Not perfect, but (I hope) Beautiful Anyway

I recently read a post stressing the importance of the image we present to others as mothers and Christians, that we should at least make an attempt to look pulled together and happy when we are in public, so that we can be a good witness. I realize that some people may be able to read something like that and see it as a healthy challenge, but for me it just made all of my perfectionist tendencies come raging back to the surface.
So I wrote this post in an effort to preach to myself.

I am a mom.
I bath my children several times a week, and I make sure their hands and faces are clean several times a day.  …But it wasn’t until we were out as a family that I realized that my 2 year old had dried ketchup in her hair from last nights dinner.
I clean and dry and put away my children’s clothes, they are always dressed appropriately for the weather when we go out.  …But I have had times where I didn’t notice the hole in the crotch of someones pants until we were at church. And right now all my kids are in bathing suits because they are pretending to go to the beach. And the other day I let my 4 year old wear her favourite Pajama pants under her dress when we went to the zoo, just because she wanted too. My kids wear mismatched socks too, because I don’t always bother to match them all in pairs.

I sweep the floors, wash the dishes, vacuum the carpets, wipe down the counters and tables.  …But it seems like most of the time there are dishes on the counter, crumbs on the floor, and play dough or ketchup dried onto my kitchen table.

My kids eat fresh fruits and veggies every day.  …But they eat Mac and cheese and chicken nuggets and doughnuts on a regular basis as well. They know what McDonald’s is.

I brush my kids teeth thoroughly with fluoride-free toothpaste every night before bed.  …But we rarely do it in the morning, and I hardly ever help them floss.

I want to be a gentle parent. I no longer spank my kids, I tell them how much I love them and how special they are to me every day, and I make every effort to understand life from my child’s point of view and be patient with their emotions.  …But sometimes I lose it and yell “what is wrong with you?” or slam a door, or shove a chair. Pretty much every day I reach a point where I growl/groan in frustration over something, and then my 2 year old will shake her head and say “don’t be angry about me mom, are you angry about me?”

I make play dough with my kids, and I let them color with crayons and markers. We bake muffins and cookies together on a regular basis. The older 2 know all the colors and shapes and we read together every day.  …But none of them know their numbers, or the letters of the alphabet.

I am serious about limiting what my kids see on TV and I make sure that they do not watch anything violent or inappropriate.  …But they usually watch slightly over an hour of cartoons or cooking shows each day when we are trapped indoors during the winter months.

I love doing stuff with my kids. I read them books, I take them outside, I color with them, cook with them, do my chores with them, snuggle them.  …But sometimes I say no to a request for no real reason. Sometimes I wrestle myself out from under the pile of kids on the couch because I just can’t take the sensory overload any longer.

I want to take pictures of my kids, and save them in albums.  …But I am one year behind in printing pictures, and two years behind in sorting and filing pictures, and sometimes days or even weeks go by before I get out the camera and actually take pictures.

I am a mom. There is no perfect mom, no matter how much the media or mommy blogs or family members or books or religious groups try to maintain that there is. My house may not be sparkling, my kids may have messy hair, sometimes I get snippy with my kids. I don’t always put on a whole lot of makeup, so I look tired sometimes.

I suppose I may be THAT mom. You know, the mom that people see at the store, or the zoo, or the park. The one that makes people think “Wow, she looks tired, having lots of kids must be a lot of work.” But that’s OK with me, because having kids IS a lot of work. Anyone who goes into parenthood thinking it’s going to be a breeze is in for a major disappointment.

I’m not trying to sell my lifestyle choices, I don’t have a responsibility to convince people that being a stay at home mom of 4 children aged 4 and under is the only happy way to live. It isn’t. These are the choices that work for me today, and someone else can make the choices that work for them. If someone really wants to have a large family, my kid’s snotty nose, or the fact that my 18 month old had to be carried screaming all the way to the car because she wanted to walk herself (albeit into oncoming traffic) isn’t going to make them change their minds. If someone thinks that having many children close in age is stupid, my children’s matching outfits and angelically smiling faces are not going to magically make them think differently.

