The day I discovered I was pregnant, I was in shock. My husband ran laps around the house cheering, and I fluctuated between excitement and utter overwhelm. The shock lingered over the next few weeks, and then I began to do what comes naturally to me. Obsess.
I cracked my first parenting book on a cold January morning and consumed it like a warm chocolate chip cookie. I decided if I was going to do this mom thing, I was going to do it perfectly. I poured through dozens of books – perfect prenatal nutrition, sleep, feeding, the home environment.
As my knowledge base grew, I began to think I was an expert. I felt confidence and pride in what were sure to be my stellar mothering skills.
Not only was I striving for a 100% on my parenting report card, but I put the same pressure on myself at work. Never appear weak or unknowledgeable on any subject. Never let life as a mom make me late or flaky. I committed to not let sleep deprivation affect me. Concealer, coffee, and 10-minute power naps under my desk when I couldn’t take it anymore – these things would be my staples.
I didn’t often let myself reflect on why I needed to get the perfect grade. Had I given it some thought, I might have realized that it was about control. To control my kids so I could protect them.
Childhood cancer. Early onset diabetes. Bad sibling relationships. Walking away from the faith. Rebelling against parents. I’ve seen these happen in wonderful families, and I fought full force against these scary prospects.
Driving this control, under all the books and knowledge and rules, was my deep anxiety over all the things that could go wrong. My controlling tendencies let me believe I was reducing the odds of these worst-case scenarios.
Instead of dwelling on the worst-case scenarios that could cripple me with fear, I dedicated myself to The Working Mom’s Perfect Plan. High-caliber childcare with detailed instructions. Quality time with the kids before work each morning. Sugar-free diet. Organic mattresses and sheets. A plastic-free home. No screen-time. I checked every box I could see.
Perfect employee. Perfect coach. Perfect teammate. Perfect mom. Perfect wife. Perfect church member. These were my targets.
I managed my anxiety by working harder. Each day was a fresh performance to prove myself in every arena. If it sounds exhausting, it was.
I felt rather puffed up and self-righteous about my ability to “do it all.” When my daughter was born, and continuing through my son’s arrival 20 months later, I stuck to my Perfect Plan as best I could.
I tried to use my performance and my checklists to avoid anxiety, yet I grew anxious every time I failed. I was angry at people who threatened that – offering my kids sugar. Angry at myself if I wasn’t 100% professional at work, or if I had to leave early to take my daughter to the doctor.
During these years, I continued to raid the parenting section at the public library, reading the mommy blogs, and sticking to my rules. I believed I was rocking motherhood, or, if not rocking it, then at least I was better than average. At this point, my 3rd baby was on the way.
As my belly grew large, things seemed to progress according to plan. My two toddlers loved healthy foods, knew how to empty the dishwasher, and could sweep and clean their room. We didn’t have any electronic toys. We were screen-free even during the longest of road trips. The boxes were checked.
But in early fall, the winds changed. A small crack appeared in my plan, a hair-thin zigzag that threatened to fracture everything. It was a boy.
Our third child’s entrance into the world broke my trend of slow, predictable labors. His arrival followed a 100 mph race to the birthing center. He was almost born on the side of the road when I jumped out of the moving car during a contraction. 7 minutes after we pulled into the birthing center, he was here, with a brilliant chin dimple to boot.
Just like that, I joined the ranks of the “3 under the age of 3” club.
Man, had I overestimated my ability to handle that!
A little context: Trevor and I felt so confident parenting our first two kids that we were thankful to have a third so quickly in procession. Yet, in an already crazy season, the pressures I put on myself as a mom made it almost unbearable.
Trevor was in school full-time, and, while this would eventually help him enter his dream vocation, it brought with it 3 years of student loans and limited income. For my part, I was in the juggle of working part-time and momming full-time, plus negotiating childcare arrangements, packing food, thawing breastmilk, and getting up in the night – every night – with multiple children. Together, Trevor and I navigated potty training, sleep training, habit training, catechizing, (while still sticking to my ever-growing list of rules).
The words ”busy” and “cash-strapped” sum up the season well.
This season would be the unmaking of my perfect plan. In the moment, it was terrifying to lose control of everything I considered essential—my rules, my priorities, my obsession with productivity, and eventually, my health. It was like being shattered and put back together as a Picasso—warped and silly-looking, unrecognizable, doubting I’d ever get back to who I was.
And I was right. I wouldn’t.