I had typical high school insecurities, but it's not until I arrived at college that I remember feeling very unsure. My hall at the University of Michigan had about ten other freshmen and they were all valedictorians and salutatorians. I wasn't. I met people who had aced their ACT and SATs. I had not. Sure, none of them were bilingual nor had they lettered in track and cross-country, but I felt less-than. Then there were many friends who were incredible musicians, while I had been mediocre. My roommates were getting perfect scores in Michigan's competitive engineering program, while I was trying to survive Statistics for my psychology major. I remember constantly comparing myself to the tall and incredibly thin models of my day--Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell--which, of course, left me feeling less-than. At 5'4" I couldn't compete with such Amazonians, but that didn't stop me from staring at the mirror and cursing my flaws.
When I went overseas for my junior year, I did finally learn to be more forgiving, though it was a struggle. I gradually became more confident and sure of myself and was reminded by good friends that I deserved good things only because I was me, not because I had reached an arbitrary level of intellect, talent or beauty.
The funny thing about motherhood--especially about being at home full time--is that it is easy to get sucked into comparing oneself again. After all, there is no external measure of success nor an office-full of people whose opinions can help frame mine. I don't hold my single or parenting friends to a weight, beauty or intellectual standard, but I again feel myself comparing myself to people in aspects where I can't win. I envy the moms with flat stomachs and berate myself for overeating. I listen to other moms talk about what they're teaching their kids and wonder if I should be buying more workbooks for four-year-old Monkey. At the same time, I talk to friends who don't put their kids into a regular schooling program until age three or four and wonder why I'm so intent on getting Munchkin into a program because she misses the PreK3 cut-off. Why can't I happily stay home with her full-time until she's almost four?
Then there are moms who seem to manage work and home effortlessly when I know I struggled when I was working and parenting at the same time. Is it bad that I'm happy being home full-time? Should I be more ambitious about finding work in the next year when I really want to work part-time and pick my kids up from school every day? I was proud of Munchkin counting a little and imitating the alphabet at age two and ran into my neighbor whose 21-month old can count to 12 and recite the entire alphabet for real. Am I not teaching enough? Am I not parenting enough? The questions are endless. Am I lazy for wanting a daytime babysitter once a week? Am I a better person for not having a regular sitter in eight months? Should I be going out more at night? Should I be wearing nicer clothes? Does everyone notice the extra pounds I can't lose? Should I be cooking different meals? Should I be volunteering more?
I know, I know, that I am a good mother. I know that my children feel loved and that they feel accepted for who they are. I know that I make them healthy food, keep them clean and play with them endlessly. I know that I work hard to keep my house as neat as I'm able and as organized as possible. I know that I'm a good person that has some incredible, long-lasting friendships with generous and kind people who love me exactly the way I am. I don't beat myself up for never being a supermodel but this year I have to work on not beating myself up for not being someone else: someone thinner, more put together and more talented who doesn't exist. My friends are flawed and I love them. In 2014 I'm going to work on loving my flaws just as much.