I have recently been accused of trying too hard. Trying too hard to be the perfect mom.

It stung me like a punch in the stomach.

It hurt like I don’t know what.

To my core. To my entire being.

I could feel the tears come, as I defended myself, saying it was my job, my responsibility to be the best mom I could be, and trying is something I just do. I turned away and walked into another room.

This happened exactly nine days ago (well nine nights ago to be exact) and it still bothers me.

The person who made this statement happens to be a close family relative, not some stranger on the street, not another mom, not just an acquaintance I know casually. Someone who has seen me and come to know me raise my children for the past twelve years. And it wasn’t so much a statement as an accusation. And boy did it hurt, continues to hurt.

When did trying too hard become a bad thing?

I was raised to care about others, to treat others like you want to be treated, to be a friend first, to think before I talk, and to never go into someone’s house empty-handed.

Growing up I watched my mom, an immigrant who came to this country at the age of 14, learn how make a living by watching the neighborhood children. She took a second job working in a department store. Not only was the extra money helpful, but the 20% discount on clothing helped in a house of five, three of us teenage girls. She met my father a few years later in high school, and were married at 20 and 21. My father worked for the state during the day, at a local supermarket in the meat department at night, and soon after began taking evening classes at a local community college. When we were a little older, he continued working during the day but took graduate classes at night. He was always smiling, always laughing always the funniest father at any gathering. My Italian mother made coffee cake for neighbors if someone in their family passed away, grew amazing tomatoes and peppers which she shared with everyone, made homemade sauce every weekend and we always had an extra guest at our Sunday meals. There were chocolate chip cookies after school, and trips to Old Saybrook in the summer. My parents followed my sisters up and down the east coast for travel soccer, cooked meals for all our friends, and ran the hospitality hour at our church.

They both tried hard. VERY hard to make an amazing life for me and my sisters, giving us each the opportunity to attend a private four-year college, without any debt after graduation. Quite an accomplishment for an immigrant and her high school boyfriend.

I’m pretty sure this is where my sisters and I learned to try hard, to push ourselves. How could we NOT try hard when we saw what they did?

In the workplace, working hard and trying are a good thing. One is rewarded by trying hard. There are promotions, raises and even a “job well done” makes you feel like a million bucks.

But as a mom I was chastised for trying too hard.

Is trying too hard always to be the best mom I can be a bad thing?

Why did this bother me so much?

If someone didn’t like how I tried, or thought I tried too much, who cares? But I did. And why did it bother me so much?

As moms, we are jugglers. We are huggers, discipliners, tear wipers, teachers, doctors, negotiators, cooks, storytellers, back scratchers, taxi drivers, playdates, therapists, boo-boo kissers and much much more.

I do not know of any mother who doesn’t try to be the best mom they can be for their child. It is not just about getting up in the morning and making a bowl of cereal or French toast for your child. It is about making sure they have their special spoon, or cutting the toast up in little triangles. It is about cutting the crusts off their sandwiches, putting notes in their lunch boxes, calling when you cannot be there after school because you are at work, making sure you have a white blouse for the school concert (or running out the night before to five different stores looking for one).

Being is mom IS about trying too hard.

Trying hard to make the perfect memories, so when they look back, they have special memories. When we tuck them in at night, they have smiles on their faces.

I recently read a story about a mom who planned the perfect day for her toddlers. She tried hard to plan the perfect outing for her two and four-year old. She was going to take them to the beach. She packed the car with buckets, shovels and sunblock. An hour and ninety degrees later, she is sitting on the beach. Not really sitting, but crouching as she leaps to grab one then the other from waddling away too far. For those with children, you know exactly how the day went. It was not exactly the Hallmark movie she planned. The kids were cranky, sandy and it was enough. At the end of two hours she had enough, packed the car, and took them home where she promptly put on their bathing suits and watched as they happily played in their plastic baby pool.

Lesson learned? Probably not. She will plan another outing, as much as the next mom, it’s what we do.

When is trying too hard just too much?

As moms, we tend to put ourselves last. That’s a cliché if I ever heard one.

As a working mom, I leave my house between 8:00am and 8:15am every morning. I love my work and feel honored and humbled to be working at such an amazing place. I usually get home around 6:00pm each evening, and that’s when I see the girls again. So I try to organize so that I can spend as much quality time with them. I set my menu for the week on Sunday nights and post it so the girls (and hubby) know what we are eating. I stay up way past bedtime (what’s bedtime?) to make sure things are organized, and extra house/family/work stuff is done. I do go the extra mile, I will admit it. I teach my girls about their ancestry, where their grandparents and great-grandparents are from, and how to Italian East Bread, a wonderful sweet bread my Nonna made each holiday, and now I make with the girls.  I stay up until 1am on the eve of every birthday and decorate their rooms, so when they wake up the first thing they see is streamers and hearts.  I make up new traditions and remember the old. I invent special days like MMD (Mother-Daughter-Day) and Adventure Days. (Which yes, sometimes backfire as we all know, but I try.) I  help them organize a Thanksgiving Play each November, and leave notes in lunch boxes every so often. And yes, I can often be found baking at 11pm so they can bring in cupcakes for a school party.

Nonna's homemade Italian Easter Bread

Nonna’s homemade Italian Easter Bread

But I love doing this.

I love trying hard.

When did this become a bad thing? Just because I choose to make cupcakes and stay up late, it’s what I do. Well, actually I am buying more and baking less these days. I’m giving myself a little leeway in the baking department. But really who cares if it’s homemade or bought? It’s more about being there for our children, at the end of the day it’s all about being there isn’t it?

I am a mom. I am not perfect. In fact, I’m far from perfect. I am not a morning person. I yell. I give in sometimes. I say things I shouldn’t. I expect a lot from my girls. But I am also there for them. Making happy memories. (Well trying to make happy memories). I may not make it to every school event, but they know they can count on me and I am there for them. Trying and being there.

I try too hard. I know this, but I also know that one day they will grow up and move away. They won’t be jumping into bed with us at three am because of a nightmare, or ask for friends to sleep over, or if I can please please make a gluten-free cupcake for the one boy in her class who can only eat gluten-free and yes it’s 10:00 at night but I just remembered, mom.

So I do it.

I try. Sometimes I try too hard. And honestly, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.