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On Parenting
Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 10/01/2012

How to stop ‘trying to be perfect’

If you’ve got a minute (hah!) this is worth a read.

Almost finished, I had to put it down to deal with Emily.

It’s my life, dead on.

Let’s do this.

The texts flew between mothers this weekend about the latest missive in the Mommy War. This is not the old work vs. stay-at-home debate, which hardly exists anymore as employment has morphed into an amoeba of dozens of possible scenarios and mothers no longer have much time to judge each other.

It’s about the war that we mothers are waging on ourselves: The quixotic quest to accomplish too much in too little time with too little sleep and too little support. Oh, and to look good too.

The phenomenon has been identified and examined from several angles lately. But the new missive, by Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College, has subtly changed the conversation in an important way

In “Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect,” published last week on The Daily Beast, Spar concludes:

“The only way that American women will ever fully solve the ‘women’s problem’ is by recognizing the quest for perfection for what it is: a myth. No woman can have it all, and by using all as the standard of success, we are only condemning ourselves and our daughters to failure.”

Unlike most other commentaries on the subject she does not lay the blame wholly at the usual suspects. Yes, fathers could do more, but they need more guidance on how to co-parent. Yes, the culture is sexist and public policy is pathetic, but that is partly a by-product of some indisputable biological facts. At the heart of the problem, she argues, are mothers’ unrealistic expectations of themselves.

More, she gives us a prescription for change. That’s what’s been absent from so many of the previous talked-about commentaries on the subject.

“It is time now to go back — to channel the passion of our political foremothers and put it again to good use. It needn’t be anything particularly elaborate. How about organizing babysitting collaboratives for worn-out moms? Or potluck suppers, that remnant of our grandparents’ age? We could work together to make the life we share a bit easier for us all. And yet too often we do not. Why? Because we’re too busy being perfect,” she writes.

Her advice sounds old-school, a throwback to the times when stay-at-home-motherhood was the norm and there seemed to be (it looks like from our modern perch) enough idle time to waste on coffee dates.

It makes perfect sense, though. It’s what missing from most of our modern loves.

It’s true that our partners might be able to pick up more slack (notice the “might,” honey), that our culture is certainly too demanding of mothers and that our public policy on childcare is a disgrace. Those are obstacles worth tackling, but such fights demand patience that we can’t afford this afternoon, when our boss says she needs us to stay late and our son is waiting for a ride home.

Asking for help from each other is skill many of us need to learn from scratch. We grew up working to free ourselves of traditional constraints like family ties and claustrophobic neighborhoods. In so doing, we left behind some wisdom from previous generations.

Our self-imposed isolation — from family members, from friends who were too proud to ask for help, from other parents stuck in the same vice — has created our problem too.

There are neighborhoods were parents have banded together and found success with Spar’s suggested approach. I occasionally see queries about babysitting co-ops on parenting list serves throughout the region. These tend to be few and far between, but they can provide models.

We might think we’ll expose our own inabilities if we ask for help from a friend who seems to be juggling all her responsibilities just fine. Here’s the secret: She isn’t.

It’s an act that too many of us take part in. She probably also popped a sleeping pill last night and shouted at her partner this morning and is silently berating herself for forgetting show-and-tell. Her eyes only look sharp because she asked for a triple shot latte at Starbucks this morning.

Just ask her. Ask if you might coordinate a bit. I did this weekend, offering to take on a few after-school pick-ups for a friend while she works on an all-consuming assignment. In exchange, I’ll ask for some help down the road. She resisted mightily, but after reading Spar’s piece, she agreed.

If there’s one thing Spar’s audience of overwhelmed mothers has in common, it’s the ability to take on a new task.

Do you ask for help from other parents or do you try to manage most parenting responsibilities within your own home?

Have you organized with other parents? If so, tell me how?

Related Content:

A rallying cry for parents’ rights

Mothers multi-task more and resent doing it, study finds

What ‘having it all’ really means

By  |  12:12 PM ET, 10/01/2012

Tags:  Work-life Balance

 
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