mean mama

define “best”
June 26, 2008, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have never understood the phrase, “Do your best,” thanks to the severe Germanic work ethic under which I was raised. Even as a young child, my best seemed to mean an infinite amount of effort. Like, if I had a spelling test the next day, should I be staying up for hours and hours into the night to study for it? Would that be my best? What is one’s best based on, and how do you know its limits ? I never knew, and my efforts never seemed enough.

One side of my family suffers from what they call “perfectionism.” They treat it like some completely biologically inherited thing, failing to consider our family’s severe, cultural ethics. Only a few generations ago we were farm people, too busy with work some Sundays to even go to church. I imagine they figured that working hard would get you on God’s good side better than sitting in a pew would anyway. During the months when there was less farming to be do, both of my great-grandfathers were teachers in one-room schoolhouses. Talk about super-productivity. And during the farming months, kids had a full time job of working on the farm.

There is no farm anymore, and yet the severe work ethic remains. Relaxing remains more or less a sin, and that is bound to drive anyone batty because relaxing is a basic human need. My nature has never been to work work work.  I tend to work very intensely and be super-humanly productive for a couple hours at a time and need breaks in between. I have always felt a little bad about taking breaks.

You would think that having preemie twins would have taught me that one’s best is based on a sliding scale. It didn’t. You would have thought that having a child with health issues his first year would have taught me the same thing, perhaps. It didn’t. I did not give myself a break. I don’t mean I worked my fingers to the bone at all times. What I mean is that even though my conditions were rough, I internally lamented when my parenting did not look as good to me in comparison to that of the new parents around me, in real life and on blogs. And 99% of these people had one child – a healthy one. I guess I based my best on my ideals of what I thought good parenting might look like rather than what I could attain.

I could not accept my limits, could not grieve the loss of my ideals and in doing so held on to something unattainable. Many days this took the joy out of parenting.

To make matters more complicated, my thoughts on how best to care for babies were loosely defined. It didn’t help that when I had my twins, a fiery debate about attachment parenting vs. non- seemed to be at its heights. The discussions were largely about co-sleeping vs. crib (cage!) sleeping, baby-wearing vs. letting your child lie around like a slug all day, etc. I think it was hard for me because I wanted to explore these different methods and find the best fit for me and my babies, but having twins made it so much more difficult to try a lot of things out and determine what would be the BEST.  Die-hard APers on their soapboxes, a la Dr. Fears Sears, played to my insecurities, preaching about how wearing your baby and co-sleeping form this bond of sheer trust that will last your child a lifetime and more or less protect him from any sense of insecurity or lack of confidence, directly implying that doing it any other way would result in a basket-case kid. (That argument is still going on, and for the record I think it’s baloney.)

In addition to feeling insecure about my “methods,” I couldn’t be happy with how very hard I worked. In the fog of it all, I was taking a lot of breaks in between dealing with my two babies, looking at blogs and staring at the wall.  And even though I knew I needed breaks, I felt bad about just how much “down-time” I took, not realizing that it was simply a response to exhaustion.  Going back to work saved me. It meant I never had down time! And I liked my work, so it didn’t really matter to me.

You would think that having another baby and being home instead of working would put me back into a bad place.  Wonder of wonders, it has not done that. Maybe this is just a “second child” phenomenon. It’s like suddenly instead of questioning my every move, I just kind of know that it will be okay. I remember I used to worry about letting the boys just sit in their car seats and stare at the CD rack, which was very interesting to them as infants. I thought I should be wearing them as I went through my day (quite a tall order with twins). Now I let MBB sit in his seat whenever, and we don’t even have a CD rack for him to stare at anymore. There are many things like that.

It helps a lot to see that J and M have turned out to be wonderful kids, they’ve turned out to be who they are because of but also despite what I’ve done. As they get older, I take on more and more of a sheep herder role, nudging them towards this and away from that, with increasing distance between us as they skip  ahead. MBB is the little lamb who needs his mother a lot more than the older ones do, but even he doesn’t need me 24/7. Doing my best for him doesn’t mean we need to be attached all the live-long day. In fact, I don’t need any book or method to tell me what is my Best. (And what a bizarre notion that following a recipe  for baby-rearing will give you a perfect child with a cherry on top.)

