, and processed foods than the organic strawberries, quinoa, and kale. We go to bed at night, so very tired, with a mental list of all the things we didn’t get done running through our head and we wake up, still so very tired, only to be greeted by tiny voices demanding waffles and the shrill tttrrrriiiingggg of new emails adding to our albatross of a to-do list.
We see the other parents who seem to be moving effortlessly through their day, we think how do they DO it? And that question is usually followed by our own loud and nasty inner voice saying, You’re not good enough and You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing and You’re totally fucking up this parenting thing. And underneath all that noisy inner criticism and self-doubt, all we really want to hear is a quiet but reassuring voice saying, You’re doing a good job, a damn good job.
But, of course, we can’t say all of that so we just smile and nod and say we’re “fine.”
We’ve been going through this routine for long enough now so here’s what I propose: let’s just quit the bullshit. Let’s stop saying “I’m fine” every goddamn time someone asks how we’re doing. Let’s ask for help and be kind to ourselves. Let’s let ourselves fall apart every now and then. Let’s quit this sport of competitive parenting. Let’s stop trying to do everything and be everything and, for the love of all things holy, let’s just stop these conversations about whether we can or can’t “have it all” (news flash: no one can). Let’s stop trying to be “perfect” parents and be happy as good enough parents.
I know what some of you might be thinking. Our kids deserve our best not just “good enough,” you might say. You can’t be a lazy parent, you might remind me. But let me be clear: being a good enough parent does not mean loving or caring for our children any less. It does not mean teaching or disciplining or guiding our children any less. It just means less pressure, less perfection, and less bullshit. Good enough parenting isn’t about taking the easy way out or letting our children raise themselves. It’s about putting an end to all of the comparing and pressure to do everything and slapping a smile on our face while we’re doing it. It’s about not saying “I’m fine” when what we’re really feeling is exhausted, scared, and confused.
Let’s be honest, some days it is tough enough to get out of the house on time for school with everyone wearing shoes and matching socks; we don’t need the pressure to pack cute and creative bento-box lunches or make sure the kids are wearing clean underwear. Hey, at least they are wearing underwear, right? It’s hard enough to discipline our kids and teach them to be kind and honest and caring people; why not cut ourselves some slack and be a little kinder with ourselves?
Dinner has been pizza and baby carrots for the past three nights? Good enough!
Date night consists of wearing your good yoga pants (or maybe just the clean ones), putting the kids to bed a little early, and binge watching Mad Men? Good enough!
You’ve packed the kids’ backpacks with Lunchables and Capri Sun for the past week? Good enough!
You’ve only showered twice this week? Good enough! (Isn’t that what baseball hats and ponytails are for anyway?)
Your exercise routine consists of chasing a toddler around the house each morning to get his shoes on? Good enough!
Your kids only bathed twice this week, one of which was a chlorine bath during swimming lessons? Good enough!
Parenting is hard, damn hard. And all of this pretending that it isn’t hard, that it doesn’t feel like a giant kick in the crotch some days, is freaking exhausting. Parenting is tough enough without all of the comparing, competition, judgment, one-up-manship, and the quest for perfection. Maybe we could just assume good intentions in others and ourselves and carry on? We’re all trying to raise good and kind people. We’re all loving our kids in the best way we can and with all of our hearts. And we’re all asked to fulfill many roles and wear many hats – spouse, friend, sister or brother, son or daughter, friend, coworker, employee, boss, community activist, volunteer, or what-have-you. And with all of these roles that we play and all of the hats that we wear, it’s hard not to feel like we’re failing at something, at everything. As a good friend once said to me, “Each day I fail at something, it’s just a question of what.”
We are learning as parents a little bit every day, but this process has a very high learning curve and comes in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way. While improvement is a noble pursuit, perfection is a futile fool’s errand. We have enough stress and pressure and commitments, why do we insist on adding to the list of failures because we don’t feed our kids an all-organic, sugar-free diet or sew handmade Halloween costumes or plan elaborate birthday parties? Why do we continue to try to be the perfect parent and the perfect employee and the perfect spouse?
I, for one, cannot do it anymore. I’ve stopped trying to be the perfect parent; I’m striving for good enough now.
And, you know what? As soon as I stopped focusing on being a perfect parent and more on being a good enough one, I heard those quiet words that I had longed to hear for so long: You’re doing a good job, a damn good job.
And you know what else? So are you.