Kids don’t REALLY need baths and other tips for surviving motherhood

I have often heard feminists bemoan the image of the “perfect mom” from generations past.  You know the type- perfect hair set, meticulously applied makeup, dainty pearl necklace to accent a figuring flattering wardrobe, dinner roasting in the oven as she waits for her hubby with a martini in hand at the end of the day.  Sounds ridiculous right?  But have we really evolved past this expectation?  If anything, modern moms may have even more pressure than our mothers and grandmothers.  We are now expected to hold down a job, keep a perfect house, bounce back to our pre-baby forms within a few weeks, sport a trendy wardrobe, volunteer at school, engage in additional nurturing activities, and look gorgeous while doing it.  God, what happened to the days when you plopped the kid in front of the TV and drank wine from a coffee cup?

I googled the words “stylish mom” to see what expectation I would be met with.  I happened upon this:

Now granted, the celebrity mom who looks perfect because of a hair stylist, makeup artist, wardrobe specialist, trainer and genetics is not surprising.  But I loved when writing how to create this hairstyle for yourself, it is described as styling “with ease” and is summed up in three small steps- steps that would take me at least 45 minutes to replicate.  45 minutes of me shouting “where are you? What are you doing” repeatedly.  45 minutes of my kids trying out every cosmetic I have, on themselves, the wall, and the cat.  45 minutes of taking every toy out of the toy box, every shirt out of their dressers, every pillow and sheet off every bed.  You get the point.  It is kind of like when these hosts on makeover shows ask the burnt out, weary looking mother “do you have 5 minutes a day to spend on yourself?”  The downtrodden mother quietly answers “yes” knowing full well she will never have 5 minutes to herself until her children are in college.

Today, a friend of mine asked me “how do you do everything you do?  Seriously, I need help.”  My first thought was “you have no idea what my real life is like.”  I’m a mess.  A sometimes secret mess, but more and more a visible mess that shows up wearing my pajamas to drop my son off at school.  Ok, they are actually linen lounge pants but that’s just a fancy name to help me feel less guilty for sporting PJ’s in public.

The friend in question is one of the best moms I know.  Her children are bright, well-behaved and fun to be around.  I don’t believe I have ever seen her raise her voice to them, or to anyone else for that matter.  She takes them to some kind of developmental activity nearly every day of the week.  Despite challenging dietary allergies, she cooks fresh, healthy meals.  She looks gorgeous.  She maintains a career, even though it means working hours long after the children have gone to bed.  By all means, she is a success, yet I know she often wants to burst into tears from feelings of being completely overwhelmed- a complaint I hear almost daily in my discussions with other mothers.

The question got me thinking though- what real advice do I have to offer? Because it is nice to commiserate, but it is better to offer some kind of help.  Here is my stab at getting you through the day.

  1.  Do not give an option if there isn’t one- Just this week, I heard the best piece of advice.  How many times have you caught yourself asking your kids “do you want to go to the store?” and they in turn reply “no.”  You then drag them to the car kicking and screaming because it was never really an option not to go to the store.  It is not really better to say “we HAVE to go to the store.”  No one is excited by something they HAVE to do.  Instead get them excited by saying “We get to go to the store! We’re going to have so much fun.  You get to help me pick out the tomatoes because you do such a good job at that.”  That sounds a lot more fun doesn’t it?
  2. Cook once, eat twice- simple simple simple.  But whenever I cook, I always make enough for two nights, so that at least one night is easy.  If you don’t like leftovers, prep for two nights so that your meal is at least halfway done on the second.
  3. Subscribe to a magazine that offers easy meal recipes- Cooking every night is not nearly as much fun as these Giada Delaurentis types make it out to be.  Quite frankly, it can suck.  Trying new recipes makes it more fun.  Get something that offers kid friendly meals, meals that are made quickly, etc.  Read the magazine, then rip out the recipes you think you’ll use and stash them somewhere where you will use them.
  4. Snag some cute hats and scarves- Nothing makes a mom look more frumpy than the hastily pulled back ponytail or messy bun (even though I have this most days of the week).  Put a cute hat on top of that dirty hair, and I guarantee you’ll get compliments.  Same for a cute scarf to wrap around your head.  Don’t have time for major makeup- concealer, blush, lipgloss, mascara.  Wear a comfy dress instead of a t-shirt and shorts and you’ll be flabbergasted at how many people ask “so why are you so dressed up?”
  5. Decide what you really HAVE to do/Engage in free activities- as moms, we want to give our kids every opportunity we can.  That means preschool, swim lessons, music class, art class, sports, etc.  It quickly feels like you don’t have a free moment.  While it is nice to engage your kids in fun activities, they don’t need to do everything right now- they have 18 years to try it all out before leaving home.  Give yourself a free day sometimes.  Go to a park or library- they are still engaging in activities that are beneficial and educational, but the time schedule is easier to work with.  If you leave the house 30 minutes late, it’s no big deal.  If you skip a week, you’re not mad because your not paying for it.
  6. Strength in numbers- what would I do without moms groups and preschool moms?  I used to scoff at the idea of playdates.  Now, I’m lost without them.  Kids play with other kids, moms get adult conversation.  Don’t wait until your house is clean and perfect, don’t limit yourself to a morning where you have nothing to do.  Make a pact with your friends to not judge each other by the cleanliness of your homes.  Call a friend and say “I’ve got 40 minutes to spare.  Want to hang?”  Seriously, I do this for a mere hour almost every day after preschool, but that 60 minutes saves my sanity most days.
  7. Get rid of what you don’t need- again easy, but truly necessary.  The less you have, the less you have to clean.  You are not obligated to keep every stuffed animal someone gives your kid, every stupid toy you absentmindedly purchase at the $ store, every piece of “artwork” your kid makes at school.  Get rid of it.
  8. Storage is key- for every room that I have toys, I have some type of storage for the toys.  I love the Ikea shelves with the bins that fit inside.  I pull out the bin to play with, then have the boys help me clean up and put away the bin before getting out another one.  I also like the benches and ottomans that have storage inside.  Whatever you use, have it so you can pick up quickly and get it out of the way.
  9. Letting your little ones help frees you up to clean- I have two vacuums.  I didn’t plan it that way (one is for smaller messes, another for heavy duty), but it works out well to say “who wants to help me vacuum?”  One of the boys will use one, I will use the other.  It keeps them occupied while I get the real job done.  Same for dusting or windows- they spray water and wipe it up, while I do the real cleaning.
  10. Organize your day appropriately- I’m not going to bust my hump getting the house perfect in the morning, knowing they are going to mess it up again within an hour.  I also know that if I type in front of them, they are going to want to use the computer.  I get on the computer while they are asleep.  We all help clean up before Dad gets home.
  11. For the love of all that is holy, give yourself a break!- your house is messy, so what.  You’ll clean it sometime, and it will get dirty again before you know it.  Kid wants to wear his Halloween costume to school- cute.  Toddler refuses to take a bath tonight- sooner or later he’ll get in the tub.  Spaghetti three nights in a row- who doesn’t love spaghetti.  Still carrying a little baby weight- I bet your husband still finds you mighty sexy. Seriously, these days are limited.  You just have to make them through as best as you can.  Cut yourself some slack.  I’m pretty sure, you’re doing just fine.
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