Confession time; I’m a recovering report card junkie. A people pleaser. A certified square. Star charts and student of the week recognition? Yes please! Dean’s Lists and Honor Chords? I’m salivating.
This seemed like a good thing when my entire life from five and up revolved around school. It worked well to gauge my worth on my grades, after all, I was getting them quarterly. I found great calm and stability in the idea that I could study hard, know the right things, and score well on the test. It’s that personality that led me a to high GPA, Dean’s Lists, Student of the Year in my college program, and a stellar resume. Even as an employee I could count on quarterly reviews and feedback from bosses.
Then I became a mom.
Everything became unknown. There are lots of materials to study, but they don’t all agree…ever. There are lectures to listen to, but who’s really the expert? You can never feel completely prepared and the amount of information is truly overwhelming. Then there’s the hardest part for me; there’s no grade, no progress report, no solid reassurance that things are going well. As a new mom, that’s what I was most starved for (except for maybe sleep!). People could tell me over and over that, I was a “good mom” but to me that was useless. How were we grading this? What scale? Based on what? I just wanted to be an “A” mom and no one could prove I was.
There have been plenty of times where I would have readily given myself an “F”. Times when I’ve raised my voice, allowed what I said I would never, or had the runner in the parking lot. Darker times while I struggled from postpartum anxiety and laid my infant on the floor in desperation while she screamed, and screamed back that I didn’t know what she wanted me to do, why wouldn’t she just tell me?? Or the time I finally got her to sleep only to have the dog wake her barking at the mailman. I was so angry I yelled and chased him around the kitchen, making him pee in fear. Then I came around the corner and slipped in his puddle, falling to the floor in tears. Totally not an “A” moment, right? It’s so much easier to remember those “F” times, they stick out in my mind like a teacher’s red pen with a note saying to have my parents give them a call. But the truth is those aren’t “F’s” because as much as I may hate it, no one is grading me. I’m not being measured against any kind of standard because it doesn’t exist.
It has taken me four years and going on three kids to just begin to come to terms with a life with no measurable feedback. It’s been an up and down and all-around journey to live without what I considered solid proof of success. I will never know it all and will be constantly dealing with challenges I’ve never been able to study for; and at times, that can be terrifying. Fear of failure may have motivated me as a student, but as a parent, it will just keep me stuck. You can’t determine success by milestones, percentiles, or number of meltdowns. If I keep myself wrapped up in how well I think I’m doing as a mom, I’ll miss out on the parts that matter. I’ll miss the joy that hides in all that uncertainty. That terrifying but beautiful place where there’s no one right way. I’m in the business of raising human beings now, and in that line of work I’m adapting to a new grading curve where every parent that’s doing the best they can with what they know for their own kids gets an “A”.