I have been entertaining a terrifying thought of late: What if I can’t be the person, or parent, I expect myself to be? What if it is simply, and inexorably, not possible?
As I read the comments on my last post, I was struck by the certainty of their message: You should be able to do this. You can make this work.
It was in being struck by their certainty that I learned I am paralyzed by my own uncertainty. I didn’t realize it when I wrote that post, but I have finally arrived at a place of being categorically unsure of my own ability, as a mother, as a teacher, as a spouse, as a woman. Up until this point I always assumed that if I tried hard enough I could make it work (whatever “it” might be). But now, with two children, I’m grasping the startling truth: I may actually be incapable of some things. And they are really important, non-negotiable type things.
The prospect is terrifying.
Now that I’ve had this realization, I’m kind of shocked it took me so long to recognize–or accept–the truth. I have an entire lifetime of empirical data supporting this hypothesis but since it wasn’t the hypothesis I was trying to prove, I never perceived the patterns. I was so sure that I was the master of my own destiny, that I could mold myself into whatever I felt–or society dictated–I should be. The fact that I hadn’t actually managed to do those things with any regularity–or at all–didn’t seem to register. I was so busy trying to mold my findings to fit my preconceived beliefs that I never registered the data that was completely contradictory.
My house has always been messy. I use that word, because it’s socially acceptable, but it doesn’t even begin to describe the reality. My house is a disaster area. Truly. It looks like something horrible has happened. My kitchen is disgusting. Really. That is the appropriate word. My entryway, that people see when they come over to pick up there kids, is a shit hole. It’s covered in sand and dirt and cat hair and trash. The state of my house is abysmal.
I have always believed that if I just tried hard enough I could keep my house clean, or at least presentable. I figured that if I cared enough, I could manage it. I assumed I just hadn’t found adequate inspiration. My mother is impeccably neat; there is no way her daughter could be incapable of at least a modicum of cleanliness.
But I have been this way for 16 years–my entire adult life. My living space has always been a disaster area. I have NEVER been able to keep it neat or clean. My classroom is similarly disorganized. I have tried numerous systems and none of them has ever worked, not even for a short period of time. I have literally NEVER been able to keep my room or classroom or apartment or house clean. NOT EVER.
And now I really want to be able to do it. I want to invite people over, or at the very least have my daughter’s friends over for play dates, which means their parents have to come to pick them up. I don’t even need my house to be presentable most of the time, I just want to be able to make it presentable when I need it that way. At this point I can’t even manage that. I thought I could just let go of society’s expectations and have people over anyway, but even when they are just in the entryway helping their kids with their shoes, I can see the way they look around, I can feel their judgement radiating.
I get it. I really do. I would judge me too, because a functioning adult should be able to keep their house together. They should be able to do a WAY better job than I’m doing.
And then there is the cooking. There is no one thing that is more important in this life than buying, preparing and eating healthful foods. I can’t do any of those. I have NEVER been able to do them. I fail miserably in this area of my life. The way I feed my children… it feels criminal. It feels like I am abusing my children every time I offer them something to eat.
These two things are the pinnacle of womanhood. Keeping a clean house and feeding our families–that is what women are meant to do. Sure we’re trying to change that, to redefine womanhood and what it means, but it’s going to take a long time to erase or rewrite the expectations that have defined women for entirety of the human race.
So what happens if a woman can’t do those things? What happens if I don’t just miss the mark, but am not even facing the right direction?
The truth is, I am struggling. Mightily. We both are. Just to make this work. Just to get through each day. Most of the time we are not the parents that we want to be. I don’t respond the way I should to my children. I get frustrated. I get exasperated. I get angry. I sigh. I grumble. I yell. My daughter’s new signature phrase is, “Are you mad at me?” Evidently she has reason to suspect I am about 100+ times a day.
I’m trying to do better. I’m trying really, really hard. And I’m failing. Every. Single. Day.
I don’t know if I can be the parent I want to be now that I have two kids (to be fair, I wasn’t succeeding most of the time when I only had one).
I don’t know if I could have been the woman I wanted to be even before I had kids. I’m pretty sure there is no hope for me now.
I’m sure there will be those who will assure me that I can do it. That I just haven’t tried the right system, or put forth adequate effort. I don’t begrudge them their beliefs–I used to believe them too. But what about the 16 years of empirical evidence? What about all the times I’ve tried, and failed?
And maybe I can figure it out, at least well enough to get by in a society that sets certain standards. The effort required would be gargantuan. Every day I would be fighting against my nature. It would require intense discipline and dedication. It would be utterly exhausting.
I look around, peering into the lives that surround me and no one seems to be failing in these ways. I pick up my daughter at immaculate houses where healthy meals bubble on gleaming stove tops and I drag my tantrum-ing four-year-old into my car with promises of this or that if she’ll just stop, only to negotiate piles of crap all over our house while we wait for the butter noodles to be done for dinner. This is my life, and it doesn’t look like the lives of the women around me, or the ones I’m friends with on FB and other social media.
I have a plan to try to remedy the situation, but honestly, I’m approaching it with a half-heartened sense of obligation and almost no hope for success. I’ve tried all these things before. I’ve read the books, headed the advice, and nothing has ever changed. I’ll try again, because what choice do I have?
But I can’t change who I am. Can I?