From the time I was a young girl, I wanted to achieve. I wanted the perfect score on a quiz. I wanted to be the best at whatever I did. And a lot of the time, I managed it. I graduated with honors from high school and college. I competed at the State level in a myriad of academic subjects, and I did fairly well at sports while I was in high school. In college, I won writing awards, I had scholarships. And even in the working world, I did the jobs I chose wholeheartedly and well. In general, I felt that whatever I tackled, I mastered.
During those first few years of motherhood, I wanted to be the master, the perfect parent, the ideal caregiver. I wanted to always be making the baby smile (because this would create neural pathways and he would be smarter). I wanted to feed him the perfect foods. I wanted to check off his vaccines on the chart, while checking off his development milestones in his baby book. I wanted to succeed at motherhood. I looked at my baby, and I loved him. I had never imagined a love like this – and so that drove me to want to provide for his every need perfectly, as best as I could. I read so many books it made my head spin.
I was not alone. I think many, if not most, new mothers want to give these same things to their children. It might even be biological – but something possesses us to go into black-and-white, territorial, Mama Bear mode. Any perceived threat is immediately squelched – be it the sun in his eyes or potential chemicals in his teething toys. Diets were analyzed in excruciating detail – both mine and his since I was breastfeeding. It was exhausting to always provide what I thought was perfection to my child, but it’s how I ranked myself as a mother. Over-analyzation is how I proved I was a competent mother.
After 3 of those beautiful babies, I wonder now what biological, cultural or just personally immature thing drove me to achieve outwardly for my baby. I have a feeling it was continual doubt at my ability as a parent. I have had to continually prove to myself that I am a good person, a smart person by achieving outward deeds. And being a mother, as we all know, does not have awards or ribbons or evaluations, and so I gave them to myself. I measured my ability at mothering based upon how perfect I could create his environment. And I probably missed out on a lot of things with my young babies. Instead of worrying if he slept through exactly one sleep cycle, I could’ve concentrated on the way he wrinkles his brow or grips his hands while he’s asleep. I could’ve even done something pleasurable like read a good book, or enjoy my time at home. Instead, I fretted, I worried, I measured, I searched the internet. I missed the point of motherhood.
Some fretting, some worry, some measuring has to occur as a mother maybe? But how much? Mine seemed excessive. And when I look into the eyes of lots of parents-to-be, theirs seems excessive, too.
Is that why – once our babies grow to be children – we all are nostalgic for the moments with our babies? Because now we would do it differently? Maybe. Maybe now we would hold the baby longer, or not worry so much that he doesn’t sleep, or not create enemies of our in-laws because they gave our child ice cream. Who knows.
I do know that I am a great mother. Most days. I became a great mother when I threw away the vaccine charts, the development charts, the school books, the comparisons, and I just WAS with my children. I let them be who they are (when I can – it’s a work in progress). Their successes and milestones, whether achieved or not, are not mine, and I have to let that go. I have to have faith in my mothering, despite what my children are doing, despite what they have achieved or not. I wish more new mothers and fathers had that confidence in themselves and rather than looking to books or online articles or “experts” for answers, they looked at their child and into their own hearts. I wish they would consider less what their pediatrician says and more what their own loving mothers say. I wish that parenting experts with their books and theories would just go away and let new parents find their own inner voices, their own ways of parenting their incredible little children. I wish new parents could acquire that confidence early and not have to wait like I did.
If I could go back and whisper into my own ear as a new parent, I would tell myself to let the small things go, throw away the books and leave the worry.
There is no way to hold onto those fleeting moments that exist around having a baby, nor is there any way to really preserve that momentarily blissful, loving feeling of having a newborn. But I now know something I didn’t back then: I was (and still am) just enough mother for my baby.