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For the longest time, I thought successful mothering and parenting in general would look something like this:
At least two healthy and happy children enrolled in a variety of extracurricular activities. Ideally, one of those activities would be cello lessons so my kid (didn’t matter who) could fulfill my failed dream of playing Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major. McDonalds? Prohibited. Screen time? Minimal. Languages? They would speak three, just like my husband and I. Gender neutral clothing a must. And they would play with educational, non-toxic toys, too – Montessori style.
As for me, I would be a working mother with a sense of professional fulfillment and contribute to the financial stability of my household. I would prepare organic, non-GMO, home-cooked meals for my children. My husband and I would make time for regular date nights, of course, and explore our city’s amazing culinary scene.
When I actually became a parent and experienced life with a kid for couple of years, I realized I had to change my expectations.
My first clue was when my partner and I decided our family was complete with one child. When I realized I didn’t want a second child, I felt like a bad person. I felt conflicted and guilty about not providing the experience of a sibling to my son just like my husband and I had. I was straying from my vision board! However, I knew deep down what was right for me and for us as a family. It took a minute for me to say it out loud without shame and not feel the like the archetypal “bad mother.” A family of three we shall be, and let me just say, it’s pretty awesome.
The second clue came when my son, a preschooler with a fondness for occasional Happy Meals, informed us he would only be wearing superhero T-shirts from now on. At least we’re not doing too bad with the language part. We’re a French-speaking household and our son is learning English thanks to regular screen time with the PJ Masks cartoon and Whatsapp video with his Granny. Although we’re not very successful with Arabic at this point, our son does know the words “beer” (birra) and “wine” (nbeed) and “booty” (tasstooz). I honestly don’t know how that happened. We’ll get there some day.
Nowadays, my vision of a perfect date night is watching episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with my husband. I’m specifying Deep Space Nine because we’ve already powered through Star Trek: The Next Generation (what a masterpiece that was). When we want to spice things up a little, we watch our episode in bed, dressed in our finest pyjamas, which probably consist of old boxer shorts and an oversized T-shirt we probably got for free. Think there’s no room for romance here? Think again. Those who are familiar with Klingon mating rituals will know what I mean.
We do try to get out of the house from time to time, but we have to be careful since we live on one income now. Great “date night” restaurants will have to wait, as I’ve left the workforce indeterminately (straying from my vision board again). Working parents know how much coffee, running around and organization it takes to run a household with young children (I bow down to you). While coffee is still part of my daily routine, I felt like I needed to slow things down and find a better life balance.
As it turns out, being a stay-at-home parent has done wonders not only for my personal health but for the overall well-being of my family. It wasn’t easy. We’ve had to make sacrifices for it to work. We sold our car. We sometimes put our apartment up on Airbnb to boost our income (our parents are always so excited to see us, suitcases in tow). We’ve cut every expense we could, from monthly subscriptions to unnecessary Sephora trips. Oh, and I’ve gone back to my natural hair color (brunette) because being icy blonde takes a lot of money to maintain.
My vision of success has evolved. I realize that “successful parenting” has nothing to do with how many languages your child speaks or whether or not your child can play Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major. It doesn’t matter if your kid likes the Hulk. And it’s definitely okay if he or she has an occasional slice of normal, non-organic, mass-produced pizza (just throw in some veggie sticks on the side!). As a society, we are so focused on performance. We put so many expectations on ourselves as parents (guilty as charged), but also on our children. All my husband and I can do is try our best to raise a healthy, confident, kind and compassionate child. We teach him that it’s okay to play with action figures and pink ponies alike. We’ll try our best to expose him to various experiences, people, cultures, music, foods, art and yes, even Star Trek (his initiation has already begun).
I came across a quote the other day that really resonated with me. I will shamelessly share it with you, because I believe anything U.S. celebrity hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness (one of the star’s of Netflix’s Queer Eye) says can be applied to your daily life. In my case, it’s my continuing obsession with what it means to be a parent: “You are strong, you’re a Kelly Clarkson song, you’ve got this”. We’ve all got this.
I’ve finally realized that being a “successful mother” means doing my best, being kind to myself and doing what feels right, not what family, friends and society in general expect of me. I just need to love hard and provide a safe and healthy space for my family to flourish. Deconstructing my vision of successful parenting has been challenging and it has taken a couple of years, a good dose of therapy, a little Jonathan Van Ness and some much-needed self-awareness to become comfortable with who I truly am and want to be as a mother. Actually, I don’t think I even want to use the term “successful mother” anymore. I just want to be a mother. I am a mother.
And I am enough.
Michelle Béland lives in Montreal.