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Thanks to the internet we see many different pictures of motherhood. We see the Pinterest mamas that throw elaborate parties and make fruit pictures on plates at snack time. We see the mamas who craft and plan unit studies for their kids, either over summer break or as they homeschool. We see the mamas that limit screen time and live outside with their kids- rain or shine. We see the mamas with organized closets and capsule wardrobes and homemade green cleaners for their bathtubs.
Those are all good things. Do those things, mamas. Take the pictures, write the words, and pin it to Pinterest. Celebrate what you do well and what you love. Doing what you love isn’t the problem. The problem is that somewhere we got the idea that every good mama does all of those things. We heap on guilt when we don't have enough hours in the day to prep veggies and make homemade pennants and cook from scratch and ramble through the wild for six hours. Motherhood becomes an exhausting list of things we can't do instead of a celebration of what we can do.
A few years into motherhood when I had our second baby I realized that who I am as a mama is a reflection of who I am as a woman. That means I have the same limits and gifts, the same hours in the day, the same emotional makeup as I had before having kids. Having children didn’t give me unlimited resources.
To be the best mama you can be you have to simplify your expectations. You have to be realistic about what you can and can't do, what you want to do and don't want to do, and what your family priorities are. You don't have to do it all, have it all, or be it all- as a woman or a mama.
But in a world of blog posts about magical summers and classes teaching you how to entertain your one-year-old, where do you start? How do you find who you are as a mama?
1. Know what you love. There are things about motherhood that I adore; there are also parts that I endure because they have to be done. Know the difference. Purposefully plan to do the things that you love in motherhood. Read the stories or build the forts. Make homemade ice cream or go on walks. Play cars for hours or sew your own dress-up costumes. Be yourself in motherhood. You can't cut back on the diapers or the potty accidents or the discipline problems but you can build activities that you love into your daily routine.
2. Drop your Pinterest expectations. You don't have to have a perfectly decorated playroom (unless that's your thing, of course!). You don't have to buy Etsy supplies for birthday parties or have your children in coordinating outfits every day this summer. You can eat a regular popsicle instead of a homemade one from a watermelon mold. Life can be simple and life can be sweet. It can also be totally worth living even without winning any awards.
3. Look to the past. I never remember my mom hanging up a summer bucket list. There's nothing wrong with it if you like that but if it's pressure to perform? Take it down. We spent our summers riding bikes outside, rollerskating in the basement, and working in our garden. There was food and love and tired kids at night. Isn't that really the goal? I'd rather my children learn how to live well than that life be well-designed for Instagram photos. (Although I will totally take both if that's an option!)
Visit your library. Watch some favorite movies. Teach your kids to pick up their toys. Let's break from performing as mamas and return to embracing being mamas. We are not entertainers. We are facilitators. We are educators. We are showing them how to live.
Leave perfection. Mother on purpose.
Lisa Hensley is a writer and podcaster who dabbles in other creative pursuits. She and her husband have three boys and live in a college town in rural Kentucky. Her online spaces encourage women to thrive as mamas and grow as creatives.