Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Great Pretender

*Dear Readers,
I wrote the following post a few months ago, then chickened out when it came time to post. Re-reading it now, I smile at that...because don't we all pretend, even just a little bit, in our blogs? That we're always crafty, that our houses are pretty, that our child never wear a second-hand shirt with a (gasp!) Nike symbol on it. That we never give our kids McDonald's fries when out shopping because we didn't have the time/energy to pack a healthy snack. That our kids don't watch too many movies on days when we just want a break. Why do we do it? What are we afraid of? Read on, dear readers...this mama is months down the road from when this post was written, and although I haven't arrived yet, I'm working on it...

Women are so good at pretending.

We pretend to love playing "I Spy" in the van when actually, we'd like our kids to give us 5 minutes of peace. We pretend that we're in the mood at 11 o'clock at night, even if all we can think about is sleep, because we don't want our husbands to feel rejected. When we know company is coming we frantically clean our houses and pretend that it always looks this nice. We smile when we're sad, resist shouting when we're full of rage, and pretend that every moment of raising these demanding little souls we call our children is delightful.

I had one of those days. After spending 40 minutes gathering up library books, getting the kids dressed/combed, packing the diaper bag, and buckling all three of them into the van in the pouring rain, I couldn't find the keys. Moments like this make me feel like the top of my head might explode, like Old Faithful...a geyser of frustration and "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD" disbelief spewing up to heaven. After tearing the downstairs apart, dumping my purse three times, and scouring under the seats of the van, I conceded defeat and brought three very disappointed children back into the house.

Jude was a real pain in the neck today. After being sent to his room several times, he announced that he was going to punch me in the face if I kept "talking to him like that". My eyes almost bulged out of my head but I managed to act calm. Then I overheard him telling Violet, "If mommy tells you to do something, just punch her in the face".

If your alarm bells are going off, please note: Jude has never witnessed anyone punch anyone in the face...punching mommy in the face is not a regular practice at the Knitty Gritty Homestead.

So, while I was upset by his words, I took a few deep breaths, and thought about what the mama I'd like to be would do. I tried to be objective, and prepared myself for calm intervention. When he came near me again, I reached out to him to draw him into a hug to discuss what he was feeling today that made him so angry. He mistook my hands on his arms for me restraining him and took a swing, just barely connecting with my chin...

(Yes, dear reader, at this point feel free to be appalled, and gasp in horror)...

Usually, this would make me fly into a rage. I'd yell and send him to his room. I know this is ineffective, but I'm kind of out of tricks these days. I don't know what else to do, and feel guilty and ineffectual pretty much every day.

Instead, I started to cry. And then to bawl. It alarmed my child right out of his nasty mood, and then he started to cry, too. I told him to go into the other room, and I let it out...all the pretending.

Pretending to be calm.
Pretending to be super mom.
Pretending to know what I'm doing.

It felt good to let it out. Heck, it felt GREAT. But, I had to pull it together again when the girls started asking for stories. Deep breath, a talk with Jude (where he cried and cried with regret at upsetting me so)...

After this difficult morning, I cleaned my entire downstairs, collected and washed the eggs, sorted the laundry, cleaned the bathroom, styled my hair, and put on makeup in preparation for a visit from my in-laws, with their friends visiting from England.

Once again, I pretended: that my house is clean, that I effortlessly look nice, that my children are always happy and sweet, that our life is rurally idyllic and peaceful.

Because the reality of it is that my son always misses the toilet, and the pee runs down the sides and pools at the bottom where it dries into little crusty yellow circles. My kitchen table is used more often for crafts than for meal time, and my front doormat usually has blobs of straw mixed with chicken poop on it. My hair is usually in a ponytail, and I spent the morning yelling at my kids and crying in my kitchen.

But when everyone arrived, I looked lovely, my house was clean, my kids looked adorable and were on their best behaviour. I poured the wine, served homemade coconut milk ice cream, and listened attentively to the conversations around me.

Why do we pretend?

I can't answer for you. For me, the reasons are plenty. I pretend so that my kids will think I'm the best mommy ever! I pretend so that I don't hurt my husband's feelings. I pretend so that others won't think I'm too opinionated. Wow. Writing this post did more for me than 10 years in therapy could. I'm off to take some steps towards expressing myself more authentically, while digging a little deeper into this concern about what everyone else thinks (at the cost of my own feelings).

Are you, like me, a Great Pretender? Why do YOU do it? Does it make you happy, in the end?

PS You'll be pleased to know that after the above incident with my son, he has been much gentler in his words and actions; I think my tears shocked him so much! Manipulating your child through false emotions is not kind. However, expressing genuine distress with tears is probably the best thing I've (inadvertently) done in recent months. Things have been much, much easier since then.


  1. I've mostly resorted to advising guests to 'mind the little boy dribbles' in the bathroom, but on the occasions when I do make a mad dash to clean and tidy up before someone arrives, it can be personally reassuring to know that, yes, I can pull things together and that I haven't slipped irreversibly off the path of meeting basic societal standards.

  2. I pretend and for the same reasons you do: to keep the peace, to calm the waters, to present an example or to model appropriate behavior for the kids or the younger adults in the immediate vicinity. At the time I rationalize these behaviors are the best choice available to me.

  3. I just have to say, Bravo! for your honesty. you are so right, we all do it. I guess I do it so others don't pick apart what I'm doing wrong (or they think I am)and hold it up as proof that I'm really doing it all wrong. Does that make sense?

  4. What a lovely, and honestly refreshing post! Brava!

    Some days are really difficult... and some days don't require much pretending at all. But there are days when I just slap a happy smile on my face and pretend because I am afraid that if I don't, I will simply give up and run away from home... (only to regret it 20 minutes later when I run out of gas because I forgot to fill the tank and have to walk back to a pay phone because I have forgotten my cell, only to realize that my wallet is still in the car... see what I mean?) So I pretend, too!

