NOT Mom of the Year Award

Like most moms, I suspect, I saw a contest for Not Mom of the Year and thought, I don’t know what they’re giving away, but I’m sure I’ve won it. I said as much in my comments to Life Without Pink and The Mommyologist, our contest hostesses.

I was prepared to write a post about all the reasons I’m Not Mom of the Year, and believe me, I earn the prize daily.

But here’s the thing: so do you. And you. And probably even you. Mothering is hard, never-ending, relentless and frequently thankless work. It’s impossible to have an incident free workplace when the employers are small, tyrannical, self-centered people and their employee is expected to simultaneously clean, cook, provide medical care, perform one woman shows at story time, play games, and, oh, love.

Did you catch the key word there? It was love. L-to-the-O-V-E. I have never loved, will never love, anyone like I love my boys. On my worst days, I still love them. On their worst days, I still love them. This job is the best, best job ever, even though I’m not very good at it sometimes.

One could argue that in spite of the daily failures and frustrations, we, the moms, have all actually earned Mother of the Year. By the shear fact that our eyes light up when our kids walk in the room, that we try every day to do what is right by them, and when it’s all on the line we put their needs above our own, we are all Mother of the Year and Not Mom of the Year, all at the same time.

Because I value being a mom so much (and although I can’t speak for my husband, I believe he is pretty happy being a dad; he’s damn good at it), I was – what was I? – I was just sort of sad and confused when I read the recent New York Times Magazine article about whether or not being a parent makes people happy. Loukia over at Loulou’s Views first brought the article to my attention when she tweeted about it, and I was immediately drawn in by the title: All Joy and No Fun. If you didn’t read it, take the time to do so. It’s worth it, if only because I’d love to know what you think. I have a feeling it will stir something in you, whether or not you’re a parent. If you have time, go ahead and read the comments section, too. Wow.

A warning, before you read on, I get soap-boxy here. I got fired up and the result follows.

The article in question references multiple researchers and studies, pointing out:

As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns. But some of the studies are grimmer than others. Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, says parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances—whether they’re single or married, whether they have one child or four. (Senior, All Joy and No Fun, July 4, 2010.)

The author backs up these assertions with examples of parents who admittedly are not happy. I do not claim to understand what goes on in other people’s homes or in their heads. I’m just going to talk a little bit about me (it always comes back to me, doesn’t it?), and what I think about this.

Throughout the article, parents comment that the day-to-day work of parenting is hard and exhausting, and therefore they are not happy. Hello? Have you ever had a job that you liked 100% of the time? Have you ever done anything truly worthwhile that was completely fun, 100% of the time. If so I’d love to hear about it, but I’m guessing the answer is no. I once had this amazing job, full of perks, where I was surrounded by smart, talented coworkers. Sometimes I hated that job. You know what I learned in that job? I learned that I had a choice to make: be a happy person and deal with the crap the job handed me, or let the job dictate my happiness.

Motherhood, although slightly more permanent than most jobs, is not much different. We have a choice to make. I realize not every one of us chose to be a mother, at least not initially, but at some point in the process we made a choice to become a mom. Not just a mother. A mom. You might have made the choice before conception, or when you saw that first, grainy ultrasound picture, or when you finally counted 10 fingers and 10 toes, or when your baby smiled at you. Whenever the moment, you made the choice.

It’s no picnic, is it? Some days suck. Suck, suck, suck. Hi, that’s life. Some situations are hard and ugly and inexplicable. Sometimes, I bet you’re unhappy. I am, too. I bet you make mistakes. I do, too. The point I want to make is that life is full of choices, some you’ll look back on as the best, some the worst. Becoming a mom was a choice – hopefully one you consider the best you ever made even on unhappy, mistake-ridden days.

And yet, if you’re at all like me, you have moments when you don’t think you can do another load of laundry, wipe another face or bottom, fight over another homework assignment. You probably have moments when you completely screw up. I yell when I shouldn’t, I make promises and then forget what I promised, I don’t do educational activities every day (um, or every month… I send them to preschool, though, so that counts for something, right? Right?!). Do those momentary failures mean that being a parent makes you unhappy? Does that mean you’re Not Mom of the Year? Uh, no.

I argue that a lot of people are getting a bit confused, thinking that our choices, our stuff, our people are responsible for our happiness, when in fact, not one thing or person in this world can make us happy. Not even those perfect, chubby faces covered in spaghetti sauce can make us happy. They can’t make us good or whole. We have to do that.

And because we choose to get out of bed every day and face another 16 (or more) hours of being the life force behind our families, and choose to find the funny and the beautiful in the mundane every day, we are Mother of the Year.

And because we (read: I, me – I’m talking about me here) also wipe our kids’ noses with their shirts (or ours), let them eat nothing but peanut butter and honey sandwiches for weeks on end to avoid the mealtime arguments, eschew educational activities for TV time so that we can have 20 minutes of peace, we are also Not Mom of the Year.

We have it all together. We have nothing together. We love our kids more than we love our own lives. We wish they would just be quiet already so we can complete a thought, just one thought.

I win. So do you. We win at this thing, because we know it’s not about happy, happy, joy, joy, puppies, rainbows, and sugar-coated loveliness. We know it’s the real deal. Those little curtain climbing, cracker smashing, tricycle motors are endlessly infuriating. We didn’t have them to make us happy. That’s not their lot in life. We had them because we felt called to be somebody’s mother.

Go, be a mom. Go, be messy, be real, be imperfect. And be happy, be a winner. I crown you Mother-of-the-Year-Not-Mom-of-the-Year. I love a tiara, don’t you?