Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Pretty Good Mom


The always funny Kyran Pittman of Notes to Self (and soon to be Kyran Pittman of Planting Dandelions, her upcoming book) was grumbling on Twitter the other day about the term “Supermom.” I myself have raged about the Supermom concept the odd time, particularly during those times of the  year when I feel like I’m being forced to enter the Mommy Olympics (I will always feel encouraged by my Aunt Ruth’s comment on that post, that she wouldn’t even have qualified for the Mommy Special Olympics — especially as she managed to raise two wonderful people to a happy healthy adulthood).

I went into an extended rant about this just about the time Chris “graduated” from Grade Six last year. I thought I was being amazing, having been on the parent committee for the “graduation” party, buying him a shirt and tie that matched each other, giving a little two-minute “Tribute from Parents” talk at the ceremony, and getting the afternoon off work to, you know, show up.  For some reason I was overwhelmed with inadequacy when I found out a few days later that for the last day of school, two moms had arranged a special “End of Grade Six” swimming party at the Aquarena complete with snacks, etc., for all the Grade Sixes.  I assumed they had just arranged to bring all the kids to the afternoon swim and serve some junk food in the party room afterwards, but later I found out no, they had actually RENTED the place for a party so it was JUST the Grade Sixes there.  They rented. The Aquarena.

How to compete with that?

You don’t, of course, unless you’re crazy and you actually think parenting is a competitive event.  But that was the point at which I officially lost it and delivered a big speech to my kids about how, unlike the moms who threw the party, I Am Not Supermom. I am Pretty Good Mom, and I hope I am aiming low enough that I might actually hit the target.

As a result, Emma made me the bead necklace which you see me modelling in the picture above.

Most of the time, I’m OK with being Pretty Good Mom.  I’ve never felt the need to compete on many of the levels moms stress themselves out about: perfect hand-sewn Hallowe’en costumes (don’t make me laugh!); home-baked cookies sent to child’s school (I do bake, but not for export); nutritious organic lunches grown in my own garden patch (ha ha ha ha ha. I ❤ supermarkets).

But the fact is, secretly, I do want to be Supermom. I think we all do. Not necessarily the mom who rents the local pool for the class party or the mom who hand-crafts gifts for her child’s teacher for Teacher Appreciation Week … most of us are at the level of mental health where we know we can step away from the things that aren’t Our Calling and not worry about it. At least, I hope we are. I think I am.

I want to be Supermom not because I want to be  perfect, but because I want to turn out perfect kids. And again, I don’t  mean this in the sense of kids who are overachievers in every area of life, little Einsteins … I mean, I want to end this process having produced happy, reasonably well-adjusted, healthy adults, who make it across the rough waters of adolesence to the shore of adulthood without having their little boats capsized by addiction, teen pregnancy, depression, bullying, legal troubles, or completely severing themselves from the family unit and holing up in their rooms with the doors closed from ages 13 to 17. I want them to grow up to have jobs and like their jobs, to marry and love their partners, to have faith and love God, to be productive and responsible and not ever, ever get cancer or get hit by a bus.

I guess what I want is for them to have perfect lives, and when they get nicely settled into those perfect lives, to say, “Thank you, Mom! You and Dad made this all possible. You gave us everything we needed, taught us every important lesson, trained us to become the people we are today! All Hail Supermom!!”

They don’t have to actually say the words “All Hail Supermom.”

Some days I really do feel Supermomish.  This long holiday weekend I let both of them invite a friend for a sleepover and I managed to get supper AND brunch on the table, take the kids out to a wholesome family movie, and arrange for everyone to have a pretty good time.  That’s super enough for me. Then, within minutes of their friends leaving, an altercation with one of my darling offspring was followed by Stressful Homework Time with the other. I could have handled both situations so so so much better, and it all left me feeling like Barely Adequate Mom.

And the fact is, I feel that way a lot. I lose my temper at them. They lose their tempers at me. They encounter obstacles that I’m not able to sweep out of their way, or train them to effortlessly leap over. I think I should get Emma to make me a new necklace. Barely Adequate Mom sounds good.  For my worst days, we can keep one called Totally Ineffective Mom.

Someone had cause to remind me the other day of Philip Larkin’s profane but oh-so-true poem that starts: “They f@#* you up, your mum and dad.”  That line’s carved on my brain, but I’d forgotten that the second line is: “They may not mean to but they do.”  Which is even more depressing, because it means (and, I think, is correct in its analysis) that even us Pretty Good Parents who really do try our best and have the best of intentions, are still going to damage our offspring one way or another.

Since I have not taken the advice with which Larkin ends the poem (“Get out as early as you can / And don’t have any kids yourself”) I am left to muddle through as best I can, hoping to minimize the damage to them and to me.

I really hope this is not just me.  I hope all the Pretty Good Moms (and Dads!) out there feel like this sometimes.  Do we all have days when we aspire to be Pretty Good Parent, and fall short and feel like Barely Adequate Parent? I hope so. Because sometimes, Barely Adequate Mom, trying not to screw up the kids too badly — is all I got.


