I am not a good mother. At least, not in the conventional sense.
Convention, of course, has it that the good mother feeds her child a vegetable even at breakfast, and is always cheerful and never raises her voice, and the little ones are always neat and tidy and divide their orderly lives between swimming and soccer and piano and doing quadratic equations just for fun.
Her family crest shows a muscular disembodied arm swinging a racket or a golf club, as she is driven to imbue her child with potential. Good mothers are a cross between a 1950s housewife and Mary Poppins, albeit keeping home and rearing tots whilst swilling a semi-tall-non-fat-half-caf beverage and taking intermittent brisk walks and doing the occasional soul-centering yoga.
I, on the other hand, have been known to enter my kitchen for the purpose of procuring a vegan beer and some peanut butter on a spoon and calling it “lunch.” I once signed my daughter up for soccer, only to watch her refuse to play half of the games, at which point I was given no choice but to bribe her with a package of bunny grahams, and trot her back on the field with all the other crying mouths-stuffed-with-bunnies field-nomads.
I don’t own a piano.
The truth, of course, is that there is no “one way” to do this business of mothering. Sure, sure… amid the “mommy wars” and the judgments, you are going to be plagued with doubt by the lack of forced instrument introduction as you drive down the freeway with your toddler biting his baby brother on the arm as you try desperately to fish out a few stale raisins from under the seat so as to gain five minutes of quiet before attempting to make it in and out of the packed Whole Foods grocery store with your probiotics and mood regulating supplements and wailing brood.
Your child’s synapses are closing, his brain plasticity is hardening with age. The likelihood grows that he will never play The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. And you don’t even have a garden. You don’t have enough eco-carbon credits under the neighborhood recycling initiative, and you never even owned a “Save Darfur” t-shirt.
You don’t have to be conventional
I object. I am a working mother of two small children. I own my own business, and I race my bike all over the country. I travel extensively, and I train hard. In my eight years of parenting, I have never felt a smack of regret for being career parent.
I do my best to come home at a reasonable hour, and I wake at 4:00 a.m. so that I can work out, check email, and get to the office by 8:30 a.m. I still see the kids in the morning, help them get dressed and start their breakfast. I leave the office everyday by 4:45 p.m. to get home, prepare dinner and get the kids to their late afternoon/evening activities. Our whole family eats supper together, and spends time after dinner doing homework, reading, taking a walk or riding bikes and relaxing before bath and bed. It’s important to me to carve out the time to nourish my children well, and to give them opportunities to be active.
At the same time, I totally get it. I’ve been there, limping across the end of day finish line. I’ve come home, exhausted, looked in my kid’s backpack and discovered that the nightly homework was to finish an “All About My Family” poster. A poster, people. With glue and pictures. I’ve been that woman in sweatpants at the photo kiosk at 11 p.m., swearing under her breath and yanking trash from the recycling bin to affix to a piece of cardboard. Yes, trash. We’re in this together, ladies. We have solidarity.
Doing what works for you
Running a house and raising healthy kids is really all about doing what works. I have moments of awesomeness – like the time I candied a gazillion edible flowers for birthday tofu and carob custards – and then I have moments of total failure, where I have actually counted PB&J as a “main dish.”
And that’s okay.
Having a healthy home and raising fit kids does not require that one be tethered to the kitchen or submit to an over-scheduled existence. It requires only that you present and prepare real food, and that you provide opportunities for recreation.
It is better to come home after a long day and set out plates of fresh cut fruit and vegetables, a dollop of hummus, a handful of curried cashews and some whole wheat pitas than it is to drive-thru a fast food restaurant in exhaustion. It’s fine to decide that you don’t have the time to drive from one activity to another and, instead, opt to simply go for a walk or play a game of tag before bed to ensure everyone gets their daily quota of movement.
Find a system, a balance, a routine that works for you and your family, with an eye toward what matters most – keeping your children well. Let go of unreasonable expectations, and focus on the time you have at your disposal. Use those moments to do the real work of mothering, where you take time to run and play and hike and sit down at a table together and share the day.
What does raising healthy kids look like to you? Solidarity in the comments.
Professional cyclist racing with Team Novo Nordisk, Becky is a mom of two and active proponent of better nutrition in schools who lives with her family in Longmont, CO.