    I do believe that our children need to see us as real people. It doesn't happen often, but my boys have seen me cry when I just don't know how else to respond... and I apologize when I am wrong. Hard things to do sometimes though!

  5. Kinda funny, even when I could be pretending, like about the cleaned-for-guests house, I ALWAYS end up announcing that it's actually almost always a mess. And if I get a compliment on a piece of clothing, I am compelled to tell the complimenter that it's second-hand. Or if my children are reported to have been well-behaved for others, I am disbelieving. And I'm really not good at saying that I'm fine in response to "How are you", if I'm bloody well NOT fine. But the blog? Now THAT is about photos for me, and photos better darn well be pretty! So I compose carefully. The camera is a mighty diappearer of clutter! If only it was as easy to get rid of the mess in real life.

    And, wait, what's wrong with Nike shirts????

  6. You are so very right, we all deserve Oscars for the great acting we do on a regular basis.

    I'm very intrigued by your homemade coconut milk ice cream (this is not the only thing I got out of your post, honest!) I have a dairy allergy, so does my son, and the coconut ice cream at the store is so flippin' expensive I just can't bring myself to buy it.
    Do you have a recipe you would share?

    Thank you for being so honest, I blogged about this awhile ago--at least the pretending everything is always perfect. I LOVE reading about the less than idyllic lives other women lead, it gives me hope :)

  7. Wow, just wow.
    I think you're right.... we all have our moments of pretending. Dishonesty. I think if that moment is trying to be mindful, trying to be a better person, it's a good sort of pretending. But regularly stuffing your feelings into a dirty pot that you hide in the oven is never good. The more you are you, the more you love you, the better you are :) I really believe that. I truly think accepting & loving your own imperfect self makes giving that love & acceptance to others SO much easier.
    Hats off to you for sharing this....
    Much love from a fellow imperfect woman.
    xo ~ Stephinie

  8. I pretend that I love my daughter SO MUCH and ALL THE TIME, when in fact, I look forward to the moment I can drop her off at daycare. She cries and whines and throws temper tantrums from the moment she gets up, and then starts up again the minute I pick her up. She is well behaved for everyone but me, and most days I feel like a complete failure. Of course I love my daughter, but why do I feel the need to pretend to other friends (or strangers?) that we are so happy together, all day long??

  9. Great post, Steph! This type of post is definitely my favourite!

    I think it's important for our kids to see our real emotions and our real reactions to difficult situations. If they don't see us getting frustrated, angry, sad, they won't learn that it's ok to have those feelings themselves, and showing them that crying your feelings out is a perfectly acceptable response to a difficult situation. Hitting or being hurtful is not.

    This is what I think while my kids are being good and I have the presence of mind to think through my actions. In the heat of the moment, all bets are off! :)

  10. I pretend every single day. I don't think my family would like me much if I didn't!

  11. Hi Stephanie!

    I, too, find my kids most responsive to expression of genuine feeling in those "moments" throughout the day. I'm more more likely to get an honest "I'm sorry" instead of the perfunctory hug and mumble that usually happens.

    At the root of my pretending is pride. I get embarassed if my house is dirty or my hair unwashed or when my kids misbehave in front of others. But those who truly know me are the ones who have seen me in all of those circumstances and don't care one bit. Incidentally, they are also the ones whose opinions I care about. Funny how we do so much to impress the strangers. What I strive for - is that a dirty house or loud kids won't ever stand in the way of hospitality. I hope that if you dropped by unannounced I'd invite you in and make you some tea whether the dirty laundry was in piles on the floor or not.

    By the way - we went Christmas Tree cutting with Natalie and Jeremy this past December. Maybe next year we can coordinate it so our kids can meet your kids and we can knit by that gorgeous wood stove at the Aubert's!

  12. Loved this post... I guess I am wondering if it's pretending, or it's just life. Sometimes you have it together, and sometimes you don't, and sometimes you do when you don't. I can think of times before I had a child that I would be frantic about house guests because I was too busy with work to clean, or to properly prep a menu, or to do my laundry before they arrived... I guess my point is, it's all relative. You harmonize what you have to and I think as mothers, we try to harmonize on a good day, way too much. I have been following your blog for a while, and you're a wonderful mother. Your kids are going to look back when they're older and realize that you did your best and you gave them such an incredible childhood full of imagination, colour, laughter and hugs.

  13. All I can say is "Your not alone!" I think it is good for our children to see us up set we too cry!!
    I just love this blog world we are in reading this post I could relate to you even though I do not know you.

  14. This is really great. I think we're starting a new movement of honest mamas!
    We need reminders that we're not doing it wrong and that sometimes it is just a shit storm.
    P.S. Have you ever watched Louie CK? Look him up on youtube. He has some funny stuff about parenting...

  15. I expect it took some courage to write this and then post it. But you have done very well to share it! I often wonder if I'm 'exposing' too much with blogging, but in the end you give others permission to be themselves. I think it would be egocentric to assume that my particular brand of problems are unique, patented and all-my-own. I think you are offering a great service to open yourself up like this, and provide others an authentic picture of the human condition. well done.
    p.s. my children often offer to 'throw me in the garbage'. :)

  16. a friend and I were just having this telephone conversation. the one where we admit to each other our failures as mothers, wives, women...in shockingly spot-on detail. in the past 2 weeks i've been on a spiral of self-doubt. the less i feel strength in my role, the more I feel those feelings & frustrations overwhelm me.
    My kids should see me cry & they should know that they have the power to hurt me and i think letting the tears roll may be a more accurate portrayal of what's going on, otherwise we're just yelling...
    thanks for sharing!!


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