In light of the approaching Mother’s Day, this is a letter to any of you who have been questioning your abilities as a parent. To any of you who have creeping doubts because of something you read or because of a comment someone made. It is also a reminder to myself, and to anyone reading, that sharing compassion is far more important than sharing our opinions.
We were so excited to have a baby. What an adventure! Sooner than the pregnancy test was positive it became clear that there were a lot of decisions we were supposed to make.
Birth plans, baby gear, and diet restrictions.
Nursery wall color – because didn’t you know?
“Associated with health, healing, and well being, green has a soothing effect on the body and mind, reducing anxiety and promoting concentration. Exposure to the color green may even increase reading ability. One study found that by laying a transparent green sheet on top of the text, students could improve their reading speed and comprehension.”
For the love of God don’t choose the wrong color!
Oh and one other small thing: parenting style.
At this moment all I want is for the many polarized opinions and contradictory studies to come to an agreement on one perfect way so that we can all agree and stop feeling so defensive and discouraged. I say that because this letter is coming from a place of defensiveness, which I would very much like to be rid of.
You shared a post, a study, a statistic. This was probably something that validated a belief and helped you feel encouraged in your way of doing things. Sadly, those of us who are doing things differently feel discouraged.
Little alarms go off – “But I read that you should . . .”
Can’t we agree that there is more that one way? Is it fair to tell others that if they do or don’t do (fill in the blank) they are damaging their children? I have read those actual words on multiple occasions.
I can sit here and remind myself that only I know my baby and most often feel proud of how I am growing into motherhood. But what about in the middle of the night when I hear my baby cry out to me and I am not sure the best way to respond? Or when he screams while I try to breastfeed? What about when that woman at the grocery store eyes me as I hopelessly shove a pacifier in his mouth so I can just get through my errands?
In those moments the crack of doubt in my mind can split into a gaping hole. All those messages of how every small thing you do will deeply impact your child’s development. You know what I am talking about, right? If you don’t do it properly then your baby will have attachment issues/struggle in relationships/be obese/be aggressive/be behind in school/be delinquent/be racist/become a cult leader.
So we look for ways to comfort ourselves, diving into the messages from whatever camp we have decided feels most like home. There must be a better way to validate our feelings as mothers, to address the insecurities we have about “doing it right”.
Formula Fed or Breastfed? Screen time or no screen time? Sleep training or not? Bed-sharing or not? Vaccines? Binkies? Infant Massage?? Plastic Tupperware??? Fingernail polish???? The list goes on and on and on and on and the further you go the more ridiculous it gets. Thanks, Google.
The baby industry creates worries in our hearts to sell products. Social media and the internet encourage us to fight for what we believe and the anonymity makes harsh words flow with disgusting ease. Medical professionals have different experiences and opinions that affect their advice. Baby’s are individual people who call for unique parenting. Parents are individuals who have instincts that are true and valid. Families have different levels of resources, have different medical needs, and come from diverse backgrounds, which are all important factors in personal parenting decisions.
Every justifying statistic in your favor has an equal opposite.
Can we find a way to celebrate each other’s victories and trust that we are all doing what is best for our children? Instead of telling moms, they need to toughen up and thicken their skin towards others, can we open our minds and be compassionate? To be different is a beautiful thing.
All of this to say, I am happy to hear that one way of doing things is working well for you and your family. I understand the desperate desire for a standardized manual that works for all children. I think it is safe to say that we have all asked ourselves “am I doing this right?”
If you need encouragement, here are a few things that have helped me.
1. Ask for support from those you love. If you are feeling insecure, say so, and ask for encouragement. We need each other.
2. When you find yourself doubting the way you are going about things, make a list of why you feel that way. Then ask yourself how might insecurities, fear, or other people’s comments be leading those thoughts?
3. Remind yourself that worrying is instinctual and that it is ok to just feel worried sometimes without having to solve the matter at hand.
4. Instead of seeking out confirmation bias to put yourself at ease, try taking a deep breath and say something like “I am doing my very best and my baby knows I love them. Humans are resilient and do not require perfection. I trust myself to know what my family needs.”
5. Try giving encouragement to other moms – even if you know they have a different ‘parenting style’. You might be surprised that she is also feeling doubts and needs a kind word to remind her: she was made for this. Help her remember that no one knows better than she for her children.
We all want to be validated and to know that what we are doing is right. Heck, the only reason I am sharing these thoughts is that I hope there is some other parent out there who needs these words as much as I do. It feels good to have people agree with you and there is nothing wrong with that.
I am hoping that before we make our well-intended comments on how to “properly” raise babies we will look inward and ask ourselves: are these words lifting others up or are they filling my own need to feel secure in my parenting choices?
So as a reminder to myself: I am mothering the best way I can. I need encouragement and support from my community. If I want concrete advice I will ask for it from those I trust. When I feel strongly about what is good for my child I will follow my gut while trusting that other mothers do the same. I will fight the urge to become defensive towards those who believe differently from me.
Thank you to those who reach out, send kind words, spend time listening, bring food, and surround us with so much compassion. Thank you to other mothers who share their frustrations and celebrate small victories that remind the rest of us that we are not alone.
Amongst all of the doubts and imperfections, I can at least be assured that my son will know my love for him. I hope the same reassurance for you.
A Mom Doing Her Best