11 thoughts on “Pretty Good Mom

  1. “Thank you, Mom! You and Dad made this all possible. You gave us everything we needed, taught us every important lesson, trained us to become the people we are today! All Hail Supermom!!”

    My children are 39 and 41, and I haven’t heard anything even remotely like this.

    You’re doing a great job with your kids, and I believe you’ll see that when they’re raising your grandchildren.

  2. Trudy,

    I’m so in agreement with you. Parenting should not be a competitive sport. The superparent myth is discouraging and artificial.

    I’m so glad you disagree with Philip Larkin’s advice in the closing of “This Be the Verse.” The logic of the speaker in Larkin’s poem is flawed by his blinding pessimism. The speaker’s earlier observations may be true, but his conclusion is far from the best response.

    I, like you, find parenting to be daunting and often discouraging. I believe in the importance of modeling for my children the kind of behavior I want them to have, but am daily faced by my own imperfections. Thankfully, I find strength in the believe that “he who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it” (Philippians 1:6). It becomes clearer to me more every day that my children need a better model than me, and yet the need me. I’m grateful that God can use imperfect me (as much as he used my imperfect parents) to do good even though I’m far from a superhero.

    The Poetry Archive quotes Larkin as saying, “I’d like to think . . . that people in pubs would talk about my poems.” I think Larkin would be happy that we were talking about his poem, even if we disagree.

  3. It’s posts like this that keep me coming back.

    I believe one of the bigger lessons we can teach our children is the ability to apologize. I don’t mean forcing them to say “sorry”. I mean actually approaching them with an apology of your own when you find yourself reacting imperfectly to situations. (Believe me, I have had plenty to feed from there.). It teaches them it’s ok to be imperfect, relationships are important enough to put your pride on the back-burner, and you respect them as you wish to be respected.

  4. I agree with Philip Larkin’s first statement, but to me it’s not discouraging at all, but encouraging.

    If we ALL mess up our children, then the expectation to be perfect is off the table, and all I have to do is the best job I possibly can, given what I know and believe at the time and am capable of with the resources at hand.

    Now that I can do.

  5. I agree with Katrina. I think that the best things we can do to our parents is forgive them, and Larkin’s perspective that (as a rule) parents do no F— us up on purpose, but often because they love us very much, is encouraging. I would think that as a parent this would mean that if you forgive your own parents you can forgive yourself. I don’t have children, but I suspect this is an important ingredient for avoiding the Supermom complex.

    BTW David and Trudy, I’ve always read the end as satirical, but because of your reactions I checked Larkin’s autobiography in Wikipedia, and it seems that he didn’t have any children, and had a very open concept of marriage. Maybe he really meant it, that we shouldn’t have children. There were also a lot of people in the war generation who felt that the world was a terrible place in which to raise children–but Larkin may have, as the poem states, felt that he didn’t want to perpetuate his own flaws. This is not necessarily bad reasoning. I think there are some parents who should have stopped to consider their own credentials and motivations before having offspring.

  6. I think my kids think I did a pretty good job in raising them, and I’ve pledged to never point out where I fell short.

  7. I wondered Jennifer whether Larkin meant the lines to be sarcastic. I don’t understand the poem’s title. Enlighten me if you can. I really appreciated the information you shared about your research on Larkin. Thanks.

  8. Thanks for everyone’s insights! Maybe it is comforting to know that no-one can be SuperMom or SuperDad, and we all do mess our kids up to some degree despite our best efforts.

    Ironically, the absolute nadir of my parenting day yesterday (a confrontation between the two kids that escalated into physical violence and ended with one child in room crying at top of lungs, and the other child laying forehead on top of an ice pack to bring down the swelling) happened AFTER I wrote that post. You just never know what a day will bring.

    David, regarding the title: I know it comes from Robert Louis Stevenson, a favourite poem of mine:

    Under the wide and starry sky
    Dig my grave and let me lie
    Glad did I live and gladly die
    And laid me down with a will.

    This be the verse you grave for me,
    Here he lies where he longed to be
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea
    And the hunter home from the hill.

    One site I read suggested that Larkin was ironically contrasting Stevenson’s view of “home” as the safe place where the wanderer longs to return, to home as, in his view, the place you get f’d up for life.

    Interesting side-note: I can’t type, much less read aloud, that Stevenson poem without crying. Somebody please read that at my funeral.

  9. Jennifer, yes. A corollary to my theory is that all parents mess up their children in huge and horrible ways, and eventually it’s the child’s decision whether or not to allow that to debilitate them. It was much easier to forgive my parents when I asked myself whether or not they made an honest effort to do the best parenting they could — they did.

    Trudy, that’s one of my favorite poems as well.

  10. I’ve decided just to go with it. I’ve said on multiple occasions (and even to my kids) that if my children don’t end up in therapy, then I haven’t done my job!

  11. In my family it’s common to say, “Save that to tell your therapist!” when a child complains about something a parent has done. I’m sure it’s not ENTIRELY a joke …

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