The armor goes on, the armor comes off…

Whatever armor we need to wear day to day to muddle through, it’s truly liberating to have a space like this one to peel it off, lower our shoulders, and confess, I’m not perfect.

When you think about it, there’s no other career in which we can admit we’re struggling all the time and not lose our jobs. (Bonus!)

Reading through all the comments on my last post more than a few times, I am absolutely moved. First, by the gracious support and votes of confidence from you all (you guyyyyyyys). But more so, that so many of you feel comfortable sharing your own hardships and your weaknesses and your doubt. Especially the fact that you single moms–or as Kristen calls it, Sometimes Single Moms–those of you burdened with the most extreme obligations still manage to find the time to come here, read and participate.

There is no greater compliment to a writer. You honor me with your presence, and I thank you.

Perhaps you feel, as I do, that putting it all out there, at least somewhere, is essential. And that the so-called perfect moms fall eventually, and they fall hard.

Here we can be imperfect parents. Not bad parents, just imperfect ones. Together.

That is inordinately comforting.

It’s something I talked about with Carly Knobloch in her Perfect Moms Finish Last interview series (you can listen to all 20 very interesting interviews for free if you register). I’m a little over the whole “bad parent” thing that’s taking over the media. I don’t want to be a bad mom. I want to be a good mom. Even Her Bad Mother wants to be a good mom, which is why her blog strikes such a chord with her readers.

My challenge: I don’t think that good parenting is a destination, I think that’s a journey.

When I had an opportunity to review the Babble book, Dirt is Good For You: True Stories of Surviving Parenthood, I was disappointed. Boy, I wanted to like it. I thought I would love it. But instead of finding humorous admissions by otherwise good parents of indiscretions (“I bribed them with dessert”) I found, with few exceptions, writers smugly bragging about those indiscretions, waving them at the world like a giant middle finger. (“Yeah, I bribed them with dessert. I’d do it again. And fuck you too.”) The gist seemed to be that if your kid survives, you’re doing something right, the end.

Well call me a crazy Virgo perfectionist, but I don’t want my kids to merely survive. I want them to thrive. I want to be proud of them, and of how I raised them – even if I can’t be proud of every single choice I make. I want to do my best.

Me saying I don’t know what I’m doing either up there, under the little winking lady, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what I’m doing.

And so I confess my challenges and my I’m-losing-it‘s here because yes, there’s comfort in knowing I’m not alone.  But also, because if I name it, I own it. If I say it, I can’t hide from it. And if you forgive me–if we forgive ourselves–we can keep on running up that hill. Even in full armor.


65 thoughts on “The armor goes on, the armor comes off…”

  1. I've bribed my children with dessert, and I've threatened them with a grounding that would last until they had children of their own.

    Neither was a particularly proud moment, but I take comfort in that better parents than I am have done the same.

  2. I love this post so much I was to frame it.

    My BFF, who is a rabbi and one of the wisest people I know has an expression, we do the best we can, and when we know better, we do better. I think it is words to live by.

  3. I, too, am an imperfect parent – one who is realistic and knows that my children are also imperfect. There's a learning curve in parenting, and we need to forgive ourselves for not having all of the answers. Even 'perfect' moms don't. I'd be interested in getting your feedback on book, “Caution: Children Should Come With Warning Labels”. It's a funny (and sometimes touching) book about the realities of parenthood. It's validation that there is no such thing as perfect kids or perfect parents. I know, I had a perfect childhood, raised by imperfect parents. And I wouldn't trad it for anything in the world. If you're interested my book is on Amazon (kindle and paperback) and available w free shipping through my publisher
    My proceeds in April go to SIDS research and education.

  4. Really I just want to make it through the day, and be proud of my good parenting moments. And find better ways to handle those moments I'm not proud of.

  5. I love reading your blog. I'm an imperfect parent-to-be (no doubt), and it does my nerves good to take a deep breath and read about women being realistic *and* aspirational in their parenting decisions.

  6. My goal at this point is to have more good days than bad days so that they do thrive without me winding up in the loony bin.

