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    Let’s Get Messy

    I am a single mom to an absolutely adorable, and energetic (narrator’s voice: he never stops talking or moving), four-year-old.  I am also a business owner.  I have a full-time private therapy practice in Pennington.  I am a part-time lecturer (adjunct) at Rutgers University School of Social Work. I am working on creating a lecture series for parents.  I am one of the two class parents for my son’s pre-k class. (Shout out to my other amazing class parent).  I participate in the township’s DPC (District Parent Council) as a single-parent representative for the Hopewell Valley Single Parenting Together group.  I help organize neighborhood get togethers and holiday parties so that the neighborhood children can socialize and be exposed to other cultures and religions.  I decorate elaborate cookies for the holidays.  I crochet baby blankets.  I have a Cricut machine where I make personalized t-shirts, decorations, and tumbler cups.  I try to create “experiences” for my son whenever I can.  I try to expose him to everything this world has to offer.  Oh…and I also write these articles! Are you tired yet?  Because I know that I am!

    My friends call me a super mom.  (This is not me bragging.  I promise.  Bear with me!) They constantly ask where I find the time and ask if I ever sleep. The answer is: I don’t know and not enough. This should be a compliment.  It should make me feel good. Look what I am doing for my son!  But it doesn’t feel good, though I appreciate the acknowledgement.  I feel exhausted, depleted, and ask myself why I do this.  Is this necessary?  Do I really have to do all of this for my son to ensure that he leads a happy, healthy, productive life?  The answer is a resounding NO.  The reality is that my son needs to feel safe and loved.  He needs consistency and structure.  The rest is extra.  The rest is…well…my issue. And I am guessing that I am not alone.

    So much of being a parent is about guilt.  And so much of the guilt comes from a society that values appearances of perfection.  We then internalize these messages and  hold ourselves to unattainable standards.  It truly feels like we cannot win at times.  There are constant eyes watching how we parent and constant feedback about what we are doing wrong.  There is not nearly enough positive feedback.  When our kids inevitably have a meltdown at the grocery store or don’t behave on a plane,  the looks of judgement can be unbearable.   Social media has also added to stress and judgment related to parenting.  We work hard to create these picture-perfect images of family life.  I remember watching all these social media posts of people creating all these impressive crafts with their kids, getting them to eat food easily, and doing all these amazing things.  None of it is real.  One of my first clues into the fantasy that I wholeheartedly bought into was when I tried to do the monthly picture with my son after he was born.  Yes, you know the pictures I am talking about.  What I was seeing on social media were these amazingly, adorable, and perfect pictures of babies each month.  Usually there was a cute theme of some sort.  Well, I was so excited to take my first picture with my son.  Except, it wasn’t the experience I was expecting.  My one-month-old was not cooperating with my need for a perfect picture.  He was squirming and crying.  Didn’t he know that the picture needed to be just right?  It took MANY outtakes before I got a good picture.  And it only got harder from there.  As he got older, and more mobile, well… forget it.  It was almost impossible.  What I learned, quickly, was that with every great picture I posted, there were at least ten messy, but funny, outtakes. 

    As a therapist, many of my clients talk about all the perfect families they see, and they question what they are doing wrong.  I always use the analogy of how people “clean” before having company over.  The house looks spotless, as if there were no children living there.  However, what would happen if anyone looked in the closets.  I can almost guarantee you would see things shoved in there.   Life is messy.  Families are messy.  Children are messy.  We are messy.  That is OK!  It is also ok to let people see that mess.  I know!  Craziness I tell ya!

    Maybe you are asking why anyone should let others see the mess!  I am happy to tell you! 

    1. The reality is that none of us are perfect, and if we can see others managing their own mess, it normalizes the fact that perfection is not attainable. 

    2. Who has time to clean up the mess?  Life is short!  If you spend every minute cleaning up the messes (literal and otherwise), then you will miss out on what is really important.  Time to prioritize!

    3. Messiness leads to more genuine interactions with family members and our friends.  This is needed in a time where so many are feeling disconnected and alone.

    4. Real life, and frankly the most fun parts of life, are the outtakes, the mess in the closet.  That is where living happens.  That is where we get to laugh and be vulnerable and be our true selves.  Why would we want to shove that back in a closet?  We should celebrate and proudly display all parts of our lives.

    5. Our children need very little perfect living to grow up into the amazing humans they were meant to be.  Their fondest memories won’t be of the manufactured, perfect moments that you post about on social media.  It will be snuggling on the couch on a rainy day, reading books together, and/or baking cookies together.  My son doesn’t care that I create beautiful cookies for his school parties.  He will remember that I showed up to the party and had fun with him.  He will remember bringing me around the classroom to show off all his artwork.

    6. When we strive for perfection, we send the message to other parents, and to our children, that that is the only acceptable outcome.  We are perpetuating the societal norm, the messaging, that being messy is bad, rather than normal and often preferred.

    So, when you meet parents like me, instead of complimenting them, or shaming yourself and striving to be more like them, try acknowledging how much they do, but also letting them know that it is ok to stop doing it all.  Try asking them if they need help with anything.  Remind them that being the perfect parent is unnecessary.  Offer insight into your own messiness, and then work on being more openly messy! In fact, just yesterday, my co-room parent texted me, “I’m over being a room mom. I don’t feel like organizing [anything].”  This was SO helpful and validating!

    I am working on being messier.  I am cutting back on class parenting next year as I realized that my preparations for being a class parent was taking away from my quality time with my son.  I am cutting back on the committees, and I will be less perfect in my gift giving.  I will still struggle with all of this, as will you.  But I am hoping that by sharing my own messiness that it will, in some way, normalize yours!

    Here’s to opening our closets, posting the outtakes, and embracing the more meaningful, less perfect moments in life!