Before I had kids, I had a magical view of what my mothering would look like. I imagined climbing out of bed every day in clean, perfectly matched pajamas, exactly one hour before my children awoke from their sweet slumber. I would get dressed, put on flawless makeup, and do my hair while matching my accessories to my clothes. Then I’d prepare a three-course breakfast and place it on a perfectly set table.
My angelic children would wake up and proclaim their thankfulness for the day’s most important meal and eat it without a complaint. I would then help them pick out matching outfits and head to the library. Of course, we would pick out only educational books and take them home to read while sitting on a blanket and eating a nutritional lunch that was themed to the books. Then the wildlife would gather around us, the birds would sing, the crickets would chirp, and we would happily spend our days soaking up each moment.
Then I had children.
My expectations of mothering were shattered because it looked more like G.I. Jane in the trenches than Mary Poppins cheerfully cleaning up the playroom.
Expectations — they get you every time, and if you’re not careful, they can leave you living in the “land of what if.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and I love being a mom, but sometimes my Disney-esque expectations of what my mothering should look like gets me in the dumps. I expect perfection when I should give myself grace. I expect that my kids will always be interested in what I have carefully planned for the day, instead of just wanting to play with green army men for the 18th time in a row.
My expectations of a perfectly planned week have vanished since the birth of my third child. I’m outnumbered and I’m often discouraged; not because my three little ones make me feel that way, but because I have unrealistic expectations of what we all are capable of in a day.
But I’ve also come to realize that my kids don’t need plans as much as they need me. They want time with me — to construct battlefields, make pretend pancakes and help me clean house. Yes, they want to help me clean the house! But I’m stubborn. I like to do things quickly. I don’t have time to be patient with them and explain how to do things. If I can just push through and tidy things myself, we can move on to the fun stuff; then I’ll have time to play.
What lies we tell ourselves. The work will never be done. Most of us will never be organized enough to feel like we have earned play time with our kids. Instead of setting realistic daily goals, we too often put aside the most important goal of getting to know our kiddos, trading it for more work that will always replenish itself. The G.I. Jane in me isn’t the problem — it’s my George Banks. And in this respect, Mary Poppins, quite justly, would not approve.
Imagine a world in which moms united and declared that motherhood is actually a beautiful mess. What if we realized that our kids are only young for so long, and that the dishes can wait and the laundry will still be there tomorrow? What if we stopped thinking about making our kiddos a priority and actually made them one? Maybe you started doing this long ago and are welcoming late people like me to the bandwagon. It takes some longer than others to find it, and some others who found it and have fallen off need to find it again.
So, setting these extremes before and behind me, I ask myself, what can I do today to make myself a little less like George Banks and G.I. Jane, and a little more like Mary Poppins? I can start by sitting down and reading my kids all those library books I just picked up. I can let them help me make dinner. I can give my 5-year-old the vacuum and let him go to town on my crumb-filled carpet. Yes, it’s a risk. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it will mean something to the little munchkins who are constantly calling my name. And hopefully, as it shows them that Mama really does treasure them, it will take root in my heart that it’s okay to take time for them. They are the important work.