As my favorite tv show—The Big Bang Theory—comes to an end, it wrestled recently with a surprisingly feminist sub-plot: whether or not a woman should want to have children and what it means if she doesn’t. The series frequently pokes fun at parenting including the ambivalence surrounding having kids. Perhaps I have laughed a little too hard at some of these jokes, or maybe I appreciate that someone had raised a question that bothers me in my own struggles with motherhood*.
One of the comforting ideas promoted by The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) is that everyone thinks they will be a great parent before they have kids:
But until you have your own child, it’s just supposition and dreams wrapped in a pink and/or blue bow.
After you’ve spawned, that’s when the doubts creep in. And sometimes, watching families around you, it seems other people know a secret you don’t:
While my kid was gone this weekend, I had a near-epiphany. The thought? I may not be the kind of mom I thought I would be, but maybe that’s because I omitted some key factors? Perhaps I have overlooked some pertinent aspect of Chaos Theory when I estimated my values?
Usually my parenting is rote reaction—a series of autonomic reflexes that keep my kid fed, clothed, and bathed (rinse, repeat daily.) But, on occasion, the sheer boredom of the job inspires insanely bad impulses. Like, say, staying up to 3:00 a.m. to read a good book, hypothetically. Poor decision making rules the day that follows. Extreme caffeination makes one jittery and on-edge, and prone to blowing up at the darling child’s choice to paint his socks with green oil pastel crayons and walk all over the bedroom carpet leaving leprechaun tracks everywhere. Yelling and tears and self-flagellation follow. Most of the time, as a parent, it feels like I am winging it.**
While my child frolicked at camp, I had a chance to recharge. I could breathe. I got two whole nights of sleep! I realized it is much easier to judge my parenting when I don’t have my kid with me! Or, to use a less sea-worthy analogy:
The time to measure the boat isn’t while it’s sinking.
It is really hard to assess your parenting skills while you are wallowing neck-deep in conundrums—like why carrots make terrible writing implements and what is that burning smell coming from the closet? My parenting hypothesis is this: one cannot reasonably evaluate what type of mom one is without the distance, space, and time to reflect on the parent-child dynamic. Even reviewing our decisions after the fact, we often magnify our mistakes and discount our successes as flukes—or simply neglect altogether to credit our input in the outcomes. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, “If only I had more energy, I could be the mom I want to be.” But that presupposes I know what kind of mom that is!
I remember a cartoon I read in a book entitled, Childhood is Hell by Matt Groening, which included a list of the 16 Types of Moms. The book was destroyed during one of my son’s campaigns to erase literacy, so thank goodness for the internet:
When I first read this cartoon (and could still laugh at it), motherhood wasn’t on the radar. At the time, reading all the negative options, I hoped like heck I would be a “Fun Mom” or “Wonder Mom” without the side effect of being “Martyr Mom.” But I was/am honest enough to admit, I might not manage to achieve such grandiose heights. What I didn’t realize then, is Matt Groening was a keen observer of the range of human capability and fallibility. He just erred in implying that we would stick to being just one kind of mom at a time.
The Mom Deduction
What makes a good mom? Being able to give birth has next to nothing to do with whether you’ll be a good parent. I know plenty of people who have adopted or fostered children successfully. So, reproduction ability aside, what makes a good mom? Let’s evaluate the possible internal factors using an excretory sliding scale (from zero to ten):***
Imperturbability Level—Shit doesn’t bother you or, if it does, at what level of shit does it happen?
BS Perception Filter vs. Gullibility—Are you a human shit detector or do your kids walk all over you?
Teflon Spirit—Do thoughtless acts slide right off or does that shit stick?
Humor Quotient—Can you laugh at that shit?
It’s entirely possible the Humor Quotient would be measured in negative numbers to offset the pain-in-the-ass metrics of the first three characteristics. I’m still mulling it over—this is a work in progress.
- Would having a low Imperturbability Level but a high Humor Quotient even that shit out? For example, when your kid trails red Jello powder from the kitchen to the bathroom where he decided to make a cup of juice, you could laugh at the mess he’s made instead of tearing him a new one?
- Do we need to factor in the Age/Ability of the Child to comprehend his actions?
- Can one overcome Gullibility over time?
- Is there a finite number of times your child can claim to be ‘sick’ and ask to ‘stay home’ before your BS Perception Filter starts to ping unless he’s actively vomiting or bleeding?
- And what about the quality of your Teflon coating? Can it be abraded by repeated callous acts so that the stink never really leaves you?
Would having the exact balance of these qualities mean you are automatically a perfect parent or can anyone fail regardless of innate good traits?
