The other night I attended a moms' night out with a few girlfriends. We went to one of those “paint and sip” places, where you take a painting workshop while drinking wine and socializing. The teacher brings in a sample painting and takes the class step-by-step through recreating it. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and it’s supposed to be a fun way to explore your creative side while spending time with friends.
All of my group members had young children at home. We were desperate for a break from kids in the throes of end-of-summer boredom and for some fun adult conversation. And I figured the wine couldn’t hurt, either.
When we arrived, I stopped to look at the piece we would be painting. It featured a deep blue night sky with a luminescent full moon. Trees with leaves in glittery fall colors graced a craggy beach. The calm ocean held a reflection of the moon, and the sky was dotted with tiny pinpoints of light.
It was beautiful. And it looked impossible to replicate.
There were about 30 students that night, mostly women. Once we settled in with our snacks and wine, the teacher started the lesson. First, we were to paint the top third of the canvas in blue. That was easy, and it felt soothing, spreading the creamy paint onto the textured canvas. The scent of acrylics and wine drifted up and my shoulders relaxed as I painted.
Then, we were instructed to add a little black to the blue, painting our way down the canvas until the color was completely black at the bottom, with the blue color gradually darkening. That’s when I heard the first negative comments from around the room.
“I messed up!” “Can I start over?” “I made my blue too dark!”
As we worked, the conversation at my table turned to parenting and kids, as it usually does when a bunch of moms get together. Many of my group had given up careers to be at home with their kids. We talked about how difficult that transition can be.
“The hardest part about staying home taking care of kids,” one friend said, “is that you never get any feedback. At least at work I got quarterly evaluations to tell me how I was doing.”
“And a paycheck!” another mom said.
Once the backgrounds of our canvases were finished, we blow-dried our paintings and then began adding in the tree trunks. The teacher showed us exactly how to create these with a thin paintbrush turned sideways, painting long stripes from the bottom up, then adding branches. Next, we created a big, full moon and dabbed the moon’s reflection onto the water in white.
The comments began again. “My moon looks like an egg!” “I hate my trees!” I don’t know how many trees to paint.” “Can I look at yours?”
After the grumbling in the room died down, our table went back to our previous conversation as we tried to follow the teacher’s directions.
A mom of two spoke up first. “Any feedback on your parenting skills you do get is negative!”
“Yeah,” I said. “No one ever stops you in the grocery store and tells what a great job you are doing with your kids.”
“No,” another added, “but they sure do give you the look when the kids act up!”
After our tree trunks dried, the teacher showed us how to mix three colors to achieve a golden brown for painting fall leaves onto our bare trees.
Again, the comments began.
“My leaves are too big!” “I can’t get that color!” “What if I put too many?”
The self-criticism I was hearing around the room reminded me of how we critique ourselves as parents. While it’s true that the media, parenting experts, and even other moms are always telling us what we are doing wrong — often our worst enemies are ourselves.
No one can criticize us as harshly as we criticize ourselves.
When I finished my artwork, I walked around the room and checked out the other paintings. I was amazed at how different they all were. Every student had been given the same colors and the same set of instructions, yet each person’s individuality shone through in their art. And each painting was beautiful.
But when the class wrapped up, many students were unhappy with their results.
“Don’t worry,” the teacher said. “In a minute we are going to each view our paintings from a distance. You will be happy and surprised at what you have done.”
One by one, we placed our paintings on an easel at the front and stood behind a line on the floor to view our work from several feet away.
The comments began again, but now they were entirely different.
“Wow, it really looks good!”
“I can’t believe I painted that!”
“My leaves aren’t so bad from here!”
“You were too close to it before,” the teacher said.
And it was true. My less-than-round moon and too-thick tree trunks were pretty when viewed as a whole, as a small part of the bigger picture.
I believe that it is the same with parenting. The little things — like the time you yelled at your kids or fed them mac ’n’ cheese four days in a row — seem huge when viewed up close. Or when you are in the middle of bigger problems, such as a teen with bad grades in school or a kid in trouble, you feel you have flunked at parenting.
But down the road, when our kids are grown, it will all fade into the background. Every painting will look a little different, but they will all be beautiful.
Tiffany Doerr Guerzon is a freelance writer and the mother of three children, including a teen. Read more of her writing at TDGuerzon.com .