  7. Wow. Just wow. I loved this. I often write about my goals to be a better, more present, more patient mom and that my frequent uses of bribery and screaming take me by surprise because I never thought I'd be THAT mom. But you're right, in the end I'd think we all WANT to be good moms. Those who say they pride themselves in being a bad mom are lying. I think it's a defense mechanism.

    I love this place where I cam be me and admit to my bad days and revel in my good ones. I can't do that anywhere else.

  8. Always remember that the fact that you are even wrestling with and thinking about these issues –that your kids' well being and happiness is at top of mind — means you are doing it. They are lucky to have so much more love than many kids have in the world, and they will turn out great. xo Christine

  9. I think a large part of my job as these kids parents is to teach them how to screw up royally, then turn around and make it right.

    God knows, they'll never learn it if they don't see it.

    And so I let them see that I am human. I don't strive to be perfect, I strive to be a person, and I hope that I am graceful enough in my blunders that they will learn how to say, “I'm sorry” and they'll learn humility and they'll know that no one, even their parents, does everything right all the time. But maybe they'll learn that when we mess it all up, we work and we mend and we move on.

  10. What you said is exactly how I feel about parenting. It's also why I try to shy away from trendy labels Bad is the new Good, and so forth.

    I'm not sure we have to serve penance for our sins in parenting, but I think striving to be more effective and more empowering to our kids has to come from a place where we understand our faults.

  11. My grandmother always said “imperfection is the greatest instruction”. I always thought that meant instruction to me (like, you learn from your mistakes). Now I know it allies to others too. Others including my son.

    I have a dear friend whose mother is admittedly obsessed with perfection. She has lived her life fearful of doing the wrong thing / not being perfect. If my son is paying attention at all, he's very very comfortable with completely screwing up…and trying again. And again.

    But still. I so so want to do more, do less, do better. It's nice to admit that too.

    Thank you for this great post. It's a wonderful 'whew, me too!'

  12. Wait, it's bad to bribe your children with desert?

    Or threaten them with grounding?

    Really? I mean…how bad is that?

    I'm always trying to be a good parent, the best parent imaginable. So yeah, I know exactly what you mean about the defiant tone some people take.

    There's another version of this I wonder about sometimes which is the–I am the world's most amazing incredible parent who knows exactly what to do at all times.

    That's also unnerving. Although I admit I buy it. So the first, defiant thing might be a reaction to that.

    But we should probably end up somewhere in the middle. I try to be the best parent conceivable but I am constantly falling down on that.

    Also, I bribe and threaten. I tend to be more on the 'what the hell am I doing? I HONESTLY DON'T KNOW' kind of parent. But I am quite aware of the fact other parents know more. And I'm not trying to slack. In fact, what kills me about parenting is it feels like there's not much room for slacking and I like to slack.

  13. Also that “allies” should be “applies”.

    And the “she” in the next paragraph (the scared one) is my friend, not her mom.

    This is what I get for using a phone to comment. Thumb typing bleh. Screw ups FTW!

  14. Ozma, I look at most things in life like this: Whatever I'm doing, there's going to be someone who does it better, and someone who does it worse. It's pretty comforting.

  15. Dude. I fail every day on some sort of parenting point and it began during my first pregnancy when I refused to give up my daily cup of coffee. eh. I am my childrens' first line of defense in learning how to navigate a world chock full of imperfect people.

  16. Like most things, the longer I am a parent, the more I realize I have to learn.

    We all have those times where we take short cuts just to get through the day and those moments bring us humor and camraderie, but while those times provide necessary levity, they aren't the basis of my parenting philosophy.

    You have described it perfectly – running uphill.

  17. I love these comments – you are all some wise mamas!

    Sue, that's perfectly put: The levity in our days does not equal our parenting philosophy. Thank you.

  18. My husband and I are expecting our first in a few weeks and both of us (in the midst of being excited and overjoyed) are anxious and scared at being parents. Will we be good enough?

    When I was about 14 weeks along, I wrote our baby a letter in which I told her that I wasn't perfect. That I was going to screw up, but I was going to try to be the best mother to her I could. That it's a learning process.

