There are moments when I think I have this parenting gig down. Moments when my children are happy, cooperative, and participating in some life enriching activity. Moments when I have infinite patience, compassion, and energy.
Those moments are few and far between.
More often than not, I look around the maelstrom that is my life and think, “Holy crap. What is going on here?” I am struck with the urge to scrap everything and start from scratch with some new parenting philosophy that will make my life, and more importantly the lives of my children, better, happier, more fulfilling.
During my idyllic pregnancy with my first child, Jack, I made the requisite list of all the things I would and would not do as the “perfect parent.” My child would only consume breast milk. I would never yell or belittle my child. I would encourage his independence while remaining totally grounded at all times. I was destined to be the poster mom.
I was particularly attracted to Attachment Parenting. According to Attachment Parenting guru Dr. Sears, Attachment Parenting (AP for those of us in the know), “is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents. . . implies first opening your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby, and eventually you will develop the wisdom on how to make on-the-spot decisions on what works best for both you and your baby,” (www.askdrsears.com).
Proponents of AP promote baby wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and spending lots of quality time with your kid.
The poster mom for AP does NOT want to leave her newborn on the steps of the church across the street from her home, which is exactly what I wanted for much of the first month of my son’s life.
Huh? What went wrong? I was totally confused. Why wasn’t I rocking this party?
I got really depressed. Hormones and sleep deprivation contributed to a case of postpartum depression, complicated by telling myself how much I sucked at being a mom. I wasn’t feeling the right feelings or doing the right things.
With support from my family, I got through this phase, and proceeded to form a strong, loving bond with my son. But I was deeply humbled by how profoundly difficult it was to be a new mom, and to NOT be the mom I had dreamed of being.
Flash forward six years. I have yelled. I have belittled. I have questioned and raged and done all of the things I swore I would never do as a mom, but I have done them to myself more than I have ever done them to my children.
Some days I beat my mother-self from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed.
A while back, I wrote a post entitled, “Screw You Attachment Parenting, I Just Want My Kid To Do What I Say.” I did not press the publish button on that post for fear of being thrown out of the Mommy-Blog Community on my ample ass. But what I felt when I wrote that post is relevant here. I was feeling confusion and despair over my failure to manage my strong-willed six year old. I felt failure to juggle my home, family, and career. I did all the AP stuff, so why was my kid still angry and aggressive? Why was I not feeling more satisfaction with my parenting and my relationship with my children? Where had I failed?
Sure, there are many times I could share which illuminate how I was NOT the model AP. Times where I shouted. Times where I threatened to cancel Christmas. Times when I had to sit on my hands to keep from using them to swat at a surly child. But I’m not sure those times are exactly what makes me a crappy AP.
One morning, while packing my son’s lunch, I realized I only had one piece of fresh fruit in his lunch box. I usually like for him to have at least two offerings of unprocessed, fresh food in his lunch box to balance his sandwich, cookies, and juice box. “If I were a good mom,” I thought, “I would have bought more fruit at the market over the weekend.”
I suddenly became mindful of this refrain, “If I were a good mom. . . ” I became aware I am almost always chanting it in my head. “If I were a good mom. . .” Sometimes I hum it to the tune of that Fiddler On The Roof song, “If I were a good mom, a yaddadeedadeedayaddadeedadadadeedadum. . .”
I joke. But I think that statement is at the crux of my confusion and frustration with parenting. I think that statement is what makes me a crappy Attachment Parent, because it is really hard to have and instill unlimited empathy in another when you are so down on yourself.
I’ve co-slept, breastfed, baby worn, and done all the other wonderful, beautiful, crunchy things that APs do. And for the most part, I’ve loved doing them. But since I am human, there have been other times when I kind of wanted to go sit on the steps of the church across the street from my house just to get away from it all. Hey, at least I don’t want to leave the kids there anymore, right?
As women, aren’t we always trying to live up to some ridiculous expectation for ourselves? It seems there is a societal message that we have to be super models and super moms. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by it. These unrealistic expectations do not inspire me or make me want to be awesome. They make me feel defeated and depressed.
It works like this: the more psychic space that is filled with self doubt, anger, criticism, and depreciation, the less space I have for being calm, happy, centered, patient, and empathetic– both with my kids and with myself.
So now, when I catch myself saying, “if I were a good mom,” I re-think that thought by saying, “I AM a good mom.”
I’m coming around to the notion that it is okay to just be me. I don’t have to be a super model. I don’t have to be super mom. I don’t have to be on any poster for any parenting style. All I have to do is love my kids and try not to screw them up too much. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve already screwed them up, because it is unavoidable. Even the most skillful AP in the world still screws up her kid just a little.
And that’s okay.
I’ve also learned that for every moment where I was not the ideal parent, when I didn’t listen, tune into my kids’ needs, or open my heart, there is another moment here and now when I can do just that. It’s never too late to start fresh, although it is not necessary to scrap everything you’ve learned or done along the way.
I am the mother I am, and I am trying to be better all the time. I may be a neurotic ball of crazy, but there is no one else on this planet who could love my children any more than I do, even if my execution of that love is sometimes sloppy or half assed.
And that just might be the new parenting philosophy that will make my life, and more importantly the lives of my children, better, happier, more fulfilling.
What do you need to forgive yourself for as a parent? What are the things you say to yourself that bring you down, and how do you bring yourself back up? How could you be kinder to yourself as a person and a parent?