YOU Are a Great Mom… And you and you and you and her and me too!

10 Jun
love love love

love love love

“You are a great mom,” I will tell myself, as a present for my daughter’s first birthday in a few days. This time last year, I was in agony. Not the physical agony of childbirth that I was hoping for (yes, honestly, I was dying for the pain that would mean a baby was going to leave my body), but rather the emotional agony due to NOT being in labor. This time last year, I was starting to believe I was going to be pregnant FOREVER. And I wasn’t sure if that would be better or worse than having to be induced, which I was sure would lead to a cascade of interventions which would end in having to have a C-section. I might have been just a wee bit anxious about the whole thing.

You'd be desperate to go into labor, too, with this belly

You’d be desperate to go into labor, too, with this belly

I also felt like a total failure. As if somehow I should be able to magically induce a spontaneous labor when my baby was not trying to be born yet. I cried for days, especially when I’d wake up in the morning and realize I had not gone into labor over night, once again. I was already doing all the things they tell you to do to help bring on labor (minus drastic tactics like castor oil), so what the hell else could I do? What was I doing wrong? Maybe I wasn’t thinking positive enough thoughts. But how could I think positive thoughts when all I wanted was to go into labor already and it wasn’t happening?
I did eventually go into labor without being induced in the hospital. My stubborn Lucia was born 2 weeks after my due date, about 2 hours before I was scheduled to be induced. My labor didn’t go exactly as planned, of course, but it was mostly good, and I was happy. I felt like a champion, with all that oxytocin and other fabulous hormones coursing through my veins, knowing that I, too, could and did PUSH A BABY OUT OF MY VAGINA (sorry for the capital letters, but it really is that amazing!). I did not feel like a failure again for several more days.

