Episode 4: The Art of Imperfect Momming Transcript
Due to Gwenna having a tendency to go off the rails while actually recording, there may be some variance in the recorded audio and the transcript.
The Art of Imperfect Momming
Hello! I'm Gwenna Laithland, and this is The Momma Cusses Podcast – the podcast dedicated to all the cussable moments in parenting.
Disclaimer: The Momma Cusses Podcast may have curse words, profanity, or adult topics. Okay, it will definitely have those things. If you have sensitive littles listening with you, now might be the time to pop on those headphones or go hide in the bathroom with your Grown-Up Juice.
Today's episode is brought to you in part by Cannasmack – hemp-oil infused beauty and skincare products. So I was way older than I care to admit when I learned that the most important part of soap is oil. The fragrances and bubbles are there for looks (and smells, I guess). When I got my little jar of Cannasmack's Cleansing Oil, I didn't want to believe it. You mean, smearing oil all over my oily-gal face and then just wiping it off is going to make this mess better? Yeah. Yeah, it did. But the part of soap that works is the oil, grabbing all the gross, trapping it, and wiping off when you wipe the Cleansing Oil off. And Cannasmack's oil of choice is hemp, naturally full of all the best things your skin craves. You can check it out for yourself over at Cannasmack.com. Enter promo code Momma Cusses (two words) for 10% off your order. That's C-A-N-N-A-S-M-A-C-K.COM and promo code Momma Cusses.
Social media and the internet has forever changed the face of motherhood. There was a time in very recent history that if a mom didn't know what to do, she could A) call her mom B) talk to the neighbor moms or C) call the pediatrician or family doctor. After those options were exhausted, she was on her damn own. There was no litany of Dr. Google posts to convince her that her child's rash was a sign of an incredibly rare disease. There was no Pinterest board of unapproachably perfect crafts to spend sunny Sunday afternoons royally cocking up.
Today's moms have a glutton of resources available at their fingertips, often tucked into their bra-cket or the pocket of the yoga pants. On the one hand, it is incredibly useful to instantly access the cumulative knowledge of moms from all walks of life and experience levels. Behavior issues – there's a board for that. Speech delays – there's an infographic for that. Picky eater – there's an e-course for that. Almost nothing that could go weird while raising a tiny human is unaddressed. If your kid is (or perhaps isn't) doing something, someone on the internet has probably experienced it already. They may or may not have a solution for your situation, but at least you feel a little less alone and potentially a bit less insane.
On the other hand, it is unnerving to see how "perfect" all the other moms seem. Instagram is probably the worst in the latter. Picture after picture in the hashtag Momlife features moms with their shit together, matching outfits for their spawn and happy smiling faces of contentment and satisfaction. Yeah, that's a whole lot of bullshit crammed into frame. First, as we've discussed countless times before, that one perfect pic that was deemed Instagram worthy is likely the culmination of weeks of effort, bribery, and shoving the disaster out of shot.
Teddy Roosevelt said a lot of interesting things in his life. But my favorite quote has become almost a sort of motto in my parenting decisions. Comparison is the thief of joy. And according to psychology, it really is.
A 2019 study by Deri and Davidai (my sincerest apologies for brutalizing both those names) showed that people have two ways to compare their own successes to those of others. If we are trying to take stock of our personal fitness, for example, we often think of the fittest person we know. You know the gym rat kind who uses words like shred, drinks protein sludge for fun, and spells the word gains with a z. When we look at our mom bods compared to those, of course, we end up falling well short of the benchmark. And down, we tumble into a pit of self-deprecation and a feeling of failure.
When we scroll through Instagram, the copious mommy blogs, and Pinterest, we find these surreal presentations of motherhood. The rough edges are sanded down or blurred out with a vignette filter. The fails are neatly discarded before the final picture is snapped and posted. We, as moms and humans, see this unbridled excellence and compare our own modest surroundings to them. And we feel less than as a result.
However, the same study showed that when people were prompted to make more accurate comparisons, they felt better about their self-analysis. When an amateur home cook was asked to compare their cooking with that of a cook of relatively similar skill level, their assessment of their own skills tended to lift. They felt better about their own skills by comparison.
So it stands to reason, if we want to begin to feel better about our work as mothers, we need to establish a few more reasonable expectations. We need to begin to appreciate the art of imperfect momming.
