by Robin Koogle
I recently took my two month old to a local university to participate in a study on infant social behavior. As part of the study, I had to answer questions on several different surveys regarding his development and my emotional health as a mother. Most of the questions were pretty benign, clinical, and clear to understand.
Yet, there was this one question that stuck out like a sore thumb:
“Do you feel you are better than the average parent?”
Of course you have to answer it within a scale. The scale was something like: Much worse, Somewhat worse, The same, Somewhat better, Much better.
So, what would you answer?
At first, my ego wanted to answer. Of course you are better than the average parent. Look at you…
I stopped that train of thought right in its tracks. How do I define better? Spending more time, providing more healthy food, absorbing more tantrums with grace?
In the scheme of the survey, I thought, the answer to this question probably won’t matter much. But somehow, it was bothering me that “they” were asking such a question. I tried to think of what kind of person would answer “Much worse”.
I tried to think of what this survey was trying to understand. As the school psychologist at my job says, the numbers tell a story.
Wouldn’t every parent answer, or at least want to answer, “Much better”? What would be the answer that most represents your health as a parent, or mother?
For the sake of time, I quickly answered, “Somewhat better”. I made the assumption that they were probably trying to screen me for postpartum depression or anxiety, and since I feel pretty okay, I decided this would best represent how I feel about myself as a parent of a new baby.
I went on with my day, but the question still nagged at me. Am I somewhat better than the average? Who is the average parent? Is it one of my friends? Or is it just an idea?
I’m not sure if you can measure how good a parent is, especially since standards are different depending on your culture, socioeconomic status, neighborhood, family, or friend circle. And let’s not get started on social media, because if I imagined comparing myself to the picture perfect moms who look like the Little House on the Prairie version of Vogue--baking bread, sewing clothes, with perfect hair and makeup all the while--I’d never measure up.
If I had to compare myself to my closest mom friends, I there are days I would say I’m somewhat worse or even much worse than they are. Let’s face it: as a mom, it’s so easy to feel like you are the only one who can’t get it together sometimes.
If you are a mom of triplets, this feeling might be multiplied. It can be hard to keep up with one or two kids, not to mention three. It’s no wonder that family, friends, and strangers alike may wonder how in the world you keep up!
There are more unsettling times when I find myself passing harsh judgments on moms when it isn’t necessary. I’m not one to say all judging is bad because it isn’t. There are times when judgment or conflict is necessary to stir the pot and push us to our next level. But harsh judgments on strangers at the park or grocery store only serve to waste energy.
Yet, intellectually, I know that I’m not as bad as I think I am when I see moms who seem better than me. Nevertheless, I think there is a utility to comparisons. It can be a mirror to strive for, in a way. When I see things other moms are doing that I like and think I can do, I try my best to do it, too. Isn’t that what Pinterest is all about?
The other day, I was talking to a good mom friend of mine about how postpartum is going. I told her how we are still working on figuring out a routine with my kids. My oldest is two and a half but somehow we haven’t quite implemented the whole daily routine thing yet (*gasp*).
It’s come to a point, though, where my toddler needs a routine (common sense, right?). I thought I could slide by, following our feet each day. It’s not working and, frankly, I’m ready for a routine myself. I know it should be obvious, but I have this rebel streak in me, especially when it comes to parenting. I thought I could go on instinct and intuition forever, taking baths when we feel dirty and going to bed when we feel tired. There’s nothing really wrong with the approach, except that for my daughter and I, it causes tension and unease to not really know what’s coming next. So, we are working on it, little by little.
All this to say, when I look at myself as a mom, I can look at a critical thing like a daily routine and say wow, I’m awful. But I can also look at other things I do, like make my own pikachu ears and tail for my daughter’s costume, and feel like I’m not so bad after all.
After all, my children are safe, well fed, and loved very much. Add the plethora of toys, books, playground trips, and you’ve got a pretty happy family (most of the time). Is there much more to ask?
Motherhood (or fatherhood) can seem so complicated at times, but really it boils down to some very basic ingredients. If your children are fed, clothed, safe, and loved, then you are doing a great job, in my book. Maybe some would call that “average” and anything beyond that “somewhat better”.
I felt guilty afterward that I didn’t answer that I am the same as the average parent. If I try to think of all the parents I know, I would say that we are all just trying to do our best with what we have, including our awareness of ourselves. We don’t always have the benefit of tough love from a close friend to nudge us in a better direction. We always have ourselves, though, so it is essential to notice when you feel something's not quite right.
Parenthood is the ultimate coming of age trial. It will trigger you, test you, and break you down. But in the end, if you don’t let it burn you up, you will be better for it. Whether or not I am better than the mom next door, I don’t care. The path of learning is nonlinear, and sometimes we take a few steps back. All I know is I am better every few months or years, and better than the person I used to be, thanks to these tiny, needy, sweet, sticky, lovable human beings.
Robin Koogle lives in Miami, married, and mom to 2 kids. She is an elementary school counselor in downtown Miami, yoga teacher, ramen enthusiast, former barista and video game dabbler. You can follow her at https://robinkoogle.wordpress.com and https://medium.com/@robinkoogle/ where she writes and shares about the stuff she loves.
ROBIN KOOGLE // Blogger