“supposed to” is a dirty word

30 Dec

I had an epiphany the other day while talking to one of my good friends. I’ve known her my whole life, and we have the sort of friendship where we can say anything to each other and still love each other. (For those of you lucky enough to have a relationship like this in your life, treasure it.)

There’s a lot of similarities in our lives. We’re both raising boys with big beautiful blue Irish eyes. We’re both married to loving and supportive men. And we both struggle with the same things, parenting wise.

My friend confessed that, sometimes, she worries that she’s not a good enough mother for her son. She worries that he deserves better. She worries that she’s not doing everything she’s supposed to. This from a friend whom I’ve seen devotedly nurse her son without complaint, and I’ve seen the way her son’s face lights up when she enters the room. I’ve seen her playing and laughing with him in the tub, in his high chair, and I’ve seen her lovingly read and sing to him at bedtime. She is an amazing mother.

And yet, I confessed that I feel the same way. I vividly remember taking Danny to the park the summer he was almost 2, and having panic attacks. The kind where your throat closes up and you can’t breathe. The source? I was terrified that I wasn’t a good enough mother, that I wasn’t doing everything I was supposed to. I was convinced that the other parents were all judging me, for being young and for being single. I pushed Danny in the swings, hyperventilating, and finally gave up and left the park. In retrospect, none of those people cared. None of them probably noticed anything unusual (except maybe that Danny, despite being almost 2, was still bald.). I was my own worst enemy, making things worse than they really were, by judging myself against a standard of “supposed to.”

It’s a slippery slope, this “supposed to” standard. Judging by the other moms dropping their kids off at school in the mornings, I”m “supposed to” be wearing a North Face jacket, oversized sunglasses, and yoga pants, while drinking Starbucks.  If Facebook and Pinterest are to be believed, I’m “supposed to” create  cutesy handmade crafts, upcycle and repurpose my garbage, perfectly decorate my home just so, and keep a touch of whimsy. According to the larger world, I’m “supposed to” be arranging play dates, spending every minute enriching Danny’s development, cooking healthy well balanced meals every night while keeping an immaculate house. I’m “supposed to” perfectly juggle working and mothering and wife-ing.

These are impossible! I don’t even like Starbucks! Seriously though, as I told my friend, the only thing that really matters, the reason we do deserve the wonderful sons that we have, is that we love them unconditionally. I told her, even though our husbands are great, our parents are supportive, and we both have a great circle of friends and family, there is no one in the world who will love your child like you do. That is the greatest gift you can give them, more than anything else. Our boys both have fantastic fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., but it’s not the same. The unconditional love and support we give our children is what we’re really supposed to do.

I hope she felt better, I know I did. I started looking to other areas of my life, looking to remove the “supposed to” standard. With my own mother, I’m constantly comparing her to my ideal of how a mother is “supposed to” be, to both of our unhappiness. I am judging my mother by an unfair standard, and I should recognize the things she does give me as opposed to things I think she’s supposed to be giving me.

So, my resolution for the new year, is to look at what’s making me unhappy, and figure out if it’s because of the “supposed to” standard. And the flip side is the resolution to recognize what I actually receive, as opposed to what I feel like I should be receiving.

Although, there is one area of my life this is not going to apply to. And that’s my electronic devices. They really need to start acting like they’re supposed to. I’m starting to think my GPS is no longer just lost, but actively trying to kill me.


The green line is where it thinks I should drive. The red arrow inside the circle is where it thinks my car currently is. And the blue where it thinks my car currently is? That would be the Chicago River.


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