No Such Thing As a Perfect Parent
Nobody ever said parenting was easy, but we certainly don’t make it easier on ourselves … and I’m no exception.
I am a 38-year-old mother of three — almost-11-year-old twins McKenna and Max, and 8-year-old Shea — I am somewhat of a perfectionist in certain aspects of my life, and I am slightly competitive too. (People who are reading this and who know me are having a good chuckle right now.) So, OK … I am VERY competitive. Those traits have served me well in school, in sports, and in my careers, but as a parent? Let’s just say that sometimes those traits can cause a little anxiety, quite a bit of insanity, and a whole lot of guilt.
I used to handle my downfalls as a parent much better when my twins were younger. How was I supposed to know that if the childproof lock on the food cabinet broke that it would result in a “fluffernuttered” black lab? Or that if you leave Vaseline on a changing table outside your two-year-old twins’ bedroom that their heads would glisten for days, or at least until you and your husband discovered that vinegar would return their hair back to a normal sheen?
But after Shea was born, and all three kids began to get older, my parenting mishaps seemed to matter more, almost as if one little parenting mistake could set my kids on a path for failure, destined for a life of crime. And that’s when the guilt, that I know every parent has experienced at one time or another, began to set in …
Was I “really” doing the best job that I could as a parent? Was I reading enough to my kids? Playing enough? Teaching enough? Was I yelling too much? Expecting too much? Giving too much? The guilt became overwhelming and it was beginning to depress me … and as my husband has often said, “If mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” (I think that statement alone puts undo pressure on the mothers of the world, but that’s an entirely different topic.) But really, it was true — for a while.
My latest parental guilt fest occurred about a month ago, when I was watching an episode of Oprah. (No, I don’t have time to watch it daily, but I do TIVO it and try to sneak an episode or two in every weekend.) The episode previewed the new “Food Inc.” documentary about the food industry, and what we as a society were putting into our food and in turn, our bodies. Suddenly, the words of my friend, who I consider a “stereotypical hilltown” mom, were echoing in my brain: “Our kids only get one body in this lifetime, so I’m going to make sure I give my kids the best one I can.” She was talking about eating organically, and doing without the extra chemicals and preservatives that have become a major staple within the food industry. She wanted to ensure that she did everything she could to ensure that her kids were feeling the best they could physically and mentally.
It wasn’t until Oprah brought this issue to my attention (after all it’s not an issue unless Oprah is talking about it, right?) that I began to realize that the way I had been feeling lately (generally bloated, lethargic and unhealthy) was probably a direct result of what I was putting into my body. And if I was feeling that bad and my kids were eating the same thing, how were they feeling and whose fault was it for them feeling that way? The alarm bells were resonating in my head … Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
The guilt then was followed by anxiety and I began to perseverate on all things related to food, health, the environment … basically everything that I felt my highly clichéd image of a “hilltown mom” would and should care about. And my “perfectionist” self was failing at that task, and failing miserably. In fact, the closest we were to being a “hilltown family” was our demographic. Yes, we do live in a Berkshire County hilltown, in the middle of nowhere, with 100-plus acres of woods, fields, ponds, streams, coyote, moose, deer, bear, and any other type of wild creature imaginable, just beyond our front, back and side doors, but that’s where the similarities between our family and our hilltown neighbors ends.
We don’t “raise” any livestock, (the only free-range animals we own being our two black labs and a cat, and I don’t think our children or the animal activists would appreciate our serving them on a platter in the name of organic eating), because my husband has an aversion to farm animals after growing up on a farm taking care of pigs, chickens, rabbits, beefalo, you name it. We have plenty of acreage for a vegetable garden, and even attempted one last summer, but last year’s tomato blight thwarted our efforts and we are a bit hesitant to try again. Our family is not the best example of how to conserve either. We barely recycle and we are definitely not environmentally aware, energy-efficient or the least bit green. But in the best interest of our children and our families health my husband and I have agreed to give this green thing a try, and even though we pride ourselves on being strong, unique individuals, we would really like to make an effort to conform to our hilltown expectations.
And so it begins … our journey into “greendom”; our attempt to be kinder to our environment and our bodies; our quest to be healthier in general; and our desire to be (after 13 long years of poorly faking it up here) a real Hilltown Family (farm animals excluded). Stay tuned …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Bevan McIlquham
Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. firstname.lastname@example.org