On Being A Mediocre Parent

There is a promo for “The Next Food Star”, a show I have never seen, which regularly interrupts my enjoyment of “House Hunters”. The promo features many quick shots of people frying, wokking, wearing white hats and crying. Then there is a woman who briefly interrupts the action to say: “I am in NO way mediocre!” She seems very emphatic and angry.

I’m going to shuffle out an old chestnut and tell you how Webster defines mediocrity: “Ordinary. Of medium-grade quality. Neither bad nor good.”

I recently read an essay about Dan Savage (I would link to it but the NY Times pay wall is now up) and in it, women are taken to task for idealizing their male partners. Savage doesn’t want women to think of their husbands in a romanticized way: he specifically states that he doesn’t like women bloggers who code-name their husbands after heroes in any Jane Austen book. Right, so I call my husband Darcy. Guilty. However, I MOSTLY think him similar to THE Mr. Darcy because he in no way censors his opinions. You get the truth from him, even if it’s ugly.

So last weekend we were having a rather heated discussion with friends about SAHMs, parenthood and other troublesome topics. The tone was fairly defensive: many parties were deflecting sore spots by attacking others’ choices. Finally Darcy declared:

“Jjiraffe and I are mediocre parents. I have accepted that and moved on.”

I was rather flabbergasted by this statement. ‘Tis true, I am struggling with aged three, daily and nightly. I often think I am failing. But to be declared mediocre? That I was NOT expecting.

I have asked him to explain himself in detail over the last week. He thinks exemplary parents wouldn’t yell ever, would play more games, read to the twins more, be more engaged, be more patient, do more one-on-one activities with both and most damning of all: they would have potty trained their children already.

It is my deepest, most embarrassing secret that I haven’t been able to accomplish this. The twins just don’t CARE. It’s not that they can’t do it: they can. They just don’t want to. And nothing I’ve tried (rewards, M&Ms, the entire Toy Story character kits, special underwear, peer pressure, “naked weekends”, potty dolls, special potties, big special potties) works. Also, I don’t bathe them everyday. Three times a week if I’m really on a roll.

As an infertile, I vowed to never be a bad mother. I would NEVER yell at MY kids in a Target, I would never let them watch TV (ha!), I would never let them eat anything non-organic (double ha!). I have been so worried about not being a bad mother that I never realized that I was in danger of being something else: a mediocre one.

I get why the woman on the “Food Stars” promo was bristling because someone called her mediocre. It’s a loaded word: one that brings images of George Costanza, Michael Bay, Nicolas Sparks and The Olive Garden to the brain.

My mother was an extraordinary mother. I never remember her ever losing her patience with me. She made tasty, well-balanced meals, she took me to the park and library every day, she taught me manners. When I was sick she would drop everything to make my chicken noodle soup, keep me comfortable. She expected a lot, but never made that seem daunting.

I fail to live up to this standard. Every. Day. The twins’ demands, the yelling, the fighting: it frazzles me easily. The pickiness around food, the rejection of all types of dietary matter except five things: it drives me nuts. I shrink into myself, I get on my iPad, I tune out the noise. This doesn’t make me a bad mother, but it doesn’t make me a good one, either.

Justine said something that reverberated with me a week ago: she said there are mothers she looks up to, whom she aspires to be like. I aspire to be like HER: she makes yummy-looking, healthy food for her son, involves him in the process and is generally very thoughtful about being a SAHM. Then there’s Mel, who goes on geo-caching expeditions with her kids and got a really famous businessman to encourage her son’s love of computing. Then there’s Lori, who is extremely open and accepting and delighted about being a mother. And Esperanza, whose joy in her daughter shines on everything she does and thinks. I could go on and on…and there are so many wonderful mothers, whether they have had children who have passed on, or their children are yet to be. There are so many extraordinary mothers in the ALI community.

I need to work on being one, too. I owe that to the ALI community.

Who are mothers you look up to? If you are going through infertility, do you think that when you become a mother you will hold yourself to a higher standard?