our just-born lucia

our just-born lucia

Then I tried to leave the house with my newborn for the first time. She was less than a week old, and Conan was still staying home from work with us. I fed her, I changed her, I got myself ready. I put on the baby-carrier wrap, wrapping it like my friend Holly had taught me. I double checked using you-tube videos, because this was not something I wanted to screw up. Who wants their kid to have brain damage because they fell out of the baby carrier wrap because their mama couldn’t tie it right? Not me. So I got it tied around me right and tried to put her in. it wasn’t tight enough. So I took her out, redid it, put her back in. We walked around the house for a minute to be on the safe side. Conan went to start the car air conditioner so she wouldn’t die of a heatstroke in the super heatwave we were having. All of that took so long, by the time we were ready to go, little miss Lucia was hungry again. Which meant I had to take the wrap off and start it all over again after feeding her. I cried then, too, sure, once again, that I was a total failure. This parenting thing was already too hard, and we were only a few days in. I couldn’t even get out of the house with her, even with the help of her papa! How was this going to work?!
Of course, I became a pro at leaving the house with her, eventually. It took patience. It took practice. It took talking to other moms to realize I was not a total failure for having trouble leaving the house. But still I didn’t learn my lesson. I still have too many moments when I blame myself when things are not going smoothly with Lucia. As if they were supposed to be smooth all the time. As if parenting were supposed to be easy. Or as if “good” parents don’t have problems because they do everything “right.”
I think this tendency to blame ourselves when things are less than perfect with our kids is something moms are more prone to than dads. When Conan and I were struggling with Lucia’s major sleep issues, for example, I was the only one walking around agonizing over every single aspect of Lucia’s life, trying to figure out what I was ruining and how. I was the only one stressing because I couldn’t give her lunch at exactly 12.30pm so I could put her down for her second nap at precisely 1.45pm because otherwise she would never ever sleep at night. I was the only one walking around telling myself I was failing for every single nap Lucia refused to take, for every night that once again, she woke up 50 million times.
So, why am I the only failure of a parent, I finally asked myself one day. Not that I wanted Conan to feel like a failure, too. But how could it be that when he couldn’t get her down for a nap he didn’t take it as a personal affront to his fatherhood, while it was ruining entire days and nights and weeks of my life? Maybe in that case some of it was just my sleep deprivation. But what about all my other “failures” as a mother? Where did that come from?
I imagine that all new parents are a little insecure about their new role. But I also think that, in general, as a society (Western society at least), we still see parenthood as the role and responsibility of a mother moreso than of a father. Thus, even when both parents are more or less equally involved, when something goes “wrong” (is difficult or challenging), we tend to blame the mother. Not that dads don’t have their own issues and struggles, but I’m a mom and I want to talk about moms for now.
Vice versa, when things go “right” we tend to praise the mother, even when it’s not anything she does or did or has any control over. For example, Lucia is mostly a really happy baby. She hasn’t ever cried a whole lot, which is a great stroke of luck, I’m sure. Yet I’ve gotten a ton of compliments for that, as if it were because I am obviously making her happy and quiet with my perfect mommy magic. Of course it’s nice to get told you’re doing a good job, especially when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. The problem is that it leads me to believe that there’s an often unspoken flipside to the coin. It means that when we see that mom over there struggling with her screaming crying baby all hours of the day and night, we’re thinking that she must be doing something wrong, or at least not doing the “right” things. So instead of offering sympathy and help to that poor mom with the colicky baby, we’re judging her. Instead of supporting each other and affirming that parenting is really hard and every family and every circumstance is different, we’re judging ourselves. That is total bullshit, in my humble opinion.
So my new motto is “You are a great mom!”, and I have promised myself that I am going to think it and say it out loud as much as possible every time I see a mom, including when I look in the mirror. “But wait!” you might think. “Every mom you see? How do you know she’s a great mom?” And I’ll tell you my psychic secret: Because she’s a mom, and she’s doing the best she can under the circumstances. Did she breast feed or bottle feed or give her 7 month old corn milk (atole) instead? I don’t really care. Did she go back to work full time after 6 weeks or after 6 years or did she work part time or did she go back to school or did she stay home with the kiddos? I don’t know, but I’m sure she did some combination of what she had to do, what she wanted to do, and what was best for her family. Did she use a wrap more or a stroller more? Did she do some kind of sleep training with her baby? Does she use time out? Does she spank her kids? Does she do what her mother taught her or what she read on the internet? Does she have full or partial custody of her kids? Did she migrate to another country and leave her kid behind in order to provide for him or her? It doesn’t matter. She is doing the best she can at this mom thing. It’s incredibly hard. Let’s give each other, and ourselves, a break, please and thank you. And maybe even a little support in place of that judgment.
