There’s a term in professional sports for a player who tries to do everything on his or her own. “One Man Show”. It’s a bad thing. An extremely bad thing. Players who are a “One Man Show” quickly lose favor with team mates, sports broadcasters, and fans alike. When you hear the commentary about these players, it’s rarely focused on the strengths of the player, and make no mistake, these are some excellent players. Players who try and do it all on their own are among the strongest players on the team, even in the league. They excel at what they do, and often it is the effort of the “One Man Show” that carries a team to victory. So why aren’t they adored?
I have a theory. I think it’s because every member of the team wants to fulfill his or her role on the team to the best of his or her ability. Fans enjoy watching the team perform as a team should. They eat up the plays when one player assists another and the team functions with perfect synchronicity. Broadcasters and coaches know how a team is meant to function, and offer criticism accordingly. More than that, though, is the fact that when a team works well together, every member of the team excelling in his or her own position, the team becomes the best it can be. It is teams functioning as teams should that become unstoppable.
When I got married, I never tried to be everything for my husband. I didn’t try and replace his male friends or preempt his colleagues. I certainly never tried to be his sister, brother or parent. I am happy in my role as his wife and friend. As a child, I never tried to be everything to my parents or grandparents. As a friend, I never tried to be everything to anyone.
So what is it about the title of “Mother” that leads us to try and be everything for our child?
Moms are called upon to wear a lot of different hats. We are the doctor, taxi driver, psychotherapist, activity director, referee, cook, personal shopper, tutor and so much more to our children. But what makes us try and wear every single hat? What makes us snatch hats back from those who want to help us? What makes us feel guilty for letting someone else wear one of our hats?
I’m going to dump a chunk of blame on the culture of mom-shaming that has sprung up on social media. We’re at each other over everything from breast or bottle, organic or fruit snacks, video games or no electronics, home school or public school. I don’t get it. The vast majority of moms are doing the best they can. Are we really so certain ours is the only correct point of view for every child? Frankly, I’m just winging it most of the time. I do what I think is right and pray that that is good enough. I suspect I’m not alone in this particular parenting reality.
Social media does us another injustice as mothers. We all post the beautiful moments. We post the joys and the triumphs. We post pictures of smiling, playing, laughing children. We post beautiful vacation photos and pictures of missing teeth and the first day of school. Even the messy faces and caught-in-the-act photos usually carry funny, punny or witty captions. What are usually left out are the photos of what the kitchen really looks like and the stories about defiant and disrespectful teenagers.
Moms rarely post the real nitty-gritty truth about motherhood. We don’t post about the gnawing fear that we might be doing this job all wrong. We don’t write stories about the isolation we feel after the new babies come. We don’t post about depression. We don’t post about our social anxiety. We don’t post about how much we both love and hate these bodies that just miraculously managed to grow another human being. We don’t wax poetic regarding the nights we spend on our knees pleading with God, or curled up in a ball crying ourselves sick over just not knowing what to do or how we are going to face another day of being the mom.
One of the greatest gifts of motherhood is the ability to see the greatness and unlimited potential in our children. The down side of this great gift is it does not erase our ability to see our own flaws and shortcomings. This feeds another thing that comes with having children: Mommy Guilt. Mommy Guilt is one of those timeless and eternal principles. I believe it started with Eve and shows no signs of stopping. I’ve never met a mom immune to it. Mommy Guilt is the most powerful form of guilt. It comes from knowing both how amazing our children are, and how human and flawed we are. Never mind that our children are also human and flawed, that our own mothers and their mothers and back through all of the mothers until Eve were equally human and flawed.
This natural tendency toward guilt is fueled by the falsely perfect facades we see reflected in the world around us. It is also fueled by the isolating condemnation we meet when and where we should be greeted with compassion, help and understanding. Moms of the world need to pull together, not point fingers. I once came across a three year old child walking alone on a busy street no where near any housing. I stopped, called the police and stayed with the child until they arrived to take control.
I had some judgmental and condemning thoughts about this mom I knew nothing about. Life straightened out my point-of-view a couple of short weeks later when my own three year old unlocked the front door for the first time, walked out and headed down the street all on his own. He thought I had left him home with his brothers and decided to find me. Another mother stopped her car and stayed with him. I found the door standing open and ran out to find him. I was frantic. She was judgmental and rude and questioned whether or not I was actually his mother. Because so many barefoot women were frantically running down the street screaming his name. He tried to run to me. She picked him up. I had to remove him from her arms. She only relented because my older kids followed me down the street and offered credibility to my account.
The biggest part of me is grateful she stopped and protected my boy. The smaller part of me resents that woman for making me feel unfit. When I think back to the experience of my heart stopping when I found the door open I still feel my stomach drop and my heart ache. My pulse increases at the very thought that something might have happened to my boy, even knowing that nothing did. Then there are the feelings of inadequacy that come from remembering how the very woman who saved my child made me feel. What would it have cost her to be understanding? What, if anything, did she gain by making me feel even worse than I already did?
This woman who saved my boy isn’t alone in her reaction to a mom who had a human moment. Strangers in grocery stores shoot horrible looks at the mom with the toddler having a fit. Criticisms are offered up about mismatched clothes, messy hair, and bad behavior. News flash: the mom already knows. She knows. She is aware that plaid and polka-dot do not match. She knows her kid is screaming. She knows her kid is acting like a brat. She knows and she doesn’t need another voice in her head telling her that she isn’t up to the task.
Why did we moms start turning on our team mates and behaving like a “One Man Show”? We were never meant to do this job alone. Even basic biology demands another person be involved before we can ever achieve motherhood. We are correct when we tell ourselves that we will never be enough for our children. We were never meant to be. Motherhood is a team sport. We are meant to help one another. We are meant to offer compassion and a hug and a hand. We are meant to let people help us. We are meant to use the community of mothers that surround us and do so without feeling guilt.
There are times when my kid just plain won’t listen to me. Someone else can tell my child, verbatim, what I said earlier in the day and suddenly it clicks. There are times when I am not around and my child is acting like a little jerk. Please, Team Mom, tell my kid to straighten up! There are times when I am sick and I simply cannot do for my own family those things that need to be done. Thank you, Team Mom, for stepping up and stepping in to help me and my family succeed.
There were times when I was trying to buckle a screaming toddler into a car seat while my infant screamed in the seat next to hers and the grocery cart was trying to roll away. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of parenting. There are heartbreaking days when my kids are sick, or have made choices that cause me concern. There are days when my own challenges feel like more than I can handle. These are the days when I could really use a member of Team Mom.
For the record, you don’t have to have children to be on Team Mom. You also don’t have to be a woman to be on Team Mom. You don’t have to know the woman, or the child, that needs you to be a member of Team Mom. For Team Mom to function in perfect synchronicity, each of us needs to do our part. We need to be willing to give help, to accept help, and to share the load. We need to offer love and understanding where we might be tempted to serve up scorn. We need to stop participating in mom shaming in all of it’s forms (that includes shaming ourselves).
Team Mom is struggling. Team Mom is not performing to the best of its ability. To remedy this, we need to step up, reach out, and disabuse ourselves of the notion that a strong mom is a “One Man Show”. If we all work together, we can become an unstoppable force for good in this world. And lets face it, the world could use a strong Team Mom.
Motherhood is a team sport.