I have no stereotype to live up to. I am a devoted mom who loves her kids, not a salesperson for motherhood or Christianity. I don’t have to worry about impressing the people who don’t know me, and the people who know me aren’t interested in being impressed. I am me. And what that means will continue to grow and change and develop as time goes on.

Right now, this is who I am. And I am not ashamed.
The very same day I wrote this post (that I thought I believed) I had a panic attack wondering if maybe I really am just selfish and lazy and trying to make excuses for my imperfections. Then I fought with my husband, and cried and cleaned and organized my entire house over the next 5 hours.
*Sigh*, I have a long way to go on this whole attempt at being OK with who I am.

  • Rebecca in CA

    You're such a dear! All these things are true of me, too. My 2 year old says exactly the same thing…"are you mad about me"…so adorable, and heartbreaking, isn't it. I think it's good to be real, though…and maybe there is a fine line between excusing our faults and being real, but on the other hand, being real includes having real faults and working on them as well as accepting our own weaknesses. People who don't accept weakness in themselves often have no patience with others, either.

  • Musings on Motherhood and Ministry

    Oh but this is wonderful! I had the same thoughts when I read the post you did. I have read too that we should always look the best that we can, for God, that we should make the most of what he gives us, lol – but I know FOR SURE that His priorities are in what we DO, not in the aesthetics. This doesn't of course stop me comparing myself to other, better 'turned out' mothers with tidier homes and trying to let those ideas take over. We have both got a way to go on embracing those imperfections it seems – think we might be human?!

  • Raine

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.
    I only have 1 child, and my thoughts on motherhood so far are that I love it, when I;m not totally overwhelmed & exhausted by it.
    I read a lot of bloggers that seem to have everything pulled together and going perfect 24/7, so its great to see people being real.

  • Cici

    First I have to say Amen Sister. You are exactly right! Then I want to say, it is harder than it should be to throw off all the negative stuff we learned growing up. You are making progress and that is what counts!

  • Janet Oberholtzer

    You are amazing. An amazing woman. An amazing mom. An amazing YOU!

    Love your honesty, especially the piece at the end … because it's not a smooth ride to accept ourselves (especially if that's a new thing for us) it's a bumpy two-steps-forward-one-step-back journey.

    Carry on … you are doing well!!

  • Michelle

    I am right there with you! While I appreciated the post you refer to at the beginning, I also appreciate this. There are times it seems like there is absolutely no way to be all "pulled together" for anyone…my husband, the world, whatever.

    When my house is completely clean…it can only happen when a parent is dedicated to doing it and all the children are absent. And then within a few hours of everyone's return…you would never know it had been so clean.

    Don't be ashamed!

    By the way…the outfits my Helen puts together – make people smile – she puts mismatched clothes on all the time, but wears it like she's dressed in a ball gown. :)

  • rain

    "I am a devoted mom who loves her kids, not a salesperson for motherhood or Christianity. "

    That's a great way to put it.

  • Beth

    Young mom. I understand. I do. It has taken me years to gracefully embrace my limitations. I always strive for the best but cut myself some slack. When people come to my home and it is not in ideal condition I don't feel like I have to offer any explanations. I have had great healing and I hope yours continues.

  • Young Mom

    Rebecca in CA- It is a bit heartbreaking, her comments always being me back to earth. And you are so right, when I am not OK with my own weakness, my tolerance for others behaviour goes way down.

    Musings- It is so hard to stop comparing!

    Raine- I find myself drawn to the “real” bloggers as well, and yet feel so much of a burden to “perform”. I too love motherhood, but it totally can be overwhelming and exhausting! Even more so when I am trying to be something I’m “supposed” to be.

    Janet- Thank you so much Janet!

    Michelle- You are so right! It is never pulled together all the time. And my girls wear some pretty incredible outfits as proudly as if they were princesses in finery. : )

    Rain- It’s been so hard to get over the burden to give a good impression to people “who need to be saved”. So freeing to just live, and be.