This brings up an important factor in our formula—the Atomic Mom Scale. (AMS—Measures at what point you blow your top as a parent.)
We can define the AMS Scale as being from a null-state of zero to the critical shit mass required to trigger a Krakatoa-level event. Sadly for your child, this number is ever-changing and based on many variables combining how frequently he has committed infractions and how often he has pressed your big red “NO” parenting button in a given day.
Every mother has her own system, but here’s a theoretical sample to work from:
+1 Demerit—Repeated request for forbidden object. (Totaled consecutively with number of offenses per hour multiplied by the decibels of the child’s voice.)
+2 Demerits—Stealing of forbidden object—added value if something was broken to retrieve said item—like a door or a safe.
+5 Demerits—Stealing forbidden object from store or school.
+10 or higher Demerits—Breaking of valued household item—not including pets.
+15 Demerits—Anytime your child does something you’ve expressly forbidden upon pain of death and I mean it!
>+50 Demerits—Biting or deliberately hurting anyone is an automatic Krakatoan event.
Please keep in mind that demerits are accumulative over a twenty-four hour period and must be measured against that day’s Imperturbability Level.
Add all the demerits up to determine Krakatoa Event Potential (KEP) and you get your Event Categories:
KEP Level 1 – (>10 Demerits) Mild rebuke, eye roll. Apologies required.
KEP Level 2 – (11-20 Demerits) Raised voice, punitive measure—time out or loss of promised treat.
KEP Level 3 – (21 – 49 Demerits) Moderate to severe restrictions, exaggerated threat to hang child by the ankles and beat like a piñata. Actual loss of privileges. (No popcorn!)
KEP Level 4 – (50-99 Demerits) Krakatoa Threshold reached—Drill Sergeant Mom arrives. Commence loud shouting. Maximum penalties incurred. No exceptions or exemptions. Immediate sanctions enacted. Do not pass go, do not get $200. No more fun—EVER!
Several attempts to calculate how this formula would look failed to capture the exact essence. I suspect funding for further study is required. Please feel free to set up a Go-Fund Me account from which to draw inspiration and Moscato rations.
This was my best T.B.B.T. attempt:
The more I think about it, the harder it is to pin down how you could measure the parenthood paradigm. The Mom Equation would include an internal structure as well as an algorithm based on external catalysts such as: health, money-issues, defcon crisis status, entropy coeffients of nerve-abrading vectors, sleep patterns and the X-Factor. (The X-Factor being whatever curve ball life throws that you wouldn’t in a million years have anticipated—like head lice. It isn’t always autism based, but I’d say, my son’s inscrutable habits tend to be a highly represented denominator.) Translation: shit gets complicated.
If we measure our parenting against a rigid scale, I think, at best, our parenting is going to look like a boat taking on water. That is, unless, we include the missing Variable L.
Variable L is always present, no matter how high the Krakatoan Event Potential goes. It can mitigate almost any action by your child—eventually. No matter how tired, worn down, exasperated or frustrated you are, Variable L offers an out. As long as we are willing to use it to guide our actions, the ship will never sink.
Sometimes it is hard to remember to put Variable L into the formula. When the Mom Equation is being calculated, forces of chaos impede gentle, perceptive thought. All the factors are clamoring to be heard, threatening the parental unit with a cascade failure. It is when we are nearing critical overload that we need to recall our initial conditions: the moment when we first became a parent.
Variable L is often there before we ever hold our child. It is nascent and imperfectly envisioned. Sometimes it is so strong it is scary. It may feel like a vise on our hearts or the rope that will tie us down…will drown us. But, with time, Variable L becomes the anchor that holds the boat steady in a storm, that keeps us safe in the harbor, that ties each heartbeat to the moment our eyes locked on our child for the first time. The moment they first looked back. Even when it feels like the ship is sinking, the anchor holds.
So when the winds howl and the tempest blows, it helps to remember:
This ship was built to weather the storms, as long as we hang on to our anchor–Variable L.
Every good, functional Mom Equation is formulated on the basis that Variable L outweighs the factors that would undermine the parent-child algorithm.
When you are at the end of your parenting tether, and the anchor line is frayed, just remember, every problem is divisible by Love.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*For the purposes of this blog post—the use of “Mom” is intended as inclusive of Dads as well. It’s just easier to spell than the gender-neutral parent as well as being my default setting. Though, as a single parent, sometimes I’m the dad too.
**I’m not sure you can call it parenting when it looks more like crisis management.
***Editor Query: would this be a color chart from beige to bitter chocolate—how brown would it get? (Lack of a brown dry erase marker kept me from creating a Excretory Sliding Scale using poop-emojis. 💩 💩 💩 Feel free to draw your own .)