In 2018 I resolve to spend less time obsessing about the chasm between my own life and the fantasy of idealized motherhood, and more time enjoying what I already have.
Last month I was hanging out with a friend – another mom – while our daughters played together. “Are you making New Year’s resolutions?” I asked, because I am obsessed with using arbitrary markers of time to fantasize about what my life could be if I didn’t play so much Boggle With Friends.
“No,” she said. “I don’t really believe in self-improvement.” Immediately I made the resolution to become cool enough to say something like that and have people take me seriously.
A belief that we all need to be improved is at the core of contemporary American culture. You could always be thinner, happier, drink more water, use your time more efficiently. My Facebook timeline is always full of inspirational memes about trying harder, getting better, “grinding” and “slaying” – it’s all very violent and exhausting – but never more so than in January.
And no one bears the brunt of the mania for self-improvement more that parents. Well, no, who am I kidding: mothers. On top of needing to work out more, get a promotion, and improve our smoky eye game, we are supposed to make sure our children read early, eat kale with a smile, and have a different enrichment opportunity every day. Meanwhile, a father who spends any quality time with his children is still considered remarkable, and while I know many male-identified parents who are thoughtful and deliberate about how they raise their children, there is very little social pressure on them to Get It Right.
Moms are the ones who are expected to constantly scrutinize, critique, and correct our parenting – who are expected to parent, as a verb, rather than simply be parents. We’re the ones who are berated for every choice we make, constantly reminded that we are all that stands between our innocent children and an exciting career as a serial killer, and then occasionally blasted with headlines reminding us WE’RE TOO STRESSED OUT AND MUST RELAX IMMEDIATELY (FOR FIVE MINUTES AND NOT A SECOND LONGER).
A growing field of knowledge about child development means we can make more informed choices than our predecessors, but that doesn’t mean parenting needs to be a constant uphill climb, better and better with no end in sight. Raising a child should not require the same amount of extracurricular reading as a graduate degree (and by the way, insisting that you have to study and develop a “philosophy” to be a good parent is just a slightly sneakier way of insinuating that only the wealthy deserve to procreate).
In an internet filled with clickbaity lists of things I’m not going to do in 2018 (lose weight, clean out my closet, stop saying “like” – yes, someone actually suggested that last one, and I was like, OVER MY DEAD DESCRIPTIVE LINGUISTICS), suggestions for “parenting resolutions” are especially infuriating. Parenting is hard, exhausting, undervalued, unsupported work, and we only make it more so by obsessing about individual parents’ successes and failures.
Imagine a world where the clickbait titles said things like “10 Resolutions Rich People Can Make to Support Parents and Families This Year Instead Of Hoarding Wealth Like The Goddamn Dragon Smaug.” Skyrocketing standards for parenting perfection combined with wage stagnation and the erosion of social support means the gap between how we parent and how we believe we’re supposed to parent is actually getting wider. Why torment ourselves with unattainable goals? Unless you’re actually abusive or neglectful, or have a substance or mental health issue you’re not dealing with, you are probably a perfectly acceptable parent, and what you should really try to get better at is cutting yourself some slack.
Here are some things I’m not going to do this year:
I’m not going to set more limits on my daughter’s screen time. Honestly, she might get to watch more movies in 2018 than she did last year, since I work from home and am determined to finish revising my novel draft by my next birthday. If that means she and I become even more intimately familiar with the musical and emotional nuances of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, well, that trumpet-playing alligator is pretty entertaining.
I’m not going to deprive myself of my coping mechanisms. Emotional eating, binge-watching trashy TV, the occasional beer or joint – all these things get a bad rap as “crutches” that shield us from our problems. But who among us can look every issue in her life eye-to-eye, honest and unflinching, every waking moment? I am going to set an example for my daughter that it’s OK to be nice to yourself and give yourself the occasional treat, as long as those treats aren’t impairing your ability to live your life.
In related news, I’m not going to lose weight. Life’s too short, but also, I have a toddler who likes to use me as a jungle gym. I need my padding.
I am not going to clean more. Please, like if I actually managed to rearrange my existence so that I had more hours to spare, I would turn around and spend them vacuuming? No chance. Any extra time I have is going toward either my own writing, dance parties with my kid, or reading the enormous stack of books accumulating by my front door because the library is an easy walk on days when we have nothing planned. I resolve to adopt a policy of appeasement toward the Lego train people. The guest room belongs to them now.
And I’m not going to spend less time on my phone. I am a stay-at-home mom. Volumes have been written about the psychological isolation of spending all your days in the sole company of a toddler. Guess what? Taking a break to text with my BFF for five minutes helps. Even just scrolling through Twitter reminds me that there is a world outside my house, and that world will continue to exist whether or not my child eats even one molecule of the snack she specifically asked me to prepare.
Finally, I do not by any means resolve to get more done while my daughter is napping. In fact, I resolve that if she’s been asleep for 20 minutes and I’m still dicking around trying to decide which chore to start on first, I will either take a nap myself, or pull out a book. I probably need the rest as much as she does.
I will never be a perfect parent or a perfect human being, for that matter. In 2018 I resolve to spend less time obsessing about the chasm between my own life and the fantasy of idealized motherhood, and more time enjoying what I already have. I resolve to teach my daughter by example that you don’t have to be perfect to deserve respect and love.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).