Creative Rainbow Mother

Shelby Murphyby Shelby Murphy

Maybe it's because I slid into full-time motherhood sideways -- you know, when finely crafted career plans are disregarded the minute they lay that slimy newborn on your chest -- that I've never in my own mind measured up to the apron-and-pearls ideal.

I did my best to become the consummate mother. As my daughter grew and I gave birth to a son, I lined up playdates, walked often to the park, occasionally got out the washable watercolors or markers so that they could have a "project", joined a playgroup, and baked cookies or bread whenever the mood struck. But it always felt like a fa├žade. Like I was playing the Perfect Mother on TV.

Because I knew that I wasn't that kind of mother. I've never been the type to want to hold somebody else's new baby, to care about a big sale at Gymboree, to take pictures of every occasion and to video every event.

No, I'm the type of mom who let's her four-year-old dress herself -- with ruby red glitter shoes, pink socks, a hiney-baring purple dress, a princess crown, and a little lipstick just to look glamorous. I'm the type of mom who can't seem to keep milk in the house, whose children don't get bathed every day (or sometimes even every other day), who has used Barney as a babysitter so I could bury myself in a book for another 30 minutes. I'm the type of mom whose children listen to Creed and Hendrix rather than Raffi, who doesn't scrapbook, and who has stood outside in her pajamas digging used cat litter out of the trash because she dumped the cat box before making sure there was a fresh bag of cat litter.

June Cleaver I am not. In fact, when I compare myself to several other stay-at-home moms with whom I've become good friends, my homemaking skills seem downright remedial. These women seem so much more equipped to raise children. They never have to beg a diaper off another mom in the mall and they always arrive with a fresh sippy cup of juicy, Ziploc bag of Goldfish, and toys for any imaginary scenario that might pop up.

Author Lynn Andrews once called this kind of woman an Earth Mother. They are the mothers that our culture celebrates. Earth Mothers nurture their children and feed them well. They stimulate their children through projects and activities and they constantly engage in their children's lives. They have thrown themselves fully into the role of motherhood and they do it well.

I truly appreciate Earth Mothers but knew there must be mothers out there from other planets as well. Other mothers who, like me, love this job and despite appearances, are damn good at it.

Satisfying my need to fit in, Andrews also named an alternative kind of mother, the Creative Rainbow Mother. We Creative Rainbow Mothers inspire our children without necessarily having meals on the table on time. We dance with our children every afternoon to really loud '80s tunes, we let our kids run outside without shoes on, and we take our kids out at night without a coat to gaze at the moon. Okay, so I'm projecting a bit, but with a label and the potential that there might be other mothers like me, I finally feel validated.

And that's important. I think we women trap ourselves into believing that there is only one way to mother our children, one model to which we should conform. If our lives don't have that lemon-fresh Pledge shine, we feel that we've fallen short.

Some women parent very academically, each course of action is thoroughly researched. Others parent by the gut. Pure instinct guides the direction of their children. Some women strictly adhere to nap, feeding, and bedtime schedules. Others bend timetables to better fit their lives. Both methods have their merit and children raised in either environment most likely turn out equally as well.

The truth is -- whether you're an Earth Mother, a Creative Rainbow Mother, or have found a different identity in which you feel more comfortable -- we women bring a wide spectrum of talents to motherhood. And to try to force each of our unique sets of talents into one prescribed method of motherhood dulls our cumulative vibrancy. As long as mothers provide their children with love, security, and lots of time, the manner of mothering becomes secondary.

Yes, I may wipe my son's nose on his shirt but I'm teaching him to improvise. And I may let my daughter pee in the backyard but I'm teaching her to feel at home outdoors. But most of all, I'm teaching my children to treasure life, to gobble up the fun of the moment, even if that moment might offend Martha Stewart.

Shelby Murphy is a freelance writer, columnist, and mother of two. Her work has been published nationally and circulates the globe online. In 2001, she started RadiantWomen, an online and syndicated print column for women who live life on purpose. For a free subscription or more information, contact Shelby at or