I have also softened on my self-judging if I am not productive all of the time. When I feel bad about doing nothing, I can sort of self-correct and tell myself it’s okay. I have a lot less guilt on that front this time around. I understand that I have been through a lot and sometimes doing nothing or spending time doing leisure things is part of processing and just plain functioning. In her writing, Ann talks about rest being a component of her spiritual life, and I think that is a really interesting take on it. That relaxation and taking care of oneself by essentially just hanging out could be somehow Godly is in direct opposition to my culture’s notions, and it is a breath of fresh air.

Defining my “best” is a more difficult matter. I still find it hard to accept my limits. Some days, as much as I try to give myself a break, the place is a mess and I am a mess, and my best is seems… well, not what I picture “best” looking like. And it’s also hard when I really am being Super Woman but still cannot affect a situation because it’s in someone/something else’s control (my kids’, administrators’, the weather!). In other words, when I do my best, and I don’t get my desired or expected outcome, I find it hard to accept. I can’t stop, there must be something more/ something else to do, I think to myself. Maybe it’s about letting go of control, letting the chips fall, and then dealing with that situation the best that I can. Whew, that’s going to take a lot of practice.

It’s definitely a process. Once in a while I still get envious of parents who seem really confident and together, because I have a nagging tendency to think that they must be doing some universal Best that I am not. Many times these are one-child families, and I don’t know why I would ever use them as a point of comparison.  At least I am becoming conscious of how ridiculous this is, and ever-so slowly I am learning to avert my eyes and instead focus on what I have. Because when I do stop and really look at my 3-child family, in all of its many imperfections, unreached ideals, and frequent chaos, I am surprised at how good things are, how okay of a parent I am even on my so-so days, and how truly happy my kids seem to be. I need to somehow use this truth in order to temper my unrelenting desire to do better, to do more, to do the impossible, … because it seems like what I’ve been doing is somehow working, even though it doesn’t quite look or feel how I’d imagined that my best would.


6 Comments so far
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I read your blog while pumping for my 27 weeker, now 7 weeks corrected, and it is a breath of fresh air– especially the bit about the parenting philosophies and attachment parenting. Whenever I read the Sears book I usually end up wanting to drop-kick it.


Comment by Susanna

your post resonated with me, unexpectedly, seeing as i am not a mama of even one child, let alone twins and a newborn. but the idea of “doing your best” was pretty much a clear line thru my childhood. and i never knew what it meant. it means different things to me in a lot of ways…(i may have to blog about this)…most especially in terms of nursing school and how i envisioned myself “being” a nursing student. more appropriately, how i envisioned myself “busting my ass to get all A’s in nursing school” and how i am so not doing it. and how OK i am with life as a nursing student in the real and not imagined time.

sorry if i am rambling…

Comment by gypsygrrl

I’m in awe of you on a regular basis and I don’t even know you! Please try to just breathe and enjoy all of this and know that you know what works for you and your kids. (Also, I think many parents lie about how great things are; I don’t know why they do but I totally think they do it to make themselves feel better….it’s strange. So I no longer put any of my own self-worth as a mom by what other people “seem” to have or be doing….you’re awesome!) oh, and Dr. Fears sucks…totally agree.

Comment by Dolores

wow. This totally got to my perfectionist side and made her shut the eff up! I seriously suffer from a bad need to be perfect or an expert. I am slowly learning that just because you plan or prepare doesn’t mean the outcome will be as you expected. Reading about being “the best” here was totally what I needed. I mean it is all about me, right? heh.


Comment by Calliope

ha. i’ve had many a discussion about “best”. i cracked up my husband once when he said something about being the best at X. i was like, “wow, i’d be happy to the 100th best…thrilled, in fact”. i realize most people don’t mean it literally…but i find the wording daunting. it’s become a joke now with some of my girlfriends…about how ludicrous it is to be “best at XYZ”. some days i just strive for serviceable. other days i really go all out and strive to be in top 10%!

Comment by juliag

I am in awe of you too
“Some days, as much as I try to give myself a break, the place is a mess and I am a mess, and my best is seems… well, not what I picture “best” looking like” -this I can resonates with me too and the last paragraph.
I agree following the so called perfect baby rearing recipes will never work because all babies are different and even twins raised with identical methods will respond differently and be unique.
I am glad I am not alone in the chaos.

Comment by Trish

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