    Beth- Wow! That is great, I hope to get to the place where I don’t feel the need to “apologize for breathing” as my husband puts it. : )

  • rachel

    Oh I needed this SO MUCH today! Well, this week. Okay, maybe this whole school semester! I was immediately reminded of the study we had with the seminary wives where the leader explained that she is a witness – by bringing her well behaved large family out with her. She said "I know I am serving the Lord and witnessing to Him because people will come up and ask me "where are the rest of your children?" "

    Sigh. Thank you for being so honest and just real. I could relate to all of this. Especially the crying, cleaning for five hours thing. *hugs*

  • Kaighla

    You know, I really, really love your blog. I can relate on so many levels, and get so much benefit from the things I can't relate to, even. This post is just exactly where I am right now, only replace "Christian" and "Minister's Wife" with "Muslim" and "Sheikh's Wife". I myself just wrote a post about not being the poster girl for being held-together. And let me tell you: you are like 10 steps ahead on the path I am just now beginning to tread, whatwith the no-spanking and little yelling and the like.
    May Allah make it easier for both of us to accept ourselves where we are, Ameen.

  • priest’s wife

    I love 'I am not a saleswoman for Christianity'- there is a lot of (self- imposed) pressure to make sure that people are seeing Christians in a good light when they see us- but no…we're just going to live our life :)

  • ‘Becca

    [hug] On the bright side, it's great that you cleaned house for 5 hours–at least you got something positive out of that negative energy!

  • Shelly

    Great post! So true!! And I'm really glad to know I'm not the only mom to brush my kids' teeth only once a day!

  • jen

    i've had to learn to just say, "ok… this is the best i can do at the moment — DEAL WITH IT!!!!" to myself when i start going all perfectionist on myself. (and truthfully, i've said it to more than one "special" parishioner.)

  • Young Mom

    Rachel- Ouch! The Pastor’s wife aspect adds a whole new dimension!

    Kaighla- Nice to “meet” you. : ) Thank you and I hope we both continue to grow in our ability to except ourselves.

    Priest’s wife- I feel that my biggest “responsibility” as a Christian, would be to love. People aren’t going to care that my kids aren’t wearing matching socks if I love others and keep from judging. “We’re just going to live our life” I like that!

    ‘Becca- LOL! So true.

    Shelly- Isn’t it strange how we can feel guilty about the silliest things?

    Jen- Good reminder for me, especially when my bad opinion of myself starts to effect the way I treat others!

  • Rebecca

    I LOVE this post…I love how you challenge the myth of the perfect Mommy that all of us Mommy bloggers are so tempted to present to the world. I love how you are so stinkin' honest at the end that even your ideals to not be a perfectionist are a work in progress. LOVE–LOVE–LOVE this post!

  • Aimee

    I'm with Cici–amen sister. What terrible advice. I recently heard a sermon on the exhortation to "be perfect", where the priest said that the Greek word for perfect has to do with integrity and wholeness. And I'm pretty sure that the road to integrity is not paved with perfect hair and makeup and false cheer.

  • Leslie McCaddon

    Really, really loved this. Thank you!

  • Sarah Z

    Great Post! It was really nice to read this. I have been so tired with this baby, and a few weeks ago I stopped using "real" dishes and switched us over to paper plates. This was really hard for me to do. All my life I was told that paper plates were used for bar-b-ques or Saturday night pizza, but that only lazy mothers who don't care about their families would use paper plates on a daily basis. But a few weeks ago I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes at about 2am. My feet were swelling and I was crying because I was having very intense contractions from bending over the sink scrubbing spaghetti sauce out of a dish. I suddenly just thought, "This is so stupid. What does my family get out of me standing here in pain washing this dumb dish!" So now we are using paper plates, and I even went a step farther-I started using disposable foil pans to cook things like lasagna. One of these days when my girls are old enough to see over the counter and they can help with the dishes then maybe we will go back to our "real" plates. Until then somebody go chop down some trees cause I'm heading to the store to buy more paper plates!

  • Young Mom

    Sarah Z- Exactly! I just bought a bunch of paper plates too, and I use them almost every meal. I’m almost tempted to get some paper bowls too (my mom would say “how can you live that way?” LOL). I’ve been much more tired with this pregnancy and more achy, so I say that my physical and emotional health is more important than what plates I use at meals. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever feel guilty about my “shortcuts”.

  • Joy

    Bravo. I think our children and our neighbors and the watching world learn more about God's grace and love for sinners by watching how we handle the mess of real life than by watching a well-staged show.

