It’s true! You read the title of this blog correctly! I, Meredith Gordon, used a boxed cake mix for my son’s birthday cupcakes and do you want to know something else? I used canned icing to frost the tops of them too! You heard me. None of those cupcakes were made from scratch and nothing on any of the containers said “organic”. This could be an instant trip to parent guilt.
Did I have parenting guilt about it? Well, we shall see.
To start off with, I come from a family of bakers. My great grandmother was a baker. My mother, a baker, was taught by my great grandmother. My sister, baker, even has her own baking business! All three of these women have won prizes for their baking.
I LOVE baking!
Every year, I look forward to making my kids’ and husband’s birthday treats. Christmas time, yup, I am a cookie baking fanatic! I love it.
But this year, I was shocked to find that the usual love affair I have with my electric mixer was absent. This year, the love was replaced with stress.
A few years ago, I decided that I was done, and I mean, done trying to be a Pinterest mom.
I found myself up until 3 AM making cardboard cars that the kids didn’t want to ride in, arranging fruit in the shape of Batman symbols that no one really cared about, and prepping the homemade birthday cake that I would knock myself out decorating, the only thing that gave me joy out of the whole process.
I began to notice that the kids just wanted to run around and hit each other over the head with balloons and my overdoing it wasn’t winning any smiles from the other parents who came. Because I had to be honest with myself… I was going overboard to prove to the world that I was a good mother, not thinking at all about the fun that my kids might have with my creations. Neither kid gave a crap about the blueberries in the shape of the bat signal either.
My Pinterest mania had gone out the window years ago, but the only hold over was the homemade cake each year. This is something I love and didn’t feel like I wanted to give up. If I didn’t have to spend time making cardboard cars, then I had more time to think about the cake.
But this year, a storm hit my psyche and it came in the form of tree trunks, rusty nails and potholes.
We just moved, at the end of July, into our first home. After years of renting and seeing our rent cost climb each year, we decided to pop some anti-anxiety meds and buy a house. We love it. We have so much more space and stairs! But the house hadn’t been lived in in a while and needed some upgrades before I felt ready to let bunches of other people’s kids play in the backyard.
We erected a swing set, moved a play house, set out hammocks, cleared brush, cleaned rusty nails out, and chopped down trees. We painted and glued and dug and did all we could to make the backyard ready for kids. And in the middle of all of this work, I noticed that the mental space I had left for making cakes and icing had quickly diminished. The day of the party came and I realized that I just couldn’t. The handmade cake and icing had to go. I felt so much stress in having old friends in our new space, that I let it go. But, I hid the cake mix boxes. I still felt still this enormous amount of guilt wash over me as I finished the cakes up. I knew this guilt from before.This is the same parenting guilt I had when I chose to sleep train after others around me were attachment parenting. This is the same guilt I had when I was supplementing my baby’s breast milk with formula or when we were no longer breastfeeding anymore and only using formula. This is the same guilt I felt the first time I pulled into a fast food restaurant drive through line with my kids.
It’s all the same parenting guilt.
The parenting guilt that comes from the feeling that other parents are better parents than me because they aren’t doing any of these things. The strange feeling that in engaging in any of these means failure.
I want to change that narrative. I want to pull the cake mix boxes out of hiding. These are times when my husband and I saw what our family needed and did what needed to be done so that we could continue on this incredible journey with a little more peace, with a little more joy. And perhaps a few less Pinterest moments.
We have so many moments as parents where we set these crazy expectations for ourselves and we try to achieve some sort of idealized image with no thought to the joy of the family. Our family suffers because of us constantly trying to catch that golden ring on the carousel that is spinning at a breakneck speed. Stop looking up at that gold ring parents, look at the kids riding next you. They’re not getting any younger on that horse.
You will miss these moments by focusing too much on that impossible, picture perfect goal.
Yes, I made my son a cake out of a box for his birthday and the fact that I wrote an entire blog about it is pretty laughable. But I feel like my journey to knocking down the arbitrary definition of what a good parent looks like continues to get thrown out with empty Betty Crocker icing containers.