There are always plenty of things on a mother's wish list, and not just on Mother's Day. It's too bad that so many of those things reveal our self-consciousness about our own motherhood.
This is how it went for me a few Mother's Days ago:
What I wished I could have for Mother’s Day
A tummy tuck, to get rid of my sagging, post-pregnancy belly, and that skin you have to fold up and tuck in your jeans.
A perfectly clean house, with no signs of the messes caused by those four children who make me a mother.
A new kitchen, which I couldn't afford because of the many expenses resulting from said children.
What I got for Mother's Day
Breakfast in bed, consisting of an overflowing bowl of chocolate cereal and an it's-way-too-early-for-this-but-thanks-anyway HUGE glass of Diet Coke.
A ginormous pink duct tape purse made by the kids that morning.
A wooden, bunny-shaped recipe holder made in scouts.
Pictures of each of my kids, accompanied by their thoughts about me, made at church.
Somehow, my wishes and my reality were way out of step. That year, I heard that a majority of women surveyed said they would like plastic surgery for Mother’s Day. I was embarrassed that I understood. I may not have asked for it, knowing it wasn’t realistic, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have loved it. I had to take a step back and think about the math of motherhood.
Droops, softness, and trampoline skin are the tell-tale marks of motherhood. You can get them lots of different ways, including:
Driving kids around to their activities rather than driving yourself to the gym.
Spending all your energy chasing kids around till you're too exhausted to chop broccoli and instead resort to a dinner of gummie worms from the car, whoppers from the diaper bag, and mac and cheese from the baby's bowl.
So, the math goes like this
Raising kids = Becoming a mother
Becoming a mother = droops, softness, trampolines, messes, less money
Droops, softness, trampolines, messes, less money = EMBARRASSMENT, DISDAIN, DISGUST, SELF-LOATHING, JUDGMENT. QUICK! HIDE ALL OF THESE MARKS OF MOTHERHOOD.
The math for mothers today just plain doesn't add up. Why have the natural reminders of motherhood become unacceptable answers to the motherhood equation?
We are always striving — me included — to look like we did before we had kids. We want to look like we never bore children, or ate a leftover birthday cupcake instead of stopping for lunch. I find myself wearing my skinny jeans and putting on makeup to go volunteer at the school, lest I look more “motherly” than the other gym-toned, expertly-coifed young mothers.
If this is true of our bodies, it’s also true of our homes. We are constantly trying to clean up any evidence that our children live with us. We'd like their toys to look like a display catalog of cuteness in a color-coordinated play area. Forget that kids eschew all designated play areas and prefer to carry their toys around the house as they follow you from room to room, carefully dropping one every five feet. Heaven forbid our homes look like our kids actually act like kids in them. Sure, it’s OK to have their artwork displayed on the wall in cutesy frames we made ourselves. But it’s not OK to have another mother see their finger-paint-with-jam artwork on the kitchen table.
On that Mother's Day a few years ago, I found myself asking, why is it that our goal as mothers seems to be eradicating any sign that we are mothers? It shouldn't be.
When I was growing up, moms had tummies, and drooping boobs. I don't remember any of them appearing regularly at the school in yoga pants or three-inch heels. They were moms, and they looked like moms. They were soft to hug, and their smiles always made you feel welcome at a friend's house. They were beautiful. Most of all, you believed you could be like them some day.
After that enlightening Mother's Day, I resolved to stop trying to hide my motherhood. Give yourself permission to do the same: Wear your marks of motherhood with pride. Find the beauty in yourself as a soft, messy, un-showered, lumpy, droopy, and SMILING and LOVING and WELCOMING MOTHER. Be a mother, and be proud of it. Stop apologizing for your house or your clothes, even to yourself.
What are the chances your daughter can grow up to be thin, clean and perfect all the time when she's a mother? How will she feel if that's the burden of expectation she places on herself? On the other hand, what are the chances your daughter will be kind, soft, loving, and motherly? That math is much more likely to add up.
This Mother's Day, she'll be watching you. Show her an example of some motherhood math that actually equals happiness. Wear your marks of motherhood with pride, droops, sags, messes, and all. You are a mother. And mother = beauty.
Emily is a writer and editor, with over 10 years of experience and an MA in writing & publishing from Emerson College in Boston (alma mater of the Fonz). She's got even more years of experience in parenting, but still isn't sure what she's doing.