It feels like many of us deal with an odd schism in our motherhood identities. In myself and the mothers around me, I feel like I see two darker halves lurking behind the awesomeness. I want to believe that each of us are both of these two, poorly-integrated sides, even though some of us only choose to share or acknowledge one side.
First, the Inner Sanctimommy. This term has been bouncing around the web for a while — in fact, when I got pregnant, one of my most devoted trolls announced that they were counting down to my inevitable sanctimomiousness. The sanctimommy is the know-it-all who somehow, despite being totally new at this, has read libraries of books, downloaded terabites of blog data, and somehow is smarter than anyone else at this parenting thing. We sigh patiently as our friends babble about their parenting pratfalls, rolling our eyes at ourselves and thinking about how if they only did it the way WE did it, things could be so much easier for them. The sanctimommy is over-prepared, over-bearing, and never lets a crack show. She’s as likely to be a “keeping up with the Jonses” soccer mom as she is to be the ultimate DIY cloth diaperer. It’s so very well-intentioned, and so very problematic. Sactimommiousness can come from all dogmas, at all ends of any cultural spectrum you want to pick.
The Discombobumom has gained her voice online. She is the harried, confused, distracted disaster who has taken being scattered and disoriented to the level of performance art. OH MY! she shouts. I AM JUST A DISASTER! …Aren’t you a disaster too? The discombumom finds comfort in others’ failures and shortcomings, and (if she admits it to herself) feels bad about herself when other people appear to have their shit more together. Discombobumom wants to commiserate, and the worse the stories of others, the better she feels. Hands flapping in the air, she’s always bumbling around — she’s the Lucy Arnez of parenting! WAKKA WAKKA I SUCK SO BAD AT EVERYTHING HARDY HAR HAR! This circus of incompetence comes from a place of deep insecurity, because if people knew how hard you were trying to keep it together, the bumbles would just be sad. Every screw-ball confession of the latest disaster comes with this post-script: “I’m not alone, am I? You’re confused too, aren’t you? If you’re a bigger mess than me, then I feel better!”
Sanctimommy vs. Discombobumom is like a parenting version of the ol’ Madonna vs. Whore thing. The debate of “WHICH ARE YOU?!” is beyond tired, because of course we all have the capacity to be all these things (and so much more). We all have the capacity to be multi-faceted, and the two characters are just guests at a much larger, more complex persona party. My question isn’t “Which one are you?,” but rather, “What brings out these characteristics in you?” What triggers pull you into acting intolerably sanctimonious or intentionally incompetent?
For myself, I see the discombobumom moments as time when frittering about my insecurities would be better spent trying to figure out how to stop feeling shitty about myself. If forgetting to recognize several of the cultural holidays that my son might want to participate in (Easter/non-denominational Spring Bunny Day totally passed me by this year!) feels like something that I want to change, I should probably just get on that, rather than trying to see if I’m the only one and ha ha! What terrible mommies we are tee hee! If something in my parenting matters enough to me that I feel a little shitty about it, maybe I should spend some time working on that.
Alternately, my sanctimom moments are usually born from impatience and pride. I COULD FIX THAT PROBLEM YOU’RE HAVING IF ONLY YOU WOULD LISTEN TO MY SUPERIOR ADVICE. Oh please, behold me, paragon of awesome, keeper of the amazing. Bow down and worship at my all-knowing-it-all-ness, because yes: I wrote a silly book about weddings so BOW DOWN at my SUPERIOR PARENTING KNOWLEDGE. Hubris is some ugly shit, and being hubristic about parenting feels like tempting fate in ways I don’t want to touch. My career bites me in the ass for being too confident? Meh: I’ll try again. But if something goes wrong with my kid because I was too busy knowing-it-all to take the time to be open to all my options? Lame.
I guess for me, these two halves of myself represent the shadow-sides of my own identity as a mother. Neither of them are me at my best, and both of them offer significant lessons in self-development. The first step is recognizing when I’m stepping into one of these darker moments. The next steps?
Well, I’ve got a long way to go.