    I think back to when I was little and my struggling parents. Sure, they didn't always have all the answers and I'm sure they felt imperfect and like they were falling short a lot of the time. But, to my little eyes, they were the most perfect people in the world.

  19. I only started blogging six weeks ago just after my daughter turned three. I so wish now that I had done this a long time ago. Because I totally agree, blogging about life as a Mom and reading about other Mom's real experiences in the real world (as opposed to the Mommyland portrayed in parenting magazines and books all too often and which OK I did disparage just a little in a post this week!) has helped me come to terms with the fact that yes I am not a perfect Mom. Because as I share my stories of my imperfections, frustrations and self doubt in my capabilities ever to be one I realize that everyone out there is doing the same thing. All we can do as you say is strive to be better and learn from one another.

    Speaking of which, your posts always hit the nail on the head which is why I make the time to come here, read them and comment.

    Have a great weekend and hopefully you and your girls get to see Daddy too.

  20. A lot of times I feel like I have no clue what I'm doing. Especially lately. I give in too much, I let kids in my bed at 2am, because it's just me now and it's easier than fighting a loosing battle. We eat out often. I don't know…it's easy to judge what I'm not doing right, then to see what I am doing well.

    Other times I see new moms, or moms with very young toddlers and they look so frazzled and I think, maybe I do know what I'm doing. Some days I fail, but it's the big picture that is important.

    I want to be proud of my kids and I want them to feel like they were raised well. I love it when people tell me that I'm raising good kids. That is the ultimate compliment.

  21. One of the signs of a “good” parent, or at least a humble one who recognizes her shortcomings, is that she's often doing better than she thinks she is. And it often takes someone else to help her see it, to help her take the armor off, if only for a moment.

  22. Okay, so I'm behind and I read these past two posts backwards…wasn't meaning to call you frazzled. Promise.

    Liz? It does get easier. When your girls are my girls ages, you'll be glad you took them to nice places as toddlers. Because at 8 and 5? Mine order off the adult menu and share something new most times. They are quiet and polite…most of the time. They are a joy to take to a restaurant. My two favorite dinner companions.

    Now my son is a whole other story. Snort. 18 month olds are uh fun? Ha. Anyway, just keep doing what you're doing.

  23. It has been a liberation to find a place where I am not the only one that feels the way I do. I am not perfect. I have self-doubts and there are even times I hate being a mother. But I have found women here just like me that have helped me to quit judging myself and making me laugh at the ridiculous. The numbers are empowering.

  24. I've been thinking about this post since I read it this morning. No, there are no perfect parents, and I actually don't think that there are perfect children either. Or perfect people, for that matter.

    What we strive to do as parents is meet our children's needs. And we do the best that we can with that, while recognizing that other parents may have a different approach.

  25. Isn't that true: commisery is the best company sometimes. Sometimes, that's the difference between whether we make it through the day or not.

    I love the internet.

  26. I “survived” and made it, but that doesn't mean my parents got it right. They certainly tried most days to do better. Like a lot of people, I want to have more good days than bad. Enough that those are the ones that stick with her.
    I really love your blog. I really love feeling like I am not alone as a working parent.

  27. I agree, doing the very best we can is important. I want to be proud of the job I've done, I want to have great kids. Yes, I do things that I'm not super proud of. And I also try not to sweat the small stuff. But while I might have sub-par days, I want to look back on these months and years and have pride in a job well done, and kids well-raised. I don't want to spend their childhood seeing how much (how little?) I can “get away” with.

  28. Thanks for this honest post, Mom-101. I'm a relatively new mom (my son is 13 months old). I don't know if, down the line, I will find myself bribing him with dessert or with an iPad–hey, modern times, yes? I do know that there will be imperfect moments along the path to Parenthood. Glad to know there are communities–ones like this with smart, wise, witty women–where we can talk, vent, forgive, and learn.

    And @jodifur: your BFF is wise, indeed. Her expression needs to be framed. I can often be heard saying “do better”… about a lot of things and behaviors in this world. And now I have a new (fuller) saying, “We do the best we can, and when we know better, we do better.”

  29. That was incredibly wise, Mom101. I too desire to be a good mom and hate it when parents brag about how little they do, like it's a badge of honor.

