My husband and I didn’t find out the gender of either of our girls before they were born.

We reasoned that since so many of life’s surprises are less than thrilling— “Surprise! This transmission is shot!” or “Surprise! You get to install a new septic system with the money you were going to use to upgrade your kitchen cabinets!” (one supposes)—we’d go ahead and take a guaranteed good surprise where we could get it.

Our obstetrician, on the other hand, took a different view. She’d delivered our first daughter, and while she was checking me immediately prior to the birth of our second baby, she said, “I think it’s going to be a boy.” Yet when our decidedly non-boy second daughter was born, my doctor announced, resignedly, “It’s a girl.” Very much without an implied exclamation point. As if what she had just delivered was bad news instead of a blue-eyed baby whose full head of dark spiky hair was born about five minutes ahead of the rest of her. 

And I am not making this up: my doctor had barely finished performing her “obstetrical duties” when she told me, “If you want to try for a boy next time, come see me and I’ll tell you how.”

In the years that followed, up until it became obvious I was clearly too old to try for anything more than a pet goldfish, my husband and I heard the “all you need now is a boy” comment more than once. 

I understood where it was coming from: people who knew the incomparable joy of having sons wanted those delights for us. 

But underneath that comment lurked a common myth: the myth of the perfect family. The myth that it exists at all, for starters, and then that it looks a certain way…most likely like a dad and a mom and one son and one daughter, all of whom look fabulous in matching sweaters in a Christmas card picture.

This myth is an equal-opportunity liar.

If you are a childless couple, it says you need a child to be a perfect family. 

If you have one child, it says you need to give that child a sibling to be a perfect family.

If you have several children, it says you need to “figure out where babies come from” to be a perfect family.

If you have all girls, it says you need a boy to be a perfect family.

If you have all boys, it says you need a girl to be a perfect family.

If you are a family that has experienced death or divorce, it says you need remarriage to be a perfect family.

If you are a family affected by disease or disability, it says you need healing to be a perfect family.

The problem with this myth is what we all know to be true: there are no perfect families. Every family, in whatever configuration, with whatever set of realities, is made up of imperfect people.

We all have flaws. We all have shortcomings. We all have physical and emotional challenges. We all have unhealed hurts. We all have empty spaces. We all have unfilled longings. We all have wounds. We bring all of this into our families, partly because we have no other choice and partly because family is supposed to be a safe place where we can be who we are while we work on who we can become.

But for all this messiness, we still are families. We are imperfect people trying to love each other and care for each other and build each other up and support each other and encourage each other and comfort each other and care for each other the best we can. We do it one day and fail and try again the next day to do it a little bit better.

And as a society made up of imperfect families, we can all help each other out by celebrating what each family has, not by pointing out what we don’t.

I love this quote by Sanchita Pandey in Voyage to Happiness: “Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.” Did I want a son? Yes. I would have loved for my husband and I to have had that experience. A son is what our family did not have. I know all-boy moms who long for daughters. I know a young couple who hoped, after a late-term ultrasound showed the possibility, that their baby might not be born with a cleft palate.

But what our family and all imperfect families do have are unspeakable blessings and joys. My husband and I are crazy about our daughters. Life without them is something we can’t and don’t want to imagine. My boy-mom neighbor is crazy about her sons. My young friends are crazy about their brand-new baby.

As families, we are none of us perfect, and if we are honest, we should never hope to be. Perfection does not belong to us. But as families, we are blessed and often happy and driven, in the end, by love.

And that imperfect truth about what is real is better than a perfect lie about a myth any day.

You may also like: I’m a Mom Who Doesn’t. You Don’t Have to, Either. 

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.