I read all the books while I was pregnant. Before I was pregnant, too. I wrapped myself in a haze of “If I only do this perfectly and differently from how I was raised, then my baby will be perfect. She will never suffer and will never, ever go through any pain or discomfort , and all will be right in her world.”
(I think that’s what all parents hope and want and are afraid of not giving).
I thought if I securely pushed myself into one tribe, one dichotomy of parenting, then I Would Be Right. That I’d score myself the A+ in the parenting scorecard. I read somewhere that everyone is the perfect parent before they have a baby. It made me howl with laughter — how true that was for me.
Because I judged. Oh god, how I judged.
I judged the slightest hint of wavering, of humanity in a mother. I judged any attempt by a mother to make it easy on herself. I judged prams like they were little baskets of disconnection.
I judged until my insides were pretzelled. I clamoured for safety in my judgements. I judged because I thought it made my world safer and more easy to understand. I judged because then I could know the right answer. I judged because then I could say “If only they ______, their baby would be okay.” I judged as though my judgements would save me, and would save my baby.
Then mamahood came at me like a freight train.
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I became a mama, and I tussled and struggled with perfection — with who I was supposed to be and how parenthood was supposed to look. When babywearing did not work for my infant daughter, I swallowed a large lump of judgement, and bought a pram. And I would walk around with it, wrapped in a cloak of shame and anxiety. I judged myself for every moment she slept in there quite happily, oblivious to the fact that her mama was pushing not only the pram but a trainload of guilt, too.
I would often go through the list of Dr Sear’s Seven B’s, ticking them off, trying to get each one right. If parenting was a report card, I was scoring myself according to someone else’s ideals, not my own.
Can I tell you now that it didn’t work? That it hurt to push myself (and my family) so forcefully into someone else’s box? I thought if I sacrificed myself for my daughter every single moment, it would make her life good. It didn’t make my life good however — it made me anxious and tight and fighting for breath and sanity and any sense of myself. I forgot the one big lesson of my life: trusting myself.
All my life, I’ve known that I didn’t need to adhere to one faith, one book, one way of being. That all I needed to do was trust myself — trust my intuition — and give myself what I needed. I could survey the spiritual buffet of options, and only take in those things that sang to me, that nourished me, that made me whole.
I forgot I could apply this to parenting.
I am less convinced that one style of parenting will heal all the wrongs in the world.
I am less convinced that one style of parenting will heal all the wrongs in the world. I am less convinced that The Other styles of parenting will result in adults who are irretrievably damaged. It’s all just merging into a blur for me. All it truly means — parenting or religion or anything else in life for that matter — is LOVE.
Can I tell you that I know mamas who bottle-feed, breastfeed, co-sleep, have lovely nurseries, are slung, are prammed, have bums in disposables or cotton… and on and on. The sameness, the differences, the boring details (because that is truly all they are). Every single one of them are wonderful, perfect mamas. They have found their own groove. They love their children with all they can — and they love themselves, too.
Just as I know souls who were raised in a rainbow kaleidoscope of ways… and each of them have their own joys, gladness, and lessons. Every single person on this planet can be happy, healed, and dancing — however their bum was wrapped. However their heart was held. Whatever parenting books their parents read (or not).
I keep remembering that one of my deepest faiths is this:
- Healing miracles can happen in one instant. Healing and joy is a choice, and it is up to each of us.
- My child will grow. I will love her. I will give her what I can. I will be the mama I am.
- I will not give myself away in the battle. More importantly, I will not battle. I will make mistakes. I will feel resentful sometimes. I will open myself to the possibility that love is enough, that healing will part the way — for me, for her, for my love. We aren’t expected to have it all together every moment.
I used to think that I shouldn’t have children before I Had It All Together. And I thought I did when I fell pregnant. Then I became a mama. And everything I had together fell apart. And slowly, slowly, I put it back together again.
My daughter will be who she is. That is the most exquisite thing I could ever want for her. Any push from me to be the perfect mama is all fallow work. What if I just gave into it? What if I gave up pushing so hard, started resting more, throwing out every book, every judgment, every ideal that I clung to? Where would that leave me? With a tremendous amount of freedom to feel the way according to my own soul.
I’m not interested in judgment anymore.
I am less interested in ideals. Less interested in deciding what is right in parenting. I am more interested in finding my own groove, my own style, my own way of dancing this dance of mine. After all — it truly is my own dance.
Comments on Loving the mother I am
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I adore this sentiment. And this post makes a good foil to my big read of the day, found here.
I read that article, too. I’m not quite sure that it’s a foil to the post, despite the controversial-sounding headline. One thing I took from the article was that when parents adhere to one parenting philosophy as a judgmental reaction to other ways of parenting (rather than going with the flow), they sometimes do more harm than good despite their intentions. The parents described in the article are not fully allowing their children to live and be as they are. In some ways, the author’s statements complement those in the post. You might say that the article’s author was being judgmental, but I read it as more analytical…
I really liked that article, too, and I enjoyed patting myself on the back for not being a helicopter parent, but it would be easy for a reader (especially one who didn’t read the whole, long article) to take away the impression that whatever you’re doing, you’re probably screwing up your kid. This decade it’s helicopter parenting, for my parents the risk was low self-esteem, and my grandparents were told too much affection would ruin their kid. When in fact, more research is showing that parenting style has much less impact on how their kids turn out than people think.