    As always, you hit the proverbial nail…

  30. So many nights of whispering to my sleeping babe, tomorrow I will do better.
    So many days of whispering to myself, all I can do is my best.

    Tomorrow I will do better. All I can do is my best.

  31. am not the first to say this, probably, but the momosphere seems to me what many of us have now instead of that mythic “village” that it takes to raise a child. Most of us don't live in compounds surrounded by wise elders (most of us being neither Kennedys, other than Eden, or Waco residents, altho yes, some of us [moi] may be wacko on occasional days/weeks)… so instead we turn to the ether, looking for help, relief, laughter, shoulders for crying on, and the realization that we aren't the only ones who think that god invented television so parents don't go insane during weeks and WEEKS of school holidays…or that if the clothes are clean they don't really need to be folded and put in drawers…or that heating up food from Trader Joes counts as home cooking. Not that MOI has ever done any of these things.

  32. I just read these last two posts. The thing to remember here is what you already know. Pay attention. When parents pay attention, kids thrive. It doesn't have to be 24/7 or even 100% of the time you're with them. But when you are with them and paying attention to them, they will take that with them everywhere they go. It's more than watching what they do, as you know, it's being involved. And it's exhausting, sometimes debilitating. But the payoff is grand. Your kids will know that when they need you to pay attention, that you will. They'll know it because you'll have proved it.

  33. I love this…I wish more parents wanted their kids to thrive and not just survive…I hear too often “if i keep them alive i'm doing my job.” so sad. thanks for this post.

    Also, I'm wondering if you would be interested in participating in my Mom Blogger Contest for $100 Cash prize during the month of April for

    The details are here

    Thanks for considering! I think your readers will really enjoy this too!

  34. This is why I blog. It's important to build a virtual village since so many of us don't have that kind of support in real life. It's also important to own up to the shitty things we do as moms each day. It makes the awesome things we do seem so much awesomer!

  35. Being vulnerable with grace is about the wisest thing you can teach those girls. I think we all know this, on some level, but we forget in the rush of things – with all the subtle (and not so subtle) pressures pricking at us. Nice to be reminded.

  36. I am LOVING this imperfect mom convention! And I loved speaking with you in my Perfect Moms Finish Last interview series, Liz— I could have talked with you for hours!

    Moms like you who are willing to bare all, to be HONEST about what's REALLY going on help other moms to process this crazy gig. This post captures so beautifully the thankless, endless struggle, the roller coaster range of emotions, the moment in which you change your whole point of view because the people you thought you were bothering just by being you actually think you're doing an awesome job!

    One last thought: Most people don't realize how little “attention” they pay to anything in a day— we flit from screen to screen and thing to thing so rapidly. That kind of presence IS exhausting, and good for you for giving your kids that gift.

  37. On Friday, I felt as if I were failing at everything, and it felt awful – even in spite of the armor.

    But no way was I going to give up on any of it. I may not get it all right, all the time, but I have to keep trying.

  38. I love this post for so many reasons!

    I love how you accept your imperfections, but still strive for excellence–totally my goal too.

    Years ago I learned the Japanese word “wabi sabi”–the art of finding beauty in imperfection. Now, I have no idea if the wise Japanese meant to apply this word to parenting, but it's a fun word to say out loud (try it!) so I keep it handy when I start to feel insecure about my failings.

    I also really appreciate you putting to words the frustration with the smug “bad mom” attitude. It drives me crazy…and it seems like many of these moms imply that the rest of us are uptight and over-involved just because we want our kids to do more than survive and be more than not-terribly-irritating.

  39. I've never thought of parenting as something you can either be “perfect” or “imperfect” at. How do we even know if we're being perfect? Who gets to define that? We can only do what we feel is right for our particular children, given the limits/opportunities w/in our family & our society.

    One of my neighbors once commented to me, “If you could afford to send your child to private school, why wouldn't you? It's the best.” There's something wrong in that comment and I'm not entirely sure what — it's something about allowing other people to define “best,” or not taking into account how one choice affects all others. (If I sent my kids to private school, for instance, I couldn't take them skiing; and who's to say that what's learned in a private school will serve them better than what's learned on the ski slopes?)

