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.