No mom is perfect. No child is perfect. (Yes, even yours. And if you feel the need to argue with me, I'd be willing to bet you can still count your child's age in days.) We are human and, thus, flawed. The trick to being a good human is not pretending that we are perfect, but to admit our fuck ups, learn from them, and try our hardest not to make the same mistake twice. A genuinely good human embraces the constant ebb and flow of fail, learn, try again – repeat ad nauseum until we succeed. And if that's what makes a good human, it's what makes a good mom. Momming is imperfect because we are imperfect.
And admitting that feels like a sucker punch to the gut at first. It feels so incredibly daunting as a mom because the stakes feel higher. Not only is our own mental health at risk, but potentially the health and safety of our spawn is as well.
The internet would have you believe there is only one right way to raise a child. This is complete and utter bullshit. It's just not true. Children are all different and require different levels of attention. There is no one right way to raise every child. There isn't even one right way to raise your child. Your parenting experience, and by extensions, your sex trophy's childhood will be a winding road through trial and error, loudly exclaiming, "Well what the fuck do I do now?" and tears of both frustration and joy.
But once you admit and own the imperfection in your parenting, now you can begin to refine it into a respectable art, one that you'll look back on and go, well it isn't what I thought it would look like, but it is recognizable.
Sponsor break – Anchor by Spotify
My very 90s childhood did include scrunchy-enshrined ponytails jutting off the side of my head and slouch socks in every neon color available. I'll own that. But that's where my similarities with my peers stopped. Lisa Frank was all the rage when I was in elementary school. But I never got that into the neon surrealism the other girls went gaga for. Saturday morning cartoons reigned supreme for other kids. But my interest lay elsewhere. Come Saturday morning; I would pour myself a big bowl of Golden Grahams and plop myself down in front of PBS.
Now, this was the days before PBS Kids. They had kids shows like Reading Rainbow and Wishbone, but those came on after school on weekdays. The public access channel had far less kid-oriented fare on Saturday mornings. Instead, they aired two shows that I lived for: The Frugal Gourmet and The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.
In recent years Bob Ross has risen to popularity, so it might be unnecessary to acquaint you with some of his more well-known sayings. But in case you've not internetted in the last six or so years, Bob Ross was an afro-ed badass who may or may not have sold his soul to create the paintings he made. He painted happy little clouds and gave his tap-tap-tapped trees friends. He also never fretted a mistake. Everything was a happy accident to Ross.
He may not have intended to paint a bush or a little pathway into the woods, but paint landed where it oughtn't, and he just rolled with it. He always gently encouraged the viewers to let the painting take shape however it may. Don't force it, he would beguilingly coo. Just let it happen.
I watched entranced every Saturday morning without fail. I was never a painter and never really wanted to be. My artistic bent slanted a different direction, but I loved Bob Ross all the same. Of course, I couldn't know his happy clouds and friendly trees and laissez-faire approach to creating things would influence my parenting, but it did.
We'll talk more about this in just a moment, but first, we need to pause for a Momma Cusses Letter to My Spawn.
Dear children of mine,
If you're reading this note, it means I've either died, or I've finally found a hiding spot in which you cannot find me. (Haha, if it's the second. And um…that sucks…if it's the first.) There are some things you should know – questions that have long burned at your existence. The ones that keep you up at night. I have some answers.
First, yes. I totally had a favorite kid. Now I'll wait while you argue about which one it really was….done? Okay, yes, I had a favorite; however, it changed from minute to minute and depended entirely on who was being less of a dick at the time.
As far as chores go, yeah, I was lying to you for all these years. It was never about preparing you for adult life or teaching you valuable lessons about contributing to the household and taking responsibility for your actions. It was purely shit I didn't want to do. I hated doing dishes. And you kids made most of the dishes. So it really felt like your problem more than mine. Since we're in full confession mode here, not having to do dishes for twenty some odd years was at least one percent of your father's and my decision to even have kids.
Next point. If you haven't figured it out by now, no, rice is not supposed to be crunchy. I always sucked at cooking rice. Even the fancy rice cookers couldn't help. Also, I hid cauliflower in it, like 80% of the time. So there's that. Also, I'm not sorry about it, but I feel it's only fair you should know that I did not need to poop nearly as often as I claimed I did. I just needed a moment away from you. And the promise of poop stank was typically enough to buy me an extra 30 or 40 seconds before you came barging into the bathroom anyway.
