When I became a parent, I had already been babysitting for over a decade, nannying for six years, and playing the role of World’s Best Aunt for five. I had read parenting books cover-to-cover before even getting pregnant. I had grilled my favorite parent-friends on everything from discipline to diet. I had extensively researched pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, vaccines, cloth diapering, baby wearing, sleep training, attachment parenting—pretty much all sides of every major parenting debate—and had a game plan of what would work best for us.
I had my eye on the prize: not just being a good mom, being a perfect mom.
Perfect Mom: (n.) feeds her kids the right foods, reads aloud for 45 minutes a day, never lets her kids see a screen, always says the right words in the right tone of voice, provides endless opportunities for each child to discover the world and their unique talents and passions; kids with a Perfect Mom never get sick, always feel smart and capable, know they are loved, always make the right choices, and are their Perfect Mom’s best friends for no less than 60 years.
And I gotta say, I was the perfect mom. Sure, we had our hiccups:
I got pregnant one whole month behind schedule.
Our daughter had a diaper rash that wouldn’t go away for all the creams and diet changes, doctors and naturopaths in the world.
She had chronic ear infections and eventually had to have tubes in her ears despite my attempts to avoid surgery with essential oils and warm garlic.
But overall, I was killin’ it. And then . . .
My first grandparent died. A few months later, I had my first miscarriage. Nearly a year after that, I had a stillbirth. A few months after that, I sat with my husband’s family and watched my mother-in-law die from a very rare and aggressive brain disease (while having another miscarriage).
From the time my daughter was 13 months to 4-years-old, she sat on the first couple rows at eight different funerals. And I gave up hope of ever having control of my life or my children’s lives again.
Tragedy, grief, loss—it has a way of completely changing everything about your life. Whether it’s a death, disease, addiction, divorce, job loss or any other number of losses we all eventually live through, it changes the kind of friend, sibling, child, spouse and parent you are.
Tragedy has a way of taking your care right out of you.
I didn’t care anymore if the strawberries were organic.
I didn’t care if the screen time was excessive.
I didn’t care if she had a bath every day.
In fact, there were a few months after my daughter was stillborn when I completely gave up on parenting altogether. Friends brought meals, took my daughter on their family outings, even dropped Costco toilet paper off on our porch after realizing we had been out for two weeks. I was barely able to keep myself alive, much less someone else.
And while we are now three years out from the worst of it, some of that care for things that had once seemed so important in raising a child has never come back. Instead I care about different things. Or maybe I just care more about the right things.
I care less about signing her up for every soccer team, art class and piano lesson . . .
and more about learning and celebrating who God made her to be.
I care less about being the room mom and all-star school volunteer . . .
and more about making our home a safe and peaceful place for her to be herself.
I care less about the college she gets into . . .
and more about showing her she is unconditionally loved and can find joy in many different paths in life.
I care less about teaching her addition, subtraction, letter sounds and proper grammar . . .
and more about teaching her that people are good and kind and loving, but also they struggle with tragedy, temptation, and making very bad choices.
I care less about protecting her from anything bad or painful . . .
and more about showing her that although the world is dark and will inevitably shatter her heart in a million pieces, she is not alone and she can be an incredible comfort to those suffering alongside her.
And while parenting through all the pain has been, and continues to be, an extremely difficult journey, it has completely realigned my perspective on parenting. Now, instead of trying to be the perfect parent, instead of protecting my daughter from any and all pain, I am focused on preparing her for the pain that no amount of organic kale and helicopter parenting can ward off.