Column: The good-enough mother

I started out strong. With my first child, everything was monogrammed. And by that, I mean everything that I could hold down. Bibs, blankets, sheets, outfits, lunchboxes, overnight bags, European shams and even the T-shirts for outside play proudly bore the initials of my son. Smocking also played a big part in his wardrobe. He looked adorable. All of the time.

And then somewhere between my second and third child, I lost the will to color coordinate. It was a slow fade. The outfits still looked cute, but the children didn’t match one other. A stained shirt or two saw its way into the mix. A lost backpack of one meant that the child was now toting the former backpack of a sibling, and the initials didn’t match the carrier.

With the fourth child I completely threw in the towel. And just to be clear: The towel was not monogrammed. Then I lost all sense of self and purchased denim.

If my new-mother eyes could see me now, she would be devastated. She had such plans for me. Her plans included picture-perfect children’s rooms with stylish bedding, well-appointed bookshelves, useful desks and closets full of adorable clothes plucked straight from a trunk show. She envisioned clean, beautiful children with excellent manners, good eating habits, and the desire to please at all times.

That mother just hadn’t met her children yet.

She didn’t know that Charles thinks straightening up his room means throwing everything into the closet, that modest Elizabeth shudders when I suggest she wear a dress that shows her knees, that Christian has waged war on shirts with collars, and that Sarah has bless-her-heart hair.

It’s good enough.

What that new mother didn’t know is that closets can be closed, daughters can wear pants, sons can wear T-shirts, and ponytails mask the mayhem of an untamed mane. It just doesn’t matter in the long run.

Certainly, there are things that do matter. But picture-perfect kids should not be on the top of that list. That’s simply the smoke-and-mirrors lie of Facebook postings and Christmas cards. Only the best images make it there. Reality tells a different tale. In my household, it looks a bit more like this:

Child: “Mom, the hem is out of my uniform.”

Me: “Bring me the stapler.”

Child: Blank stare. “For what?”

Me: “To hem your uniform, of course.”

Child: “Are you joking me, Mom?”

Me: “I’m serious as a heart attack. Now bring me the stapler. There are only three weeks left of school, and I’m not threading a needle for that.”

Picture perfect? No. Good enough? Absolutely.

Being a good-enough mother has many advantages: First and foremost, other mothers will not hate you because your picture-perfect children outshine theirs. (Extravagant Birthday Party Mom smirks when she comes to one of my thrown-together shindigs.) Second, because you are not perfect, your children will learn to fill in the gaps. (Elizabeth taught herself to sew. Charles makes his own noodles with butter. Christian taught Sarah to ride a bike. Thanks, kids!) Finally, as a good-enough mother, you will disappoint yourself less. (School Project Mom falls to her knees when her son’s Thermal Conductivity of Metals does not win first prize at the science fair. Me? I’ve already graduated from third grade.)

Life is simpler as a good-enough mom. I know it to be true. I’ve lived it. But I have big plans for myself as a picture-perfect grandmother, and I’ve kept the smocked jon jons just in case.

Happy Mother’s Day!

This month, inRegister celebrates philanthropic youth in the Capital Region. Their stories are inspiring and their perseverance is commendable. It gives me great hope that this up-and-coming generation feels so strongly about helping others in need—whether it be a neighbor down the street or a person in need on the other side of the world. Read about six who felt called to action.