It makes me laugh when people talk about ‘imperfect parenting’.
Really, is there any other kind?
I have a long list of past roles I’ve done imperfectly. I was an imperfect college student – spending too much time drinking and dancing, and nowhere near enough time in lecture halls and tutorials. I was an imperfect environmentalist – full of good intentions, but far too fond of my tumble dryer and a sucker for long haul flights. I have always been an imperfect wife – stubborn as hell, dreadful at cooking, and I never remember to replace the toilet roll.
So it didn’t come as a huge surprise to discover that I’m an imperfect parent too.
The realization hit me when I took my son to his first swimming lesson. He was about five months old. At that stage, my days were still flying by in a haze of feeds and laundry and naps. Some days I found time to rub a bit of moisturizer on my cheeks – usually a smear of whatever baby lotion I’d just been using on him – but that was the extent of my personal grooming.
Holy. Cow. I entered the changing room and realized with horror that it was full of mothers with perfectly painted toenails, immaculate bikini lines and tummies that had returned to pre-baby muscle tone. Where were they all finding the time for that? Weren’t they spending their days mopping up vomit and weeping with exhaustion like I was? I kept my head down, squeezed myself into a shabby old swimsuit, and slipped quickly into the water.
A few days later, when I’d recovered from the shame of my stubbly shins being on display, I realised that I was being disingenuous blaming my less-than-perfect styling on the demands of my son. Even before he was born, I didn’t have pedicures or a great haircut. I had never managed to organize my life to the extent where it felt like I ‘had it all’ – something always had to slip.
Over the years, as I’ve stayed at home to bring up my son, I’ve lost count of how many imperfect parenting moments I’ve had, and they haven’t all been about my appearance.
We went through several months where the only way to get my son around the grocery store without a tantrum was for me to pop an endless supply of chocolate buttons into his mouth, like coins into a slot machine. There have been nights when I’ve had grand plans to make grilled vegetable skewers for his dinner, but have been so tired that I’ve dumped him in front of the TV at 4pm and stuck a pizza in the oven. There have been bumps to the head that could have been avoided, f-bombs dropped in public (by both him and me) and one particularly unfortunate incident involving a shot of limoncello that he grabbed out of my hand.
But on the real stuff? The stuff that matters? Loving my son. Doing everything within my power to keep him happy, healthy and safe. Reading to him every night, hugging him when he falls, helping him be kind and polite and confident.
I am doing that day after day after day. Sometimes even with mascara on.