I’d always had some kind of boss before, and not just at work, either. There was always somebody watching, someone to give me feedback. I had parents. I had teachers at school. I had actual bosses at work. There were Young Women’s leaders and music teachers and co-workers. They gave me graded tests and Young Women’s medallions and evaluations and compliments when I did well, and angry words when I didn’t.
Some of those people told me how awesome I was. I knew how to please some people, mostly adults. But if I screwed up, they’d let me know exactly where I wasn’t measuring up, and I’d be crushed, so I’d work twice as hard to make sure I wouldn’t disappoint them again.
When I became a parent, all of that went away. It’s as if I was in a room full of people and all of a sudden, they all left because a baby landed in my arms. And the silence was deafening.
There was nobody to tell me what to do. Good luck, they seemed to say. Have fun figuring this one out.
So I read the baby books and tried not to freak out. But they didn’t have all the answers, either. I kept waiting for someone I could report to, someone who knew how this motherhood job was supposed to go.
Then I began to invent people to report to. I’d visit the pediatrician and feel like I had to explain everything I did for my child. People such as visiting teachers or babysitters would come to my house and I was sure it had to be spotless. “See? Look at me! I’m doing a great job and here’s the evidence.” When my oldest began exhibiting some troubling behaviors, I needed to go out of my way to explain that I hadn’t done anything to cause it.
Or what? They’d fire me? Give me a B on discipline but a D on dishes?
Nobody was there in my most agonizing and triumphant moments. Nobody cheered when I refrained from whacking my children when they bit me so hard I bled and bruised. Nobody threw me a party for doing such a great job on cleaning up puke for the fourth time in a single day. No reprimands for when I finally lost it and started yelling.
I wanted to show off. I wanted external validation. Sometimes it got bad enough that when my house was looking good (because we all know that people only drop by unannounced when your house is in tornado mode), I’d think, “Oh,well. At least if my house gets robbed while we’re gone, the robbers will think I’m a decent housekeeper.” Somebody had to notice me.
Eventually, without any bosses to tell me what I did well and what I could do better, I realized I really was going to be my own boss for a while. This prospect terrified me. I can be a pretty cruel taskmaster. I made huge lists for myself. I’m not a horrible perfectionist—I’m not the type to think everything has to be done well.
I just think everything has to be done.
And that’s what makes me a mean boss. Boss-in-my-head doesn’t yell or call me names. She’s quite forgiving and patient, actually. She doesn’t freak out about dust or baseboards or dirty ovens. She just expects a lot, and she expects it right now.
Well, am I the boss or am I the boss? She’s so fired.
There’s a new boss in town. She tells me all the things I do right. She cheers when I scrub the floor and tells me how awesome I am for reading to my kids. Last time I emptied the dishwasher, you know what she said? “Yeah, you totally rock. You did an amazing job, especially considering all the other stuff you had to deal with today.”
She talks to herself, it’s true. But I’d rather have a crazy boss than a mean one. And you know what? She’s the nicest boss I’ve ever had.