I stood in front my son’s entire 5thgrade (both classes combined) on his 11th birthday as 48 kids walked up to me one by one with outstretched hands and wide smiles waiting for one of my “famous” homemade chocolate sandwich-stuffed chocolate-chip cookies. I had 42 of them.
If the giant blue saucers that used to be my son’s eyes could speak they would have said something like, “Mommy, could you have found any more horrific way to embarrass me on my birthday than running out of cookies in front of all of my friends?”
How this happened doesn’t matter much anymore. Suffice it to say, I had actually made 56 of those cookies the weekend before (ironically to avoid running out) and inadvertently left a bag in the freezer at home.
To make matters worse (as if that were possible), sheer panic led me to grab a cookie out of my son’s hand to give it to one of the other kids in the hopes it would help to make up for the shortage. It didn’t.
In my desperate search for solace, I turned to my son’s teacher to ask, “Surely this has happened before, right?” Like a good teacher, she couldn’t tell a lie. “Err…well… no.”
Ultimately, we located some different cookies to substitute, which seemed to satisfy everyone except one sweet little girl with a nut allergy.
I tormented myself with the now blatant realization that I should have just gone to the store and picked up the right number of cookies/cupcakes/brownies and brought them – in the bag – directly to the classroom.
Let’s be honest. I went through the three-hour process of making those particular cookies in some part because, I am a working mother. Since I can’t always find the time to bake, I try to do so for the days it matters most, like birthdays. I likely subconsciously also tried to prove via these ridiculously large freezer-space-hogging cookies that I could, well, do it all.
In a “Letter to Working Mothers: Stop Feeling So Guilty,” Forbes contributor Margie Warrell offers ways for working moms to “embrace shortfalls” including lowering “your bar to good enough.”
“Giving up some elusive quest to be a super-mother who does everything ‘just right’ is the only way we can ever have a chance to enjoy the journey of child rearing… After all, it’s who we are for our children – happy, good-humored and a role model for the values we believe in – that ultimately impacts them more than how closely we, our homes or our meals resemble the front cover of women’s magazines. The reality is you don’t have to be a perfect parent to be a great parent.”
My son may have only been turning 11 that day, but his wisdom extended far beyond his years. Seeing how upset I was, he kissed me and told me it was alright. I tried to make us both feel better by offering to take him to get a new pair of sneakers. Instead he replied, “Let’s just go home, mom. We can just hang out, play some video games and maybe you could make me a treat.”
As I watched my son sip his homemade vanilla milkshake with those found-in-the freezer cookies mixed in, it hit me. I may not have been able to give him a great class party, but I was able to give him something far more valuable: the ability to face humility and disappointment and the power of witnessing what it means to stand in front of a crowded room and say “I’m sorry.”
It may have been my son’s birthday, but it was me who received a tremendous gift: the realization that, sometimes, less than perfect will have to do. Maybe – and ironically – parenting is actually a bit like baking: the outcome doesn’t have to look perfect to be every bit as fulfilling.
Gail Becker is Edelman’s president of strategic partnerships and global integration.