  40. Oh. It just occurred to me that you're talking about *knowing* what you believe to be right but not doing it, and admitting that here as a kind of confession or apology and then going forward to try to do, as often as possible, what's right.

    Are the parents in that book claiming that they did what they knew was wrong and they're not sorry? or that while other people may say what they did was wrong, they don't think it was?

  41. Good question Jennifer. The essays to me included a lot of “I gave my child nightmares/let my kid watch TV 6 hours a day/put my child in harm's way but so what, other people do it too, and anyway I'm white and upper middle class so they'll do fine in the end so there.”

    There are some really decent essays in there and the writing is quite good but the overall point of the book just bugged me. Even the titles are these sort of brazen admissions designed to provoke, like “I love my biological kids more than my adopted ones.”

    Read thereviews on amazon – I thought a lot of them summed it up quite well.

  42. You described the balance between accepting you're not the perfect parenting and still striving to be the best you can absolutely – well – perfectly.

  43. I have times when I ride out the desire to do something completely ineffective but tempting like a bad contraction. It's like not smoking but wanting to, there is shame in the temptation, but triumph in the will power.
    I definitely parent and write from the perspective of trying to see the good in even the most trying times. It isn't a perfect science, but this is parenting, a journey indeed.
    I loved this post because at the core it's seems to say, “I don't want to be perfect, but I am still going to try. During those time when I fail I am going to examine and keep plugging away.” It's what we ask our kids to do, right?

  44. I see this: “writers smugly bragging about those indiscretions, waving them at the world like a giant middle finger,” often too and I just don't like it. I'm not a perfect mom but I'm certainly not proud of my moments of idle threats or lazy tendencies. I can LAUGH at them but I also look for better solutions to my parenting defects. It's nice to see someone blogging about that. Thanks

  45. I completely agree with the concept that, as moms, we should have the freedom to oscillate between being completely armored and completely raw and naked. (In fact, just today I posted a story that would make an excellent “case in point” here, where I referenced your Sanctimommy post from 2006!)

    I think the goal for me isn't to be Bad Mom or Good Mom by any standardized metric. But if I can be Best Mom for These Kids, I'm doing just fine.

  46. You're right, there is a BIG difference.

    I believe most moms put the failure stuff out there in a “let me make this humorous but only because I'm trying to really work through this process” way. Its the rare individual who takes pride in their parenting failures. Most readers are able to recognize tongue-in-cheek when they read it, sadly some are not.

    I try to make light of some of the harder aspects of parenting my kids, but the deepest truth of it is that there is so much more at stake than just getting them out the door at 18 in one piece.

    Failure is not an option. That's why I love reading what other moms struggle with. We can learn from one another and support one another. We learn that we can survive PPD, we can succeed at helping our high- and special-needs kids find success, we can overcome our parenting disasters, we can become better parents.

    So many of the blogs that I really love combine a measure of sarcasm, wit, laughter, sadness and self-introspection. Its that last part that always strikes me. Because if we don't have that, we fail our kids. You recognize all of this, eloquently. Thanks for a lovely post.

  47. I so relate to your post. I am an imperfect mom and have learned to embrace that. I think in the end, it sets a great example for my daughter, Lucy! Great job. Love your site!

  48. “I want to be proud of them, and of how I raised them – even if I can't be proud of every single choice I make.”

    As usual, so well said. That sums up the battle I think all parents who strive for the best face every day.

  49. I love this. I have never understood the parents who wear their questionable parenting decisions like a badge of honor.

    Believe me, I've made some questionable decisions over the past 4 years as a mom, no question. And I'd share them willingly with read, along with what I've learned and how most days I am still relying on a lot of deep breaths to get through the day. Like you, I find putting that stuff “out there” helps me make sense of it and get advice from some amazing people on how to go about things more reasonably next time.

    But bragging about the things I've done that make me cringe or question my own “success” as a mom? I don't get that.

    great post!

