Parenthood Is Not An Aesthetic and Other Epiphanies in My Four Years Of Motherhood

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Amazon, finalizing our second baby’s gift registry. I love clean, minimal, muted colors and designs and as much as I would love for my children to inherit and exhibit those preferences, if my oldest is any indication, that hope may be too far out of reach.

As I added a few rattles and doodads to the list, a resounding thought kept echoing in my mind:

Parenthood is not an aesthetic.

It feels counterintuitive, typing that out loud. In the age of social media and influencer marketing, there’s hardly a facet of normal life that has remained untouched by the need to turn it into a personal brand.

Waldorf vs. Montessori. Neutral playroom with wooden toys organized picturesquely on little shelves or primary colored ones of all materials and textiles scattered across the floor. “What’s in my kids lunchbox” reels. “Non-toxic” vs. generic grocery store brand. The list feels endless. We have turned mostly arbitrary and benign concepts into a metric of personal status, while conveniently making sure the messy humanity in the middle of it all stays neatly tucked away in its own clear, organized bin with the rest of the pantry.

Parents do their best with what they have. That’s a given. But my best as a parent isn’t going to earn the fealty of my child. (And that isn’t the goal for me, anyways.)

Since becoming a mom four years ago, I’ve had to unlearn quite a few damaging parenting myths I was raised in and around, a prominent one being that the success of my parenting is determined by the outcome of my children. Especially in high-demand religious environments, how your children “turn out” – how firmly they claim your beliefs, politics, lifestyle choices, and identities as their own – is somehow enmeshed with how earnest a parent you are. How much of a carbon-copy your children grow up to be is treated as a validation or indictment of your character.

I’ve seen this lie destroy parents’ relationships with their adolescent and adult children, bemoaning and comparing and wishing and crossing boundaries and even severing of relationship altogether to hold on to any familiar sense of self-preservation or control.

But one of the easiest truths for me to embrace in my motherhood has been the beautiful emancipation that comes from recognizing that my son and I are two different people. Yes, I’m still new at this. Yes, I am trying to raise and guide him in the principles that are important to me and my husband. And simultaneously, I can ease up a bit, knowing that I am doing all I can to set him up, but he gets to define what the success looks like for him.

It’s a beautiful sanctification. As I fall more in wonder with the little boy right in front of me, I find a variety of my pithy preconceived notions start to fall off. Each pruning of preference or standard or “but I read somewhere this is how you’re supposed to do it” or silly pursuit of an Instagram mom vibe is simply invitation into a deeper grace – to meet my son exactly where he is in this moment. To know and be known just as we are.

He and his little brother growing inside are my greatest reminders that, while I am greatly changed for the better because of it, parenting is not about me. And there is no greater freedom I’ll find.

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