The real reason we couldn't get a goldfish is because I was barely keeping you alive and I didn't want to have to explain goldfish heaven to you when I inevitably forgot to feed the damn thing for a week straight (Cuz Anubis knows ya'll weren't gonna feed him. You rarely fed the dogs, the fish wasn't gonna stand a chance.)
There are many more things I probably need to tell you, but since I'm writing this while alive, I can hear you coming for me. Also, should you choose to have kids, know that the fuckers will, in fact, find you in the damn attic.
Your sucks-at-hide-and-seek mother.
There are about a million decisions a parent has to make in just the first year of kids' lives. Diapers and feeding, sleeping, and stimulation. All of them directly or indirectly influencing the other. And before the baby arrives, most parents feel pretty confident they have it all figured out.
We're all perfect parents before we have kids. And then all of a sudden, boom. Tiny human. And we get this false boost of confidence in the first few weeks—that period where babies sleep 20 hours a day and are at their most potatoey. Our brains are flooded with happy juices, and the kids just aren't that needy. Any struggles we encounter, we easily pawn off as a learning curve or adjusting to each other.
Shortly after that, it all goes to hell. And it doesn't matter how many kids we've already had. Shit gets weird by week three or four, and parents are never prepared. The postpartum high fades, and we realize that we have no fucking clue why this kid is screaming or what to do to make it stop. Most of us, at that point, start feeling desperate. Those parenting experts may advise against the choice we are about to make, but it becomes a matter of survival.
All our preconceived notions fly out the window, and we are deep into imperfect mommies territory. All accompanied by that bitch, mom guilt, and her incessant chastising us. "You said you'd never co-sleep," she reminds you. Yeah, but safe co-sleep is better than no sleep. "You promised you'd breastfeed for one year." Uh-huh, and if my damn boobs would make more fucking tit juice, we might make it, but…fed is best, and breastfeeding is hard.
By one year, we've amassed a series of compromises and unlearned everything we thought we knew prior to having the kid. And in the thick of it, the whole thing feels like we've made a mess of everything. Like some almighty mom-art critic is rocking back on their smug heels, silently judging our failure.
But that's not how the art of imperfect momming works. That's not what Bob Ross taught me about parenting. Bob Ross never painted things to be admired and doted upon by the fine art world. He painted things for himself and for his viewers, his children, for the sake of this analogy.
His work was never destined for museum galleries. In fact, the Smithsonian has a hefty chunk of his 1000ish paintings and has no plans to display a single one at the time of this recording. Truthfully, I don't think he gave a damn what Senor Smug thought about his mountain landscapes and tree-lined lakes.
Imperfect momming involves giving up the fear that you'll be judged by some all-powerful mom committee for changing up tactics or making decisions purely on the basis of coping and surviving.
Let's look at a big source of mom-fretting, screentime. Our kids are growing up in a digital age with virtual enhancers and technological dependencies. Screens are everywhere. Many schools hand them out as they once handed out textbooks. Learning is enhanced with smart boards and educational apps. But too much screentime is too stimulating, and blue wave light is the devil.
But as I record this episode, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. The parks are closed, the museums shuttered, the zoos cordoned off, and by appointment only. All that's left to learn a little something and keep those developing little minds engaged is screens.
The debate rages and rightly so about how to handle sending kids back to school come August. There are no easy answers to be found. We're not even totally sure we are asking the right questions. School may be conducted via Zoom meetings and virtual classrooms for thousands of students this year. With screens.
And we still have to worry about how much screentime our kids get? I say no. I'm not a physician; I'm not a child development expert. I barely know how to parent my three kids. But screentime is one of those things that I, as a mom of a teen and twin toddlers, just have to let float off into the 'Sea of Things I Don't Have the Energy to Do Anything About.'
Is it imperfect? Yes. Could there be unforeseen consequences? Oh, most likely. But I'm not going to view it as a failure. It is a happy accident. We are gonna put that path there in the middle of my Rossian mom art and see where it leads.
The art of imperfect momming is really developed in finding what is important for you and your family. Is a Marie Kondo worthy space important to you? How about home-cooked organic meals? Are you a super-crunchy mom willing to handle the ins and outs of cloth diapering? If yes, then those are your priorities, and you go at them!
If the answer to any of those was no, then perfect your art and just don't worry about them. Aim for trash in the trash can and try not to let any one pile grow taller than your shortest kid. Try for all the basic food groups on the plate even if the meat is shaped like a dinosaur, and the veggie is hidden in the ketchup. And embrace those disposables, sister. We can worry about the planet when your kid is not actively shitting her own pants. I tried cloth diapers for about two days and noped right out of that world. All due respect and worship to the mommas that love them, but that's not for me.
