Parenting

Dear Sanctimommy: You’re Not the Perfect Mom

Protesters burn an Israeli flag in front of the U.S. embassy during a demonstration in Aukar, east of Beirut, Lebanon, on Dec. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

You’re standing in the grocery store aisle trying to remember if you already have an unopened bag of Goldfish at home or if you need to buy more, when she finds you. She takes one look at your messy-faced toddler, chewing on your grocery list in the seat of the cart, and draws up short. Her eyebrows skyrocket and her nostrils flare. Then she smiles.

“You know those are really high in sodium, don’t you?” she says, placing a protective hand on her own toddler’s head and gesturing to the Goldfish. You make some sort of noncommittal noise.

“I bake my own Goldfish crackers,” she continues. “They’re super easy. They only take four hours and my daughter loves them. Let me give you the recipe. You shouldn’t be giving those to your kid.”

Ah, the sanctimommy. You know who I mean — that mom who thinks she’s perfect. Or rather, who wants you to think she’s perfect. She shows up in the comments section of the article you’re reading about how to get your toddler to sleep through the night. (“Being awake with your baby is your job. Enjoy that extra time with your little one. It’s fleeting.”) She pops up out of nowhere when you pull out your bottle of formula. (“You know breast is best, right? I exclusively breastfed my oldest until she was 35. You should really consider ditching the bottles.”) She stalks your Facebook wall to leave comments on all of your pictures. (“If you’d been watching your child instead of taking that photo, the paint wouldn’t be all over the floor.”)

Poor Sanctimommy. It’s not really about the Goldfish or the sleep or the paint, is it? It’s okay, you can tell me. I know, it’s hard to admit it. But you’re safe here. I won’t tell. It’s all about that fear you have, right? That worry that just won’t go away. We all have it, from time to time. You’re not alone. Here, I’ll say it for you. You’re worried you’re not a good mom. Isn’t that it? In fact, you’re so worried, that the only way you can feel better is to prove that you’re a good mom. Over and over and over. At my expense. In the grocery store. While I’m wrangling my toddler. And trying to figure out what’s for dinner.

But, Sanctimommy, there’s a flaw in your logic. You see, when you tell me that staying up at night with my toddler is my job, you assume that will make me feel like a selfish jerk and realize what a great mom you are for doing the thing I’m trying to avoid. But I don’t feel that way at all. I feel sorry for you. I’m sorry that your priorities are so skewed that you don’t realize that a well-rested mom and a toddler with clear boundaries are good things. But I won’t tell you this. I’m not a sanctimommy.

Next Page: Why You’re Not the Perfect Mom, and Why That’s OK.

When you offer me your Goldfish recipe, you assume that I’m thinking, “wow, that’s amazing! I wish I had time to bake my child a healthier snack option. I feel terrible for offering him these poison crackers. You’re such a good mom.” But I’m not. Not at all. If I had four hours to spare, I’d pack up the kid and the regular Goldfish and head to the Natural History Museum, or the zoo, or somewhere else fun. So I feel sorry for you. I’m sorry that you feel so worried about what your child eats that you prioritize baking crazy snacks over fun. But I won’t tell you this. I’m not a sanctimommy.

And when you accuse me of being negligent and letting my kid spill paint everywhere, you assume I’m going to realize that good moms like you never take their eyes off their kids for a moment. But I’m not. I know that sometimes I have to look away and sometimes paint spills. When that happens, we learn about being more careful and we clean it up together. So I feel sorry for you. I’m sorry that you feel that, in order to be a good mom, you can’t let anything bad happen ever. That sounds exhausting. But I won’t tell you this. I’m not a sanctimommy.

See, it’s the telling me that gives you away, Sanctimommy. It’s the needing me to know and the wanting me to want to be like you. Because, if you honestly like being awake in the middle of the night with your toddler, then great! You go, girl! And if making tiny fish out of dough is what floats your boat, rock on! But when you tell me I’ve got to do it too – that’s when I know you’re worried. That’s when I know this isn’t really about me at all. It’s about you and those worries of yours — that scary thought in the back of your mind, “what if I’m not the perfect mom?”

Well, Sanctimommy, you’re not the perfect mom. In fact, none of the things you want me to believe about you sound all that perfect to me. But regardless of that, the perfect mom doesn’t exist. She’s a myth, like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. But if she was real, she would spoon a mouthful of food into her baby’s mouth without spilling a single drop and then wrap you in her arms and say, “Honey, it’s not about what you do at night or what your baby eats. It’s not about whether they spill the paint or exactly where you were when it happened. It’s about loving that little baby and doing the very best you can.”

Being a mom is messy. It’s hard. It’s frustrating and it’s scary. It’s fun and it’s silly and it’s wonderful and it’s fulfilling. Oh, Sanctimommy. You’re not perfect. And neither am I. Come here, let me give you a hug. It’s going to be okay.