Filed under Discovering joy, Family, Parenting After IF, twins

29 responses to “On Being A Mediocre Parent

  1. chhandita

    I know this sounds bad but when Thought about the type of mom I didnt want to be like, i thought about my mom. And I can at least say I am a better mom then my mom. I feel guilty every day thinking that i am not doing justice to the fact thta I am a SAHM. I shout at him when doesnt eat. I see how skinny he is and I feel its all y fault. I dont feel I am mediocre mom, I feel I am a bad mom! D is potty trained though lol.I was thinking of doing a post about feeling like a bad mom now I will read the comments you get and make do 🙂

  2. MY sister is an exemplary mom, in my opinion. Ever so patient, engaged with her kids, giving them freedom to explore the world, asking their opinion on what they want to do…

    My mom used to make decisions for me, and if she said go to bed now, it meant drop everything right there and then and go to bed. Not so with my sister. If her daughter asks for 5 more minutes to finish something – she gives her the 5 minutes. And her daughter knows it means five minutes. Not 10, not 20. But she gets the respect – just by being a 3-year old, it doesn’t mean that what she’s doing is unimportant. I admire this in my sister.

    Her older son is 20 already, and he’s just such a wonderful human being – talented, kind-hearted, and the one who’d still give me a hug and plant a kiss on the top of my head (he’s so tall). He’s not ashamed to show love to his auntie who used to play so much with him (we’re only 12 years apart).

    I aspire to be a mom like my sister.

  3. I’m sorry you’re feeling like this, lady, and that Darcy feels it, too. I know I haven’t seen you around your kids, but I do know that what you described in your post as a mediocre mother is the mother that it seems the majority of women are. My mother was an amazing mom and raised two wonderful daughters (ahem, if I do say so myself!)…and she lost her patience with us many times, wasn’t there for us often because she had to work two jobs, and was no way near as perfect as the mothers we look up to. But if I could be even half the mother she is/was, then I know I will have done my job. I think we are too often hard on ourselves and forget to look at where we’re being great (step-)moms. I think it’s great to want to be the best mother of all mothers…but ultimately, I think we have to be the best mother we CAN be, even if that means losing our patience sometimes or needing to tune out. I don’t see how this makes you a mediocre mother — to me, it makes you a mother needing some sanity! And besides, I know I don’t have 3-year-olds…but I’m guessing no one can be perfect with that age! 😉 Try to tell yourself today all the things you’re great at with the kids. Your love for them is so obvious, and I know they feel that. And I do know I can say all this because I’m not in your shoes. Who knows what it will be like when/if I raise my own…but as an outsider, I have yet to meet the perfect mom….to me, they’re all still wonderful mothers in their own ways (besides the few that are just awful, but that’s a different story!). So yes, when I’m a mom in the future and I’m saying this very same thing, feel free to tell me I told you so! I just hate to see you being so hard on yourself, when you’re such an incredible and strong woman.

    • This comment felt like a hug. Thank you. And I observed you with K and I thought you were exceedingly kind and patient with her. Maybe we are our own worst critics?

      • For sure. If there’s anything in this life that we should learn, it would be how to be kind to ourselves and find the things we should be proud of, instead of want to fix. But I know I’m still working on this and have a long way to go, so I know it’s easier said than done!

  4. Esperanza

    I want to do an ode to mediocre moms. I am one of them and you know what, I’m going to start declaring that to the world. I love the idea of just coming out and saying “I’m a mediocre mom” (what I wouldn’t give to have been there when Darcy blurted that out. I would have guffawed even louder than I did when I read it last night). In fact, I want to get a shirt that says mediocre mom. Cause you know what? I am one and I’m not ashamed. I, like so many moms, am just getting by. I can spend an hour on the floor with my daughter in her playroom looking at my iPhone, easily. Of course if she wants to play with me I put it away but if she’s doing her own thing I let her while I read blogs and check Twitter. She can’t crawl in our kitchen because it’s too dirty (but I would let her use her spoon after it fell on the floor of an In-N-Out (after I wiped it off) because I assumed it was cleaner that our kitchen floor at home). There is mold growing around our kitchen sink, the one where I WASH DISHES! There is also, frequently, mold growing around our bathtub. My daughter hits me all the time and she hits other kids too. When we were hanging out in San Diego I realized she was kind of a bully, hitting the other kid and taking his toys constantly. Luckily he (and his parents) were really laid back but I was mortified. I DEFINITELY lose my temperature with Isa and I have to put her in her crib sometimes and walk away when I’m really going to lose it. I can’t seem to keep my partner happy either. So yeah, if I’m not mediocre I don’t who is.

