An Underachieving Mom?

My cousin, a new mom, just emailed me last week, fed up with Mommy blogs and the expectations that come with them.  She’d been reading them for years before H was born, and suddenly all the perfection was making her feel bad:

It’s everywhere. I just read an Instagram for one where the mom already worked out and then later in the day dressed the baby up (he’s maybe a month or so older than H?) for playgroup in a Fourth of July themed outfit that’s pure white and looks like a sailor costume. With a straw hat tied around his head. On pure white sheets.

Oh, and she claims to be breastfeeding.

Do these people really exist? I’m sitting here holding H, who is now sleeping but was fussy all morning to the point where I haven’t eaten yet, and really just want to go back to bed and take a nap. The other day I literally held him for 5 hours in the afternoon and evening while he fussed over everything.  I hadn’t showered all day, was delirious by the end of it, and didn’t do any of the 5 loads of laundry waiting for me that day. H’s clothes have been in the hamper – clean – for a couple days. Don’t have hands free to fold them and my husband’s busy.

Am I the underachieving mom? I just think it’s insane that someone could accomplish all that in a day with a baby. And do 3 or 4 month olds need playgroup time??? Am I missing something??

Of course I stopped trying to peel My Little Pony stickers off my kitchen floor and called her right away for a full-on Everything to Someone pep talk.  You are the most important person in the world to your brand new baby!  That is a good thing!  You have kept him alive and thriving for 9 months in utero and two months out here.  Just feeding him is a full-time job at this point–and judging by his adorably chubby cheeks, you are rocking it in the feeding department.  Keeping a baby alive, healthy, and happy is an intense, all-in experience.  There is no “just” about what you’re doing right now.  Let perfection go with a new baby–I was in a newborn haze for a good 2-3 months with each of mine.  I reiterated that it’s ridiculous to think babies need peer socialization.  I also sent her Auntie Leila’s post on managing our postpartum expectations.  I promised to post pictures of the disaster my house was in post-vacation.  And she told me I needed to blog about how bad those kind of Mommy blogs are about selling us a warped picture of motherhood.

Our hallway looked like this for several days after vacation.  I would have taken more pictures, but I didn't find the camera for a couple days and lost the card reader for several more.

Our hallway looked like this for several days after vacation. We had to step over half-unpacked suitcases to get to the bathroom.  I would have taken more pictures, but I didn’t find the camera for a couple days and lost the card reader for several more.

Absolutely, by presenting pinterest-perfect pictures of the lives, sahm mommy bloggers have contributed to a general cultural misapprehension of what moms can and should do.  I certainly feel the temptation to sanitize my life on social media to make myself more together.  Looking at the pictures of my kids on this blog, you’d assume that my kids always have their pants on and their hair brushed, and that’s not accurate even as I type.  (I’m not going to post pictures of them unclothed, though, for privacy reasons.  Just know that I currently have one running around in just a diaper.)  Fellow bloggers, we need to make sure we’re not building up our ego in a way that’s going to devastate our friends who can’t keep up with the unrealistic life we’re portraying.  But we mom bloggers are only part of the problem.  One of the effects of full-time working mothers and daycare is to shift the general societal expectation of what a new mom can/should accomplish and to make moms who are being full-time caregivers feel guilty that they’re not “doing more.”  When we’re being told that our income-earning counterparts are doing everything we are, plus a paying job, we try to come up with evidence that we’re being productive, too, thank you very much.  The problem with the something-to-show-for-my-time mindset is that it belittles the value of relationship formation (and the time that process takes).  I’m not saying that working moms can’t have good relationships with their kids, of course, but rather that building emotional bonds and developing loving, trusting relationships are not easily checked off a to-do list or showcased on instagram.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: all of us are limited by 24 hour days.  You can’t do it all.  Sure, there are women who claim to be doing everything in career AND motherhood, but even articles which claim to show supermoms who make it work admit that “women with big jobs earn enough to buy balance, in obvious and less obvious ways” (such as paying for grocery delivery, cleaning ladies, and household help to do the cooking).  A parent is just as capable as a non-parent of working hard for pay, and some believe that we make better employees.  But someone somewhere always has to be caring for the baby, unless you’re propping up a bottle in the bouncy seat and sticking him in front of the tv for hours, which I’ve always found especially tragic.  If you are the one caring for that new baby, you have nothing to prove to anyone–you’re doing a full-time job “just” nursing, cuddling your baby, and recovering from pregnancy and delivery.  If you can manage to work out, shower, make gourmet meals, dress your child in freshly-ironed, white outfits and take artsy pictures while he takes reliable three-hour naps, good for you!  If you can’t, the rest of us would like to welcome you to a world where not doing all that on a daily basis does not make you an underachiever; it makes you a normal mom.

Anna and I will be talking more about this topic next month, when we’ll be starting a series on identity and motherhood.  But in the meantime, when you first were home with your kid(s), did you struggle to compare yourself to overachieving mommy bloggers?  What would you say to a new mom who is feeling like a slacker “just” doing the basics?

Posted in For New Moms, Having It All, Importance of Mothers, Philosophy of Motherhood. Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post. Leave a trackback.

4 Responses to An Underachieving Mom?

  1. Anitra says:

    I did struggle with that when I was a new mom (who am I kidding, I still struggle with feeling I should be able to “get more done”). The hardest part for me was the double whammy of being BORED while still not getting things done. Let’s face it, newborns are not that interesting, they are just demanding.

    But honestly, you make your priorities. Number 1 is keeping the kid(s) healthy, fed, and clothed. If you can keep up with that as a mom of a newborn, you are doing fine. When you have a little more time, you decide what’s the next-most important thing to you… and you let the rest go.

  2. Leila says:

    Thanks for sending her the link to my post 🙂
    So forgive me, but this sparks a little public service announcement:
    Instead of looking at those anxiety-provoking mommy-blogs, how about seeing if you can have a St. Gregory’s Pocket, where moms could get together occasionally to be In Real Life encouragement and support for each other?
    I couldn’t have made it through my decidedly UN-perfect baby years and beyond (what with homeschooling and all the energy needed for living on one income) without my friendships. How to find these friendships? Just takes a little effort. We’ve helped you figure out how. Very low-key, very rewarding. Friends for you now, friends for your kids later!
    Here’s the post about it: http://www.likemotherlikedaughter.org/st-gregs-pockets/

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