Mommy Misdemeanors

Adventures in messing up

My sister-in-law is a terrific mother.

Wait—let me back up. All three of my sisters-in-law are wonderful mothers, but I'd like to share a story with you about the one who's not named Julie and whose children are still very young. Both of my brothers married women named Julie. (So did my father, but that is a story for another day.) My sisters-in-law, the Julies, are terrific mothers. Both of them have four children and one of them is a foster mother who welcomes children into her home for days, weeks, and even months at a time. The other Julie is one of the most resilient people I know who—when faced with academic, medical, or any other challenge that presents itself to her family—grits her teeth, does her research, and labors to remove it. My brothers did very well by marrying the Julies.

But Sara, my other sister-in-law—not a Julie—is also an exceptional mother. If you knew her, you'd agree. She is married to my husband's brother and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is deliberate about the food her three young children eat. (Organic blueberries! Cage-free eggs!) She makes outdoor play such a part of her kids' lives that they consider their neighborhood park a second home. She gives her children clear boundaries, and she lavishes generous heaps of love on them every single day.

To make matters better—or worse if you are already overcome with jealousy over her mothering prowess, as I have been—she used cloth diapers exclusively for years, avoids paper towels and other single-use products (unlike her naughty sister-in-law going through the Taco Bell drive- through lane and shamelessly buying Pampers Mega Packs back in the day), teaches her children sign language when they are babies, and seems only mildly annoyed when the stacks of wooden puzzles in her house make sounds when slightly jostled or when the lights go down. (What's with that, by the way?)

Recently she sent me an e-mail in which she confessed she had failed that day as a mom. My interest was piqued—really? Failed? I will include a part of that e-mail here for one very important reason; and that is, every one of us—let me stop and be perfectly clear: each and every one of us—judges ourselves too harshly, thinks we've failed, and holds ourselves to impossible standards, ones to which we would never, ever, ever hold another person. Even someone for whom we have little respect! Seriously. (By the way, yes of course, there are moms who truly neglect and abuse their children, and such moms aren't ones whom I'd encourage to go easier on themselves as parents … but my guess is that these women aren't perusing the "Parenting and Childcare" section of the bookstore in their spare time.)

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May 25

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