The Illusion of Greatness
By Karla Kassebaum
SuperMom stands tall on a pedestal of books, “How to Do Everything” and “The SuperMom’s Handbook,” a stack of plates, and neatly bundled linens. Decked in winged combat boots and a matching dress, a large “S” adorns the chest of her apron. From her belt dangle utensils, keys, hammer, nails, and a flashlight. To keep up with all duties—children, work, husband, house—she wears three watches, each with preset alarms for the day. A smile and freshly applied makeup beautify her wrinkle-free face. When turned around, her heavy-duty wings sparkle.
This SuperMom sits on my Boyds Bears & Friends Folkstone collectibles shelf. At first I found it amusing. But the reality is I often don’t apply makeup. I don’t always smile. I have wrinkles. I lose everything. I have no wings. I would fall clumsily off a platform like that, and I can’t find advice in my handbooks as “It didn’t work, what’s next?” isn’t listed in the index.
Before my daughter was born, I had a picture of a great mom.
“What I will not do to my children when I’m a parent.”
- I will not make my daughter wait until sixteen to get her ears pierced.
- I will not yell.
- I will not use baby talk.
- I will not give orders without explanations.
My goals extended into what a mom must do for her children.
- Shield them from pain
- Have answers for problems
- Fix hurts
- Meet needs
- Teach about God
- Protect them at all costs
The expectations we moms place on ourselves is high. After all, a life is at stake. But we’re not mini-gods flying around able to tackle every challenge with a single bound. We have no wings. Our make-up is applied in a rush so the two-year-old doesn’t take part. Our children walk into school before we realize they didn’t brush their hair. Crumpled linens wait to be folded. Alarms don’t go off.
Prior to being a mother, I carried a hefty load of baggage from my past. When I became pregnant, a new level of reality surfaced. My past and present damaged life wasn’t what I wanted for my child. Swallowed by my unachievable goals, I cried out.
Lord, I don’t want my child to go through what I did, yet how do I teach anything different from what I know? I want to give my child a life without the mountain of pain I live.
By the time my daughter was six months old, I knew her biological father would disappear from our lives. I just didn’t know when. Not long after, I was a single parent and unemployed.
My illusion of greatness dissipated. I couldn’t provide a complete family. I couldn’t fix the pain and hurt. I had no answers. I failed. This isn’t what a great mom does.
Yet in my unrelenting desire to be the best parent I could be, I cried out once again.
Lord, prepare me to be the mother I need to be. Bring me to an understanding of how fully loved and accepted I am by You. Provide for us. Above all else, help me to keep my eyes on You.
I was not alone. God and I were going to parent my daughter together. It was a fresh start. I found various jobs, including an early morning paper route, which provided for our needs and allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom.
But with no spouse to bounce ideas off of, I questioned whether my parenting was sticking. I took one blind step at a time. SuperMom has her handbook to tell her everything and the story ends happily. I hobble along clueless.
I felt inadequate when my daughter emulated my flaws.
“I have good qualities.” I insisted. “Can you copy a few of those?”
My self-imposed expectations weighed me down. I could not be everything. When I tried, I struggled at being good at anything. I am not SuperMom! Humbled, I sat my daughter down and asked her forgiveness for my mistakes and flaws. “Is there anything I can do to make it right?”
“Just say you’re sorry and I’ll forgive you. That’s all.”
So I did and still do.
When I led by example rather than living up to my expectations, something changed. My daughter began confessing her mistakes and asking for forgiveness. Not like a robot in correct outward behavior, but instead from a heartfelt need to make things right.
Now when she comes to me with a problem I have no answer for, I listen, pray, and thank her for sharing with me. After all, she’s usually looking for a listening ear. We chat about my struggles growing up as well as her present situations. We create skits to practice her correct responses to difficult circumstances. We discuss our flaws and talk about how we can do better next time.
Great parenting is not a formula: "If we do A and B, then C will happen," or "If a child has two parents, then they will become successful." There is no set pattern to follow that ensures a child will turn into a productive, influential adult. Yet we struggle to achieve the illusion we’ve conjured up in our minds. A great parent isn’t an overnight formation. A heart doesn’t heal instantly from a painful past. Happiness cannot be fabricated, nor greatness fantasized into reality.
Perfection is not necessary to be a great parent, but a willingness to be human and a dependence on God is required. Remember ceramic SuperMom? She portrays an image, but does nothing. If I dropped her, the heavy-duty wings would snap, she’d fall off her pedestal, and the image would crumble. She’s just the illusion of greatness.
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Karla Kassebaum is a freelance writer who lives in Colorado with her daughter and husband of eight years. She has a passion and heart for children and families. Check out her Web site for parents at www.karlakassebaum.com.
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