When I was pregnant, Matt and I constantly told ourselves and anyone else who would ask that our goal was simply to be adequate parents. We didn’t need to be perfect parents. We weren’t trying to win any competitions. And we knew there was a pretty huge learning curve to this whole new adventure so we tried to remain realistic.
When we would tell people that this was our goal, they would giggle and smile and then we would move on to something else, but it was never a joke to Matt and me. Yes, we would do everything we could to become educated about the drastic changes that were coming. Yes, we would keep him safe and fed. And, yes, we understood that there would be tons of pressure on us about raising the “right” kind of kid.
What I didn’t expect and that I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of pressure that the rest of the world (and especially other mothers) puts on new moms. I remember the day it hit me. I was in Target when Noah was about 6 months old. He was finely sturdy enough to sit in the front of the shopping cart (thank goodness because I hate, loathe, and despise those damn bucket car seats that, somehow, only weigh 3 pounds when the baby isn’t in them but, put a 12 pound baby in it and, suddenly, the stupid thing weighs 60 pounds. It doesn’t make sense!)
It was winter and pretty cold outside. Noah hated wearing socks and as soon as the opportunity arose, he took his socks off and put them in his mouth. We were inside Target, he was happily playing and looking around, and this woman who appeared to be about 40ish came up to me, touched Noah’s feet (not even going to mention how much this bothered me) and, in a high-pitched baby voice said, “Apparently your mommy doesn’t care if your feet are freezing.”
I stood there, mouth open, trying to get past the shock and anger that was raging inside me. A million things were running through my head- including some really not-so-nice words that I shouldn’t say out loud in Target- but I just made some kind of stupid incoherent comment like, “Yeah, he just doesn’t like to wear socks.” And then, before I could get my brain working enough to say something about the pressures on moms and the judgment from others, she was gone. And I was left there to be angry about it and think over and over about all of things I should have said.
The sad thing is, this is not the only time something like this happened. As a stay-at-home mom during the first part of Noah’s life, he went with me everywhere. I dealt with all kinds of comments and stares from all kinds of people about everything- good and bad. I got used to it and, eventually I developed a pretty standard response that was just rude enough to get my point across.
So, back to my original point, there is too much pressure out there on new moms and dads and there is too much comfort in placing judgment with no regards to circumstance or personal choice. With that said, rather than railing on the ignorant people out there who continue to say hurtful and unnecessary comments to unsuspecting and tired new moms in Target, I would like to give a little advice and support to the moms out there (both new and seasoned) to help make dealing with the pressures a little easier.
1. Do what works. Every baby is different. The baby books are going to tell you one thing. Your mother-in-law is going to tell you something different. Figure out what works for your baby and do that. When we brought Noah home, the only place he would sleep was either on someone’s shoulder or in his bouncy seat. The shoulder was not the greatest option so we set up a card table next to the bed, stuck him in the bouncy seat, and he slept on that until he was 4 months old. Yes, people made fun of us for putting our baby on a card table but, it worked.
2. If your baby is happy and safe, then you are doing a good job. You are going to feel like a terrible parent more than a few times as your baby grows up. The first time you turn your back and he falls and skins his knee, you are going to blame yourself and, unfortunately, others will too. Remember, kids fall down. Kids get hurt. Parents make mistakes. Comfort your child, kiss his skinned knee, and know that you are the best parent he could ever ask for.
3. Trust yourself. You are the expert on your baby. There is a reason there is such a thing called “Mother’s Intuition.” Whether you feel like you know what you are doing or not, you know what is best for your baby and no one knows your kid better than you do. Women are the worst at questioning their own decisions. I am giving you permission to be confident about your choices.
4. Ask for help. Bringing home a baby is tough. Raising a toddler is pretty darn difficult too. And I still don’t know how parents with more than one kid figure it out. Find a good baby-sitter. Let grandparents help as much as they offer. And if they don’t offer, ask them to help! Your kids will benefit from having a mother who is better rested and who has a little extra time to herself. It will make your time with the baby even more special and rewarding for both of you.
5. Practice positive self-talk. Write it down if you have to. You are the best mother that you know how to be. And that is all anyone, especially your baby, can ask for. And remember, if you start positive self-talk now and do it regularly, your child will learn it too. Starting self-esteem building now can only mean great things for both of you in the future.
Yes, society puts a lot of pressure on us but we put even more on ourselves. There is no research that shows that perfect parents have perfect kids. Do your best, set attainable goals, and strive for adequacy.