  50. Absolutely spot on.

    My mom once said, “Even though we try, I'm not a perfect parent, and Dad isn't a perfect parent. But know that when we make mistakes we'll do the work to repair the damage caused…and we try to teach you to be forgiving because we will need that from you sometimes.”

    That about sums it up.

  51. yous on fire with this one. i got a little teary eyed.

    my least favorite place to play single mom: cross country plane rides with two toddlers. I have a blog post brewing about this, which ends very similarly to your restaurant story.

    Update on the shitty pregnancy, by the way (I am your fellow bedrest friend) we just got a referral for a little one in Ethiopia. Sure, we put our adoption process on hold due to unexpected crazy nasty pregnancy. But someone didn't get the memo.

    After a few stressful days, we accepted it. I am psyched, if worried. So,I am having two babies this year. One from ET, one homegrown.

    I will be the loony woman in a jump suit without hair done for the next year, but that's ok. I am pretty sure they hand out Prozac in the maternity ward to women with 4 kids 4 and under.

    Don't they???

    Thanks for sharing this post, you are my inspiration.

  52. Amen, sister! If only more of us were comfortable enough to admit that we are imperfect parents. Not parents that don't care, don't try, are lazy or just don't want to mess with this or that…but imperfect parents. And that's not a “bad” thing!

  53. I'm with you and absolutely imperfect, but trying so hard. Today was a disaster in WAHM/Balance worlds, but I'll gladly wake up tomorrow and try again. I know you do too. Thanks for hanging in with us.

  54. Let me just put it this way: I'm an imperfect parent, but I'm a bad housewife. I'd rather work on refining the former than correcting the latter. My to my husband's endless dismay.

  55. I am so with you on the non-perfect parenting works just fine. I noticed at Hallmark today, there was a line of cards for Mother's Day titled: “For the Less than Perfect Mom”. We must be a force to be reckoned with, if the corps are marketing to us now. It's all good.


  56. I wish the internet had been around when my three were younger.
    You are all so much smarter than I ever was, but I did the same thing to get mine to behave sort of like humans at least when we had company. I salute you, the moms of today. Don't worry…mine came out ok and are responsible adults. The thing is, though, only one had a child and that was my son.

  57. I love this post. You are so right about it all. We are all imprefect and while i accept my imperfections and i will always strive, everyday, to bea better mother, wife, and just all around human being.

  58. Yay for you, again!
    The “bad mothers” section of Babble is thoroughly annoying, seems like a group of people trying to outdo each other for the fame of being bad. Not any more impressive than the rally for some elusive perfection.

  59. What a great post! I'm working on being more present with my children (which I do find helps ward off the necessity of bribing a little bit) and basically cutting myself some slack.
    I think I'm generally a good person, and my heart is always in the right place, even if I wind up totally screwing something up! I hope my kids will pick up on my intentions as much as they pick up on my actions.

  60. I don't want my kids to merely survive. I want them to thrive.

    you have written my mantra! so simple, but sooooo brilliant.

    i've been stuck somewhere between a mom's group of must-have-all-the-latest-and-greatest-toys-go-to-the-best-classes-buy-the-best-bargains-book-trips-to-the-best-kid-friendly-amusement-parks-never-admit-failure and a sister in law who's constant advice is “well, all toddlers are little shits, they grow out of it, there is nothing you can do, just throw them on the playground, kids will be kids….” (this was the advice i got when i asked her how to curb my son's pushing habit. i asked her because she is a PEDIATRICIAN. one very happy woman to shake her middle finger at the world, bribe her kids with candy, not brush her daughters hair because she doesn't have the patience……the personification of as long as everyone is alive at the end of the night, that's good parenting)

    sorry, that was a RANT.

    my point is i have been stuck between these two ways of parenting, too caught up to realize there is middle ground! you put it perfectly and at just the perfect point for me. i want my son to thrive; just surviving doesn't work for us. thank you thank you thank you.

  61. Very inspiring and encouraging post, thank you!!! I have been reaping encouragement from your blog and your willingness to share for about a year now. I agree, sometimes it doesn't matter what else needs to be done at home, we need to take time out to “put it in writing” to help ourselves regain focus. Thank you for your post!

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