There's a concept in Japanese aesthetics called Wabi-Sabi. According to Wikipedia wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. There's no exact definition of the words wabi or sabi, but for the most part, Wabi means things that are fresh and simple. Sabi refers to beauty that comes with age.
Now wabi-sabi is focused on how things look, the feel of furniture, and how the imperfections of scuffed paint or a chipped bowl don't detract but rather add beauty through history and the story those imperfections tell. But I think most moms could stand to wabi-sabi their parenting outlook as well. (Sidebar, wabi-sabi is not a verb. Probably. But I'm gonna make it one today.)
A lot of folks adore the little signs you can hang up in your home that proclaim "Pardon the mess, my kids are making memories." Or something to that extent. I love those signs. It is step one in making momming with flaws an art. But I think we can go a little farther than asking people to pardon the mess. I think those signs should read, "Accept the mess; we are making ourselves into amazing people."
Stop apologizing for the permanent marker scribble stain on the wall. Instead, wabi-sabi it. Yeah, the little got a hold of a sharpie and made me some art on the wall. It's like a tattoo for the wall, a memory of both a mistake and a different time.
Don't feel obligated to try to fluff up that worn-out ass-shaped section of the couch when company is coming over. Break out the wabi-sabi. Yes, the cushion is worn the fuck out, but that is the impression of so many cuddles, so many tears over scraped knees and toddler injustices. Bottomless bowls of popcorn have been shared from that squished cushion on family movie night.
Yeah, it's dirty because tiny baby feet, blackened with play dirt, found purchase there while my kids scrambled to tell me a story of what they discovered in the sandbox. It was cat shit, and we had to sort that stomach-churning moment out, but they were still so proud of themselves for this discovery they had to tell me immediately.
Momming is all about survival. Imperfect momming is about surviving with sanity more or less intact. No one paints like Bob Ross on their first go. Even Bob Ross didn't paint like Bob Ross the first time he smacked that brush against his easel to dry it off. It takes time to hone your art skill.
The same goes for the art of imperfect momming. You are constantly refining, redefining, and honing your priorities and what is important to you, your kids, and your situation. Kids have this pesky habit of growing and changing pretty much constantly. Which is good, but it means it feels like you're reinventing the damn wheel every six or so months. And, to be fair, you kind of are. To master the art of imperfect momming, focus on how well that wheel moves forward rather than how perfect it will look in that Instagram photo.
If you need to compare to make yourself feel better, compare to other normal moms, not the momentary perfection of Instagram and Pinterest. If you're going to have to endure some fails, and you will embrace them, learn from them, laugh at them, and try something new. You've got this. You really, really do, imperfections, hot-mess-mom-bun, oatmeal-stained hoodies and all.
Before we go, we have just enough time for a few Mom Definitions – parts of momming that don't have a name but really should. (Also known as a series of really tortured portmanteaus)
Momversation – the act of talking with a fellow mom, stopping mid-sentence to yell at a kid, and picking right back up where you left off as if you didn't just screech at a crotch goblin.
Momxiety – The irrational, intrusive thoughts that something awful is going to happen to your kids Gwenna refused put fuel in her car while her child was in it for the first three years of her daughters life due to the momxiety of the gas fumes igniting and exploding the whole car in a Michael Bay-type fireball.
Mompetition – The unspoken competition between moms to bring the best party favors, Valentine treats, or test prep snacks to your kids' school classroom.
Motherhoodrat – The mom who was once as hood as she could be, played fuck bois like a game of Risk, partied to blackout, and would fight a bitch for spilling her drink on the dance floor. You wouldn't know it to look at her now but she will still throw down if you look at her kids with too much stank-eye.
Mommydrobe – This is the wardrobe worn exclusively for mom-type activities. Mostly old maternity pants that fray to scraps before being retired despite no longer being pregnant, 8-year-old shirts stolen from a partner, and barely fit for wearing in public.
The Momfuck – No, this has nothing to do with intercourse. This is the one precious fuck a mom has left to give on any given day. If you believe you need a mom to give a fuck about something, you'd better hope and pray she has her momfuck left. If not, you're out of luck.
That's it for today. I can't tell you how much I appreciate my listeners. Many thanks to our sponsors for supporting this episode. And we need to thank The Fox Sisters for the use of their song Stuck on You for the intro and outro of our podcast.
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