By Simone Ellin
They were raised to think they could do it all. But today’s young moms are finding that the pressures, both self- imposed and societal, are great, and their quests for perfection often feel like exercises in futility.
Stacey Mannes, a part-time project manager at Proctor and Gamble, and mother of Drew and Aaron, 5-year-old twins, knows she is a perfectionist. It’s only natural, she says, that the same drive toward perfection and organization she values at work should carry into her mothering style.
“Sometimes,” says Mannes, “I beat myself up if I don’t have the patience I believe I should have, or I second-guess myself with regard to the choices I make about school or afterschool activities.”
Melissa Kaplan, a former health care consultant turned stay-at-home mom of three, also struggles with the pressure to be perfect. She says she copes by “redefining perfect” every day. “I’ve had to accept the fact that if my kids (Jonathon, 7, Rachael, 5, and Abby, 3) aren’t beautifully dressed, my house isn’t spotless and my kids don’t participate in every activity, it’s OK. If giving them pizza for dinner one night gives me an extra hour to play with them, then it’s worth it,” says Kaplan.
She also says that even though it’s a challenge, she tries to follow her instincts regardless of what other mothers are doing. “When my youngest turned two,” she says, “everyone started asking me what we were doing for preschool. ‘She has to go to school; you don’t want her to be behind,’ ” they said. I didn’t feel ready to send her when she was two. She was my last child and, being the third, I felt she needed some extra one-on-one attention. So I kept her home with me. You have to do what’s right for you and your child,” says Kaplan.
According to Lori Mostofsky, a social worker in private practice in Lutherville, “There is so much pressure to have it all together and the expectations start from day one. You’re supposed to have an immediate bond with your baby, you’re supposed to love nursing, get your old body back, make a choice about returning to work or staying home with your child. And if you stay home, there is pressure to sign your baby up for all sorts of classes so he doesn’t fall behind the other babies. Women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” says Mostofsky.
“Certain things never change,” says Lisa Stoller. The blended family she has created with her husband, Barry, includes seven children between the ages of 1 and 19 years. “I still walk around the house at night making sure everyone’s breathing, and I still run them to the doctor’s if something’s a little off,” says Stoller.
On the other hand, Stoller finds herself less worried about the things that concerned her when she was a first- and second-time mother. “When I take the little ones to Mommy and Me class, I see the other mothers showing off about their kids’ accomplishments. It’s totally natural, and I used to do it too. But now I know that it really doesn’t matter who talks or walks first. They all catch up. I know it upsets the mothers whose children aren’t reaching their milestones early,” she adds.
Mostofsky agrees. “It’s important for parents to know there’s a range of what’s normal. If parents get worried because they are comparing their children to other people’s children, that’s going to cause problems,” says Mostofsky.
On the other hand, Mostofsky stresses, “Pediatricians, not other moms, are the best sounding boards for concerns about children’s development.”