Before my kids were born, I knew I’d be the super crunchy parent.
My kids would be adorable little vegans who didn’t eat sugar or watch television. Free of crappy, loud plastic toys and licensed characters, they’d become creative, sensitive, empowered adults.
Oh, and I’d have endless patience and kindness and never yell.
A few years into parenting, I surfaced to see pepperoni-popping, Elmo-craving, McDonald’s-and- Playland-loving kids whose favorite toys blinked and blared.
For one, the world, or at least my world—admittedly, a mostly middle-class, highly educated world—became crunchier. But mostly, after nearly losing my sanity to sleep deprivation, post-partum depression and the intense demands that my self-imposed attachment parenting brought, I decided to lower my expectations.
I said f*ck it: I’m going to mother in the middle.
I’m going to pick my battles and parent the way that feels right for my particular children, my particular self and my particular partner.
And it’s all subject to change tomorrow.
Mothering in the middle means my kids eat fruit by the barrel and whole grain bread and homemade muffins with love and sneaky vegetables cooked into them. They also eat neon-orange macaroni and cheese shaped like Yoda.
It means I no longer believe that breastfeeding is the best thing ever, or formula the worst.
It means I don’t care if you co-sleep with your baby and you spend your nights in a sticky, sleepy haze of nursing. And I don’t care if you let him scream his little lungs out because the sleep deprivation is shape-shifting you into a crazed zombie. (I have done both.)
It means my kids watch more TV than recommended but we also spend as much time outside as we can. It means I don’t freak when my daughter wants to wear pink glittery tutus and be a princess, or when my son turns every found object into a weapon.
It means that my kids are not the rare unicorn angels I sometimes think they are, and that they are also not the demon spawn that I worry they are on other days. They hover somewhere in-between—good kids struggling with some of the usual side effects of being human. Just like you and me.
It means I’m okay with not being a full-time working mom or a full-time stay-at-home mom. I accept that the balance between work and home will shift and shimmy, and I will sink into each variation the best I can.
It means that I vacillate somewhere between the hovery helicopter mom and the hands-off free-range mom, depending on what the stakes are and how much I need me some sweet, sweet silence.
It means letting go of so very much, so many ideals and preconceptions about the parent I thought I would be and the parent I actually am. It means knowing I will make big mistakes because I have blind spots and am brimming with imperfection. I will also do some things terribly well, and mostly I won’t know my mistakes and successes until these years are well behind me.
It means that I sometimes yell but almost never scream.
It means that I’m often not as present with my children as I’d like to be because I’m texting a friend or checking my email. But it also means that I meditate every morning to try and shake myself into the moment, and I stop almost every day and play with my kids. I take in the sweet bark smell of their hair and the shine of their eyes, I squeeze their squishy warm palms and notice they are growing every day. And sometimes when they’re very, very sassy, I flip them off behind their little backs.
It means knowing that with parenting, the learning curve is steep and the ground shifts so often that I will probably never feel steady, and sometimes it feels like everyone else walks more gracefully than I do.
It means I’m almost never judging you because—
1) I’m too worried about whether I’m doing okay, and
2) Unless you’re abusing your kids, you’re doing just fine.
It means that the ascribed mommy wars are largely bullshit, because most of us hover somewhere between these media-driven constructs. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, and nearly all of us are doing our damned best.
It means that I’ve come to believe that what matters most about parenting are the same things that matter most about living: being kind and true, loving hard, and doing the heart-straining work of letting go.
It means knowing I won’t be the best or the worst parent, but like most of us, I’ll be fluttering somewhere in the middle.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Renée P.
Image: Jaysin Trevino at Flickr