    Thank you for writing this. I feel a kind of freedom since I’ve embraced my new title of mediocre mom. So much less pressure!

    • Ha! I’m going to CafePress (is that still around?) right now and making a T-shirt that says Mediocre Moms Mess Up.

      Thanks! I think you are a brilliant mom, but maybe many of us feel mediocre?

  5. Esperanza

    Also, I wanted to add, that I can’t imagine you can force a child (or children) to potty train when they are not ready. I also don’t think you’d want to. I know what it means to have a strong willed child who WILL NOT do what you want (my daughter still won’t feed herself and I promise you she won’t anytime soon, despite anything I do to change that) and if your child doesn’t want to potty train what can you do to change that? They have to do it when they are ready. And they will. You won’t be sending them to college in diapers. When they are ready they will do it and I bet they’ll do it really well. I just wanted to add my two cents on that.

  6. I’m with bodegabliss and her lovely comment. I’m also right there with you in the less than perfect mom category but, seriously, I think most moms would say the same thing, at least on some days.

  7. I just want to say there is nothing mediocre about mothering twins. let alone 3 year olds. I think that must take more tolerance and patience and energy and creativity than most people ever have in their lives.

    go easy on yourself. it’s not easy all the time, this parenting thing, much as we fought for it and said we’d never take it for granted. it’s hard work! and it’s impossible to shine every single moment. you’re human. and I’m sure you are a wonderful mom. perfection is an illusion ~ it simply doesn’t exist.

    • “I just want to say there is nothing mediocre about mothering twins. let alone 3 year olds. I think that must take more tolerance and patience and energy and creativity than most people ever have in their lives.”

      Thank you. I am going to try to remember this every day.

  8. I have been thinking about this quite a lot during out time ttc. It’s a very interesting subject. Talking to my best friend who’s now a mother is making me realize it probably won’t be as straight forward as it seems. Thoughts like ‘I would never do this or that with/to/for/around my own kids’ can easily fly out of the window in seconds when hitting that scenario for real. But we will all survive and so will these kids. Don’t be so hard on yourself, okay. I’m sure everyone is doing their very best with what they have. And so will I some day I hope.

  9. Well, I was stunned to be mentioned in your post, especially by you and in the company of the others. Thank you for that (I’m trying to get better about just saying “thank you” at compliments, no matter what my internal chatter is saying).

    This made me laugh out loud: …one that brings images of George Costanza, Michael Bay, Nicolas Sparks and The Olive Garden to the brain.

    And no, I have not lived up to the standard set by my mom.

    Love the full pic of your twins!

    • I think maybe a lot of us have our moms on a pedestal. My mom read this post, and thinks my memories of her are idealized. Maybe…she was pretty brilliant at being a mother though.

  10. Oh, my! I saw the title of your post, and thought, “yep, that’s me.” I was shocked and honored to be included in the company above! Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I feel guilty about ignoring N., or not paying enough attention to I., or not doing amazing things with them every day … I consider myself mediocre, too.

    But a few things here … first, I think that our kids survive in spite of us, and most of them think we’re pretty amazing (at least at this age, before they hate us because they’re teenagers and we’re adults). We are our own worst critics. And who’s to say that it’s really that bad to let our children eat non-organic things or watch TV sometimes? I sat in the way-back of the station wagon with no seatbelt, and I’m OK!

    Second, I echo the commenters above who say that you can’t force potty training. People who do wind up with children who have much deeper problems later. They will not be in diapers when they go off to college (or wherever) … and many of them simply decide one day that they are not going to be in diapers any more. I think this happens more often with twins, though I don’t have the statistics to back it up.