“When in fact, more research is showing that parenting style has much less impact on how their kids turn out than people think.”
The fact that I have a relationship where I can, and want, to talk to my mother about everything in my life has more affect on my happiness as an adult than any lesson she succeeded or failed at teaching me as a child.
I’m thinking of it as a foil to the “Tiger Mom” philosophy (I just love books that make me argue in my head, this post soothes the voices).
Beautiful! Thank you!
(I do want to add that I think it’s perfectly normal for us to go through the judgmental phrase. And get confused and overwhelmed and everything else. This describes the mothering story of so many women that I know! Including me!)
This! I went through this for the first year of my sons life, and still do on occasion. Some days it’s hard to remind myself there is no perfect parent. Just me and that is enough. Thank you for this!
YES. we’re so busy making sure our kids get to be who they want, buying into these parenting philosophies that play on fear and intimate emotion, and at what cost? i get to be who i want, too. i get to eat breakfast when i want to eat breakfast, and my daughter can stay on the toilet until she decides to wipe her own butt. can you tell it’s been a rough day? 🙂 maybe she wouldn’t walk all over me if i didn’t walk all over myself, eh?
this was so great. and so needed. thanks!!!
Right now I’m still in the deciding phase of whether I’d like to have children or not. So, I’ve been making my way through the parenting books to see what on earth I’d HAVE to do to make certain a kid doesn’t fail.
However, something I’ve found of great comfort is reading the parenting section in Freakonomics which basically states, it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters who you are. I think I can manage that.
That is the most reassuring thing- it doesn’t matter if you hold to a guideline to be a parent, it matters that you care and interact with the kid
2 years and change into this parenting gig and I’m right there with you! I just don’t care what the label is anymore…I’m doing what I have to do to make sure my daughter grows up happy and healthy. Plain and simple. That also means I have to take care of myself 🙂
the best thing i learned is if your baby is happy, growing, and content then you are doing the right thing. the best judge of your parenting is your baby. there is no right way or wrong way as long as you love them unconditionally.
Oh.My.Gosh. I needed to hear this today!!!
OMG I absolutely LOVE this post, it is exactly where i am as a Mumma 🙂 THANKYOU for posting such a beautiful article ♥
Beautiful! Absolutely beatiful! You put words to the journey I’ve been on since my daughter was born 3 1/2 months ago. Thank you! I’ve learned that the best gift I can ever give another parent (and myself) is grace!
I love this quote:
“Any push from me to be the perfect mama is all fallow work.”
Mostly because it is so true but also partly because you used “fallow” in a sentence. 😉
I agree with this sentiment so much. Before my daughter was born, I knew *exactly* how to be the perfect parent. And then she was born and she turned my life and my assumptions upside down! We all (or most of us) make the decisions that are right for us and our beans.
“My daughter will be who she is. That is the most exquisite thing I could ever want for her.”
That’s stupendously beautiful.
“My child will grow. I will love her. I will give her what I can. I will be the mama I am.”
I think I need to post this somewhere where I can read it every day. I’ve been struggling with this idea of being a “perfect” parent, and just feeling like I’m failing because I’m not being the mother that other people are. This post came at a perfect time for me. Thank you.
So timely for me, because I still struggle with my what-ifs and get upset because all my plans to be a perfect mom have gone awry (and don’t seem to do so for other parents). I think it’s made me bitter and resentful, and that’s not the person I want to be for my son.
I love that you talked specifically about having the baby who did not want to be worn. That was my first major wake up call, too. I think my daughter was about 4 months when I was rereading Dr. Sears and realized that he was saying “this is how all babies are. this is what all babies want.” and how as a mother, I needed to take that with a grain of salt and let my baby tell me what she really wanted.
Oh my gosh this article totally rocks!
As a paramedic before kids I used to go to calls for colicky babies with frazzled moms who weren’t coping. I used to roll my eyes and judge because really an ambulance just for a kid that cries. How hard could it be? Now that I have a colicky child I will NEVER EVER roll my eyes like that again. They will have nothing but empathy from me. The quote about being the perfect parent before having kids is so true. I look back and realize how idealized I was about so many things that now really don’t matter. Becoming a parent is truly humbling and the more I embrace that the better mom I become.
Thanks so much for this lovely lovely story!
I’m actually quite ashamed of the judgmental thoughts I had before becoming a parent. I wrote that becoming a parent is humbling and the more I embrace it the better parent I become but the more I embrace it the better person I become too.
I love this essay! I currently know everything there is to know about parenting (i.e., I’m 5 months pregnant with my first child 🙂 so this was a REALLY great reminder for me right now.
after reading this article my shoulders dropped and the tension in my jaw softened. before reading it i had convinced myself that i was doing something wrong since my 10 week old is not sleeping longer than a 5 hour stretch at night….which he’s supposed to be per some book i read. I worried that i was doing him a diservice by wearing him, letting him nap in a swing, going to bed next to him, and not putting him down for a scheduled nap. All of which feels right to me…thank you for reminding me that parenting should feel good!!