I’m putting this out there because I want to be held accountable on this non-judgment thing, too. Because judging people is really easy and it can make you feel good about yourself and your own difficulties and challenges. You can say, “At least I’m not like so and so,” and then your problems and errors (aka learning moments) feel small. And it’s like giving yourself permission to make mistakes, to not be a “perfect” parent, to not have a “perfect” kid. But I propose that we start giving ourselves permission without having to put someone else down, without comparing and contrasting to people who are not us.
I ran into a lot of this mommy hate when I was looking for solutions for Lucia’s sleep problems. I found these two outrageously judgmental camps of mamas out there busy hating each other as viciously as the democrats and republicans. They were all either like, “you’ve already ruined your baby and their sleep habits for the rest of their life so you better let them cry now or they’ll probably drop dead from sleep deprivation any second now” versus “you’re doing exactly what your baby needs and if you do anything else before they’re 18 then you are a heartless bitch who doesn’t care about your baby.” And I just can’t believe either camp. Just like all politicians are more or less the same, all moms more or less want the same thing: healthy, happy kids. So why can’t we give parents (and people in general) options and information and let them decide what’s best, what they can pull off, what’s right for their family, instead of telling them what’s best. How could it possibly affect me or my kid if you breastfeed your kid or not? How could it possibly hurt me or my family if you spank your kid? Are we so excessively insecure about ourselves and our parenting decisions that we need everyone around us to do the same things in order to reinforce our beliefs? Maybe we are, and maybe it’s part of that vicious cycle of taking too much responsibility for our kids, of believing we’re “good” parents when things are smooth and that we must be “bad” parents, or failures, when we are having a rough time.
I understand. I know that patting yourself on the back for not being as “bad” as someone else is really tempting when you’re feeling like a failure. We have a neighbor who is everyone’s favorite example of a “bad” mother. She’s a single mom with four kids under 7, including a baby that’s 2 months younger than mine. People first and foremost talk badly about her for having her kids in the first place, which infuriates me. I’ve even heard people say that unmarried mothers have no business having kids. (“I’m an unmarried mom, too!” I told one person, and they told me that was somehow different. Because I’m still with the father…. But this is another blog piece…) The thing is, I believe that our neighbor, and every human being, has a right to have children, or to not have children. I also believe that it’s not her responsibility alone if they are not living in the best circumstances. Where are their fathers? I don’t hear anyone talking badly about them. So there’s that part, which automatically makes me want to go to bat for her.
But the part where it got tricky for me is that I felt like she wasn’t doing the best things for her kids. I started to judge her, too. For example, we live next door and so we could hear when the baby would cry and cry and cry and cry and cry and cry and it made my milk leak out, it made we want to rush over there and hold and hug that baby. And where was this mom? Doing chores, or out running an errand. Or I’d see her 2 year old out in the street playing with no supervision. And I caught myself almost feeling the same as those other critics, thinking horrible things about her as a mother, and why’d she even have kids, anyway? But what the hell do I know about it? I mean, first of all, she’s ignoring one kid in order to take care of other responsibilities, other kids’ needs. She’s taking the lunch to her other kid or trying to finish the dishes or whatever. Did it feel wrong and awful to me? Yes. Does that make it wrong and awful for her and her family? NO. I am not her and I don’t know anything about the decisions she has to make and the priority-juggling she has to do.
And second of all, maybe she didn’t want to have one or some or all of the kids in the first place. What do I know about her situation, her circumstances? It’s not like there’s awesome access to contraception here, and there’s certainly no access to abortion unless you’ve got a ton of money. So maybe she didn’t want to be a mother at all, and she’s doing the best she can. Or maybe she did want to be a mother, but she’s incredibly overwhelmed trying to raise four little ones by herself (who wouldn’t be overwhelmed with four little ones even with a ton of support?). The point is, she is trying. I see her trying, I see her struggling. What else can we expect, of ourselves, of others?
One day that same neighbor and I were talking about one of her kids, and about parenting in general. She was talking about how she’d had to teach the oldest to read, because his school wasn’t cutting it. Then she was telling me about something she’d learned on TV about kids. “I try to apply the things that I learn from programs on TV to the kids,” she told me earnestly. I’m ashamed to say that the snide, snobby, sarcastic part of me thought “Yeah, TV’s a great place to learn about parenting. Yikes!” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the point is, she is concerned about her children’s well-being, just like I am. She does try to educate herself in any way she can to take care of her kids. Who says the internet, my #1 resource, is a better place to learn than TV? Who says that the choices that I so quickly labeled as neglect are not the best choices, given some really difficult circumstances, in which no one is helping her with anything? There are choices I make with Lucia that other parents balk at, that make people worried I’m neglecting her (like not keeping a hat on her all the time when she was littler). So the neighbor’s choices mostly don’t look like mine. That doesn’t make her a “bad” parent, and it doesn’t make me a better parent by judging her. In fact, I’m going to tell her she’s a great mom, starting today. And I’m going to keep saying it, to all of you, to myself, to all of us, all of us who deserve it because we are trying, and it’s really hard. You’re not a failure. You’re a great mom!

The bond changes and grows...

The bond changes and grows…

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