Call it age. Call it deeper self-awareness. Call it (dare I?) maturity. Hell, call it a combination of the above.
But lately, I’ve been keenly aware of how much pressure mothers place on themselves.
Actually, who am I kidding? All women — mothers or not — excel at the craft of self-imposed pressure cookerdom.
Whether having the right handbag, the hot retail brand on the tag of our dresses, the lowest possible BMI, the painstakingly cleaned domicile, the smoothest complexion … we place expectations upon ourselves that we rarely stop to question, much less, analyze at a deeper level.
But I notice the Moms put another tier on the Tower of High Expectations. We kill ourselves to complete additional pressure-filled crazy tasks that seem to serve as an internal barometer of whether or not we’re good at this Mom thing. A few examples: 1) trying to take a monthly picture with a homemade sign that says “I’m _ Months Old Today” every month of a child’s life; 2) the coordination of the annual summer family photograph in front of obligatory sand dunes whereby all photography subjects must wear matching white shirts and khaki pants; and 3) attempting to construct child’s current favorite cartoon character or child’s birthday theme using only homemade cake, icing and props.
Disclaimer — I have only completed Task #3, which was a miserable sandcastle cake that looked a gigantic blob of Nilla wafers.
At the root of all this pressure to perform and deliver is a fully healthy, human desire to feel normal, on trend, relevant and just plain good — but truthfully, the pressure alone to keep up the pace is often quite the opposite of healthy or normal.
And I’m guilty as charged. 100%.
Recently, some of my own actions have made me think more about the expectations I place on myself — and whether or not I’m passing the pressure example to my children as easily and freely as I’d pass them a juice box at a picnic.
I recently joked with a group of girlfriends about the effort we collectively expended on the subject of the school picture day. Yes, you read that correctly. The. Freaking. School. Picture. Day.
For a full week leading up to the photographer’s arrival in the school gym, we polled each other with equal enthusiasm. What is your child wearing? The school uniform? A special outfit? Are you shopping for an ensemble, or do you already have something that will work? Do you think a majority of the kids will wear the uniform, or will the kid in the uniform be the only one in the school picture visually showing his/her allegiance to Catholic school attire? Will my kid be the only one who didn’t wear a uniform? Will she look like Cher amongst a sea of monks and nuns?
I laughed about the entire exchange. At the core of our worry was our deep love for our children, their self-esteem and their (sometimes) fragile and developing psyches. But would anyone DIE if he/she was the only one wearing a uniform? Would anyone instantly decay into organic matter?
More importantly, would “Remember that day you were the only one in a school uniform on picture day” make it into her Dad’s speech at her wedding? Would she write about it in her college application essays? Would she recall it under hypnosis while laying on the couch in a shrink’s office 40 years from now?
Was it worth the horsepower and time we all invested? After all, the four of us involved in the complex dialogue are all mothers with jobs and nine kids collectively. So, time and energy are the last two things we have to spare.
Of the four of us — three (including me) wavered back and forth about our choice of apparel for picture day. We laid the pressure on ourselves nice and heavy. And even up to the very day, we polled to see if our children were, as Sesame Street would say, “one of these kids that’s doing their own thing … one of these kids that’s not the same.”
Only one of the four of us remained steadfast and resolute in the original declaration of apparel choice. Incidentally, she called it from the very beginning that her child would wear the school uniform. Me? I let the pressure digest me, and when my child borderline lost her shizz and claimed she knew that she’d be the only one in a uniform, I caved. (Again, not loving that I’m passing the pressure cooker behavior right down the genetic line).
But damn, I admired my friend. She was unflappable. Committed to the decision. Firm. Seemingly not killing herself with pressure about whether or not psychological damage would ensue if her daughter was the only one wearing the uniform (which, by the way, she wasn’t).
And a few weeks have passed now. And believe it or not, her daughter came home with both of her arms, both of her legs, her smile, her self-worth and her pleasant disposition.
More than anything, I appreciate the reminder my friend gave me through her actions — without even knowing it. Sometimes, I have to let the pressure go. Sometimes, I have to just stick to my guns, go with my gut, walk my path and worry less about whether or not my approach is the best, right or popular one.
Sometimes when I’m driving around on a clear fall morning, I’ll glance back in the rear view mirror at my eldest daughter. Most days, I fixate on her — blinking only a few times to fully grasp that my chubby meatball infant has morphed faster than Halley’s Comet into a tall, toothless little girl. And I know that as she grows, there will be things in our lives that will require justified pressure and big-decision making — a time where stress is a necessity.
So for now, I’ll try to remember the simple lesson learned on school picture day. No matter what I choose for my child when it comes to the smaller stuff, her world will most likely not collapse.
Anyone know if there’s a local chapter of PA (Pressureholics Anonymous)? I hear the first step is admitting you have a problem.