    Third: You have three year old twins. At the end of the day, you are all still alive. You are my heroine!

    Fourth: O, yes. The Olive Garden. We are much, MUCH better than that place. 🙂

    • I should check out the statistics on how long it takes to potty train twins. None of the twins books I have really address the troubles I’ve seen. My instincts are not to rush them into it, too. I’m sure you’re right.

      My favorite Olive Garden commercial featured their “culinary school” in Tuscany (but it looked like it was on a California backlot), where their “chefs” were taught the ages-old techniques of Italian masters. Yeah, right 😉

  11. Raising 3-yr old twins is hard enough without second guessing one’s abilities. My triplets are younger than your children, but I share all of these same feelings of inadequacy. Your post was very liberating to me. Thank you for voicing all of it with such honestly. I’m writing this to you, while I’m preaching it to myself, almost daily: cut yourself some slack – you’re outnumbered. You’re doing the best you can. From what I hear of other moms of multiples, age 3 is by far the hardest age.

    I do think we all hold ourselves to a higher standard of expectation if we arrived at parenthood after IF. It’s been pretty humbling for me. I often think of how different parenting 1 at a time through toddlerhood is so very different from parenting twins or triplets or quads through the toddler age. It’s joyous and fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but also unbelievably exhausting just to keep them safe.

    Simply LOVE the pic you posted.

    • OMG: Triplets!! You have my utmost respect and adoration. *Bows down in awe*

      Thanks for your comment: I’m so glad this was helpful to you. And thanks for telling me that other mothers of multiples said three is the hardest age. It helps to know that others feel this way 🙂

  12. I ❤ YOU!!! I agree with everything you said including your dh and what he expects. You are amazing! Just keep saying it to yourself. I have been complaining about year 2 lately but have been told 3 is the worse. It scares me. I remind myself daily, I PRAYED FOR THIS FOR YEARS! 🙂

  13. Oh and I forgot to add you bathe your kids as much as I do. I hate it.

  14. Lut C.

    I think of myself as a ‘good enough’ mom. Perfection is not of this world, so why pretend otherwise?

  15. Bea

    You have to be careful, I think. Trying to be an exemplary mother can make you a worse mother, sometimes, specifically on those times you crack under the extreme pressure, and by extension always, as your children cower and wait for this to happen at unpredictable moments. Is this where I say you should try to be the best mother you can reasonably be expected to be and then call it quits? Probably something like that. You are doing fine, it seems to me. Then again, I lean towards the type of philosophy where every child needs the freedom of being somewhat neglected on a daily basis, so take my opinion as you will 😉


  16. Gail K

    I am infertile and if I ever get the chance to parent, I want to be like my friends. I have one friend who is so patient and loving to her son, yet knows that he isn’t perfect and is okay with that. She also can carry on a conversation that doesn’t revolve around her son, which helps when all my other mommy friends have lost all ability to have a conversation without telling me about poop, vomit, pee, or something else that their child(ren) have done.
    I also have a lot of people that I don’t want to be like when/if I become a parent. My mom is one of them. She has no patience and I remember a lot of yelling when I was a kid although there were lots of fun times sprinkled in there, too. My sister-in-law is another anti-role model. She has a 16 month old and is constantly reading parenting books instead of paying attention to the cues that her daughter is giving her and the advice from her parents and in-laws. My niece is so spoiled that it blows my mind, but at least she is well-loved. And, she may be the only grandchild on that side, so I hope she lives it up!

    By the way, I am here from Mel’s Weekly Roundup.

  17. I have 8.5 month old triplets, and I struggle with this DAILY. We worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get these beautiful babies, and no matter how thin I stretch myself, I just can’t seem to do all the things I want to be doing with/for them. It kills me! The reality is, especially with multiples, the rules are different. You HAVE to find ways to take care of yourself, even if it’s just finding a moment where they are occupied to use your smartphone to connect to the real world. You are definitely not alone in feeling this way! And thanks for saying it aloud. 😉

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