Why My Kids Need Me To Be Imperfect
I dropped my 8-year-old off at her classroom today and the last thing I saw was a little hole in the center of her shirt and a head full of tousled, knotted hair. Our most recent uninvited house guests, the head lice, effectively caused an embargo in our parts on all hairbrush usage.
A few weeks ago, the head lice swept through our school district like wildfire, jumping with unabashed glee onto any little girl unfortunate enough to have long and luxurious locks, much to the horror of every self-respecting mother in the school. After the great poisoning ordeal necessary to rid ourselves of said guests, I had yet to make it to the store to purchase new grooming tools. Needless to say, there’s a lot of tangled little girl hair in our house. We make our sacrifices right?
The next stop today, dropping the 5-year-old off at her preschool class, she herself sporting wilting magenta- and teal-colored feathers in her hair (her design) affixed with a pipe cleaner no less. It was only then that I happened to overhear another mom, announce in a singsong voice “It’s picture day today! We’re so excited!”
I’ll admit, I knew it was picture day—in the most watery and distracted, trying to hold too many details in my head all at once kind of way. Of course the messenger mom had her child perfectly groomed in beautiful new clothes, a curly ponytail, and a matching bow (a matching bow! Where does one even source these things?). And here I am, one kid already in class with rip in her shirt and one kid with feathers in her hair and chocolate milk smears dried on her cheek. This is what parenting is like for me. It’s one big cornflake getting stepped on in the kitchen with a bare foot. The kids are still alive—don’t get me wrong. They even seem to be thriving despite the fact that their socks never match (this is not an exaggeration).
I found the above excerpt in my writing files. I began writing this piece five years ago. My girls are long past the snarled hair phase (I’m relieved.) We haven’t had a visit from the head lice since then (thanks be to Jesus), and I’m still a pretty imperfect mom (the socks remain unmatched). My eldest, now 12, had a meltdown last night; she had worked herself into such a worried and nervous state about the day she would have to move out of the house and away from us.
I knew that this was one of those moments in motherhood where I was being presented with an ideal opportunity to comfort her and walk her through the truth: that in actuality, chances were quite high that she’d be absolutely delighted to get the hell out of our house in six years. I kept thinking this. I kept taking deep breaths on the verge of dropping my straight up wisdom on her, but god, I was so tired. We’d had such a busy weekend, and all I wanted to do was just sit in silence and zone out on my phone.
So instead of using the moment to bring us closer and open up a conversation about confidence in the beauty of the future, I kept repeating—in between scrolling on Instagram and watching my youngest do constant and jarring gymnastic flips on the floor in front of me—“It’s OK, babe, it’ll be fine, seriously. You don’t need to stress about that. Now will you please go brush your teeth and get ready for bed?” (aka, oh my god, hypothetical problems are not real problems! Please just leave me alone for five minutes!).
I blew it. Yep, kind of like picture day. I see women on social media who seem to have this motherhood deal dialed. They do things like take their five kids to the park and manage to write (and post!) a blog entry while the kids are playing. There are moms at our schools who actually have the time and energy (and desire!) to put together enriching activities like after-school computer clubs. And then there’s me. I’m just over here getting the warning letter from the school regarding chronic tardies and their disruptiveness to the classroom, or pushing the daughter who wants to cuddle off my lap because her elbows are too sharp and her wet hair is too cold.
I admire (and I’m jealous of) the moms out there who can pull off the things that I cannot. Although when it comes to my personal life, are those the things that really matter? Do I need to meet a certain number of perfectionistic standards—my own—every week? Do I need to be available for activity development, deep conversations, and cuddling every single time? I used to think I did, like somehow well-brushed hair and perfect advice would eventually save my children from experiencing any trauma in their lives.
I don’t believe that anymore. In fact, the older they get, the more apparent it becomes that a little bit of imperfection in their home lives actually makes it easier for them to deal with disappointment in their public lives. So it’s a learning process for all of us. I’m learning to let my imperfection flag fly, and they’re learning that they can take care of their own needs. Or at least they can rest assured that in six to eight years when they (hopefully) want to move out into the world on their own, they’ll be able to handle it—even if they’re running late and wearing mismatched socks .