Late last week, after having a couple crazy stressful weeks, I had a conversation with the director of the boys’ school that started on the topic of life and death and how to use life’s unexpected moments as teaching moments. The chat quickly sidewinded into a conversation about how hard it can be to recognize these moments and how impossible it can feel to know if you’re approaching it the right way. This of course leeway’d into a conversation about the “right way”.

The “right way” aka the biggest fucking myth in parenting.

I am always reading, clicking, searching, researching and following parenting archives/rhetoric/dialogue/studies/research in the hopes of learning how to be a better parent and, in turn, feel more confident in my parenting choices. I would be lying if I said I haven’t wished (3,000+ times) someone would just tell me what to do, what to choose and what to say when it comes to my kids. And I would be the joke of the parenting community if I said I have never, ever cared about what others thought of my parenting choices or that I’ve never hoped to be confused as one of “those moms” – you know, those put together, perfect but laid back, has-all-her-ducks-in-a-row, pristine homed types of moms – because who doesn’t?

I’m sorry but there is no way any decent mother hasn’t ever scolded her tantrum-throwing child a little more sternly in the store versus at home, or hasn’t ever wished they could be more like that “perfect” mom they run into in the halls of the school who brings homemade treats and hand-sewn Halloween costumes while wearing heels and full make-up and sleek, shiny hair and business savvy attire. THERE IS JUST NO FUCKING WAY.

You know why?

Because there is literally nothing more important than your job as a mom – and that tantrum in the store? Yeah, that – regardless of what anyone says – feels like it’s an attack on all the hard work you’ve put into teaching them that’s not how we act in public, it seems like a direct reflection of how they’re being raised. (But kids will be kids…aka occasionally assholes.) And that perfect mom? It’s only human nature to feel like this whole mom thing should be that easy – because it’s our God-given right to have kids and, while it makes sense that everything feels like life or death, it shouldn’t nearly kill us.

We SHOULD be able to get dressed in perfectly pressed clothes and do our hair and our makeup (if that’s our thing) and sew intricate fucking Halloween costumes (if that’s our thing) and bake magazine-worthy school treats (if that’s our thing) and have a successful career and keep a clean home AND raise our kids to be great humans and no have to worry about what it looks like. We should and it’s complete bullshit that some women insist on making it seem like we can because we can’t – not every moment of every day. We just can’t. It’s fucking impossible.

There is no such thing as the “right way” or the “right thing” when it comes to raising our kids. Every parent, every kid, every story, every path is different. The things one mom values are not the same as the next. But we still and always will beat ourselves up. I’ll write this and then inevitably spend the entire weekend worrying that I’m potty training the wrong way – as if there’s one right way even though I know there’s not. It’s the curse of being a decent parent.

As I talked to the boys’ school director, whose children are all grown, she said, “You know, I remember not letting Lisa* go to the Easter day parade because she wouldn’t comb her hair! And looking back I’m just, like, who cares?!” We talked about how it’s just that pressure that we as parents have created for ourselves and, in turn, others.

“I have parents who will come up to me and say, “‘I feel like such a terrible parent because so and so is in the same clothes as yesterday!”‘ and I tell them, NO! I think you’re awesome!”‘

We both laugh and I agree, “Yes, because they don’t care!” – but they do care, just a little bit, otherwise they wouldn’t go out of their way to say they feel bad.

I read this thing at 4:45 this morning while lying in bed (wishing my boys would just sleep through the night – the reason I was awake in the first place) and it reminded me of this conversation and how much relief I felt afterward. There’s just something about knowing you’re not alone. Parents have never had all of the answers – not mine, not yours and not theirs. And we share our worries today with the generations ahead of us and eventually with those behind us. And the regrets we’ll someday share as a generation, will only be an echo of those ahead of us.

If you’ve got gray hairs from worrying about whether you’re doing a good job or did okay and an ever-growing list of parenting improvements, should haves and would haves – just pat yourself on the back. You’re a great parent.

*Names changed for sanity’s sake