  • ‘Becca

    Hey, about the paper plates, I think the trick is to make them an emergency shortcut that you ONLY use when you are so tired, sick, etc. Not just because of the environment and your budget, but also because if you use them all the time in the long term, then you won't HAVE an emergency shortcut when you need to make things easier! I do a lot of less-convenient things to save money and/or be lighter on the environment, and I find that when I'm sick or very busy, taking the easy route is a startling luxury. Like right now, I have serious responsibilities at church and lots of meetings to go to, so we're eating many frozen foods that are more expensive and packaged than cooking from scratch–but the Lord has provided sales and coupons just when we need them (I'm kind of joking, but the timing is SO perfect) and I am so relieved to have the time freed up, I find myself overflowing with gratitude that we own a freezer and microwave, that we have a consistent supply of electricity, that we have money for groceries–all these things I usually take for granted feel like special blessings!

  • Sandra

    Young Mom,

    Just came over from Elizabeth Esthers' carnival and your post struck me as one I could have written nearly word-for-word when my children were toddlers (even though I only have two, but I had undiagnosed Addison's disease). I'd like to say that ten years later I've gained so much wisdom with my life experience and I never have these feelings of imperfection equaling inferiority equaling spiritual unworthiness, but I have yet to be able to really live in that "we just live our lives" place. Sigh.

  • Kacie

    You know what I've been struck by as I read scripture this year? Just how messed up all the "heroes" of the Bible are. They're so imperfect. So flawed. And yet… they are the ones chosen and used by God. You ARE imperfect. You don't have to BE perfect to be a beautiful, loved momma and wife and child of God.

  • Lara

    I don't know you, but I love you! This is amazing. "I am not a sales person for motherhood or Christianity!" I may make this my new mantra.
    Thank you for this post. For not making me feel guilty about wanting to stick with just two kids. I often feel like I should have more. And maybe I should. Maybe I'm selfish for loving the freedom I have because I don't have a baby anymore. I'm pretty sure my kids would benefit from having more siblings. But they also benefit from having a happy mommy. SO…until I can actually desire another child I'm not going to add to our family. It doesn't seem right to bring a human being into the world just because I "should", because I want to live up to other's expectations, because i feel guitly. Does it? Maybe I'm wrong…God can use even our worst motives… Well anyway, this is a constant battle going on in my head. And instead of adding to my torment, I found a moment of peace and beauty and strength here at your blog. So thank you. I'm glad I found you.

  • Young Mom

    Joy- The real mess. Exactly, because real life isn’t ever well staged.

    ‘Becca- I think it’s also about figuring out what is helpful for you in particular. I love baking, it’s actually relaxing for me. But other people might find it very helpful to buy baked goods. I buy the Clorox disinfectant wipes because they are a lifesaver for me, some other people might not find them that helpful.

    Sandra- That is still encouraging to me! Thank you for sharing.

    Kacie- So so true! A Non jew, a prostitute, a woman who sleeps with her father in law, a man who steals a birthright, a man who steals another man’s wife… are all in the lineage of Jesus.

    Lara- I can resonate with this question so much! So much value was placed on my ability to reproduce, that I still struggle to see myself as worth anything without having baby after baby. And yet, like you said, I want to be the mom my kids need and deserve. I am starting to move past the guilt, little by little, because I am starting to believe that I have value as a human being, mother or not, many children or few. I’ve written more about this under the label “Quiverfull”.

  • My Feminine Mind

    I think what will draw people to Christianity is not perfection, but authenticity. Beautiful post.

  • Rebekah

    "I sweep the floors, wash the dishes, vacuum the carpets, wipe down the counters and tables. …But it seems like most of the time there are dishes on the counter, crumbs on the floor, and play dough or ketchup dried onto my kitchen table." Yes! This totally describes our house. What a relief to know that this just might be…okay.

  • Karla

    You´re not selfish or lazy, you´re awesome and honest and funny and I can´t get enough of reading your blog. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

  • Timmy

    I think that sometimes we face really low points and it’s difficult to look happy. We shouldn’t always suppress how we feel because that’s only going to lead to more emotional stress down the road. People are more concerned of what you think of their self image to worry about yours. That’s honestly what I think. If your happy who cares if you have ketchup on your shirt.

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