As I write this, my little man Finn is 5 months old and ready to get mobile! I grow more in love and amazed by him every day. And as the days, weeks, and months swiftly move along, the depth of my fatigue also grows. This is motherhood-- simultaneously the best and hardest all at once. I do believe that for those of us who are blessed with the privilege of raising a little one (or two, or more!) motherhood is the single most brain-changing, delightful, challenging, rewarding, exhausting, and terrifying of life experiences. And if that isn't enough, somehow feelings of guilt end up in that pile of emotion. I have chosen to refuse guilt. I declare "mom guilt" total nonsense.
I was raised with the understanding that guilt is a choice. We can choose to feel guilty, or be persuaded by guilt, or we can choose not to. This lesson came from my mom, and for that I am grateful. In 38 years, my mom has never once laid a guilt trip on me of any kind. If I'm good and happy, my mom is good and happy for me. It is actually that straight forward.
My mom and I were once out for lunch with a friend of mine, who had had a young child and had recently split from her partner. My friend was explaining that her partner made her feel guilty for wanting to take a couple hours to herself once in a while. My mom called her on it straight away. "Guilt is a choice. It has nothing to do with your partner. You can feel guilty, or you can not. It's up to you."
This stuck with me. I have long been a believer that there is very little we can control in our lives. What we do get to control is how we respond in any given situation. Feelings of guilt included.
For most of my life, guilt was never a factor. It's just not an emotion I chose to indulge and when others attempt to use guilt as a strategy to get me to feel a certain way, or do something, I recognize it for what it is: their stuff. This is about their fear, insecurity and judgement, not mine.
Then I became a mom and really had to put this into practice.
My baby was born in the complete opposite way that we had planned, and almost immediately, I felt inklings of guilt start to creep in. With him needing a week in the neonatal intensive care unit, I couldn't help but wonder if there was anything I could have done to prevent this. I had to consciously shake these feelings, and keep looking forward so that I could be as present as possible to nourish him to health with all my might. Being the best mom I knew how to be in each moment was my only way to keep the potential guilt at bay.
When we arrived home, it came on even stronger.
Is it too soon to get him to try a bottle, because I need a little sense of freedom even if I don't actually go anywhere?
Is it okay if I sit him in his bouncy chair while I quickly answer some emails?
At three weeks I left him for the first time to go to work to host a live online information session for my school. Was this selfish of me to want (or perhaps need) to work this soon?
There was one time when he was about five weeks old that I spent forty minutes trying to decide if I should leave him at home with Josh while I went for a walk by myself, or if I should be wearing him more and this was a prime opportunity for bonding. By the time the decision was made, he needed to be fed again and the walk never happened for either of us.
Here's the thing though: most of the potential triggers for guilt weren't really about how I was doing as a mother. I felt like Josh and I were rocking it as new parents. If our baby took some naps, nursed, got a bath once in a while, had a fresh onesie ready to go in his drawer, had enough diapers to last us to tomorrow-- then I felt like we were smooth sailing.
Most often, the times when guilt-like thoughts would kick in was in response to comments from others. And not just anyone, but from other mothers specifically. This, I hadn't expected.
One woman online attempted to shame me for not having a name picked out as soon as he was born. Another informed me that I should not be referring to him as "the boy"-- that this was cold and insensitive. I was (jokingly?) criticized for only dressing the baby in onesies for his first three months (why buy clothes he'd grow out of so fast?). I was told he needed more toys (and I'm like, he can't even see his own hands yet!). I posted about an EMF blanket a mom could wear while nursing if she were on her phone, and someone commented that "god made babies to fit perfectly in our arms for a reason". At the market, an acquaintance asked if I loved having Finn with me all the time. I explained that he wasn't. I left for a few hours, two or three days a week to pop into work- which left an awkward moment hovering around us.
Since Finn arrived, I have received literally thousands of kind of beautiful messages of love and blessings. But the comments above? These are the ones I remember word-for-word.
I would often catch myself explaining to total randoms why I had started working again so soon after his birth. I'd explain that I needed to for my own sanity, that it helped me feel competent and connected, and allowed me to serve a purpose aside from being the milk caboose. I don't know why I felt the need to explain myself.
We are moms. We are amazing. We are enough. We are also sleep-deprived, physically drained, and have just had our worlds exploded by a new tiny human. We don't have to explain anything. We don't have to feel guilty for anything at all.
I am not co-sleeping (tried it, no one was sleeping well). I am not attachment parenting (I don't even fully know what this means but as we're not co-sleeping, and that I leave him for roughly ten to twelve hours a week, I think this crosses that one off) . I don't use cloth diapers (I use Seventh Generation). My son doesn't have an extensive wardrobe (he's 5-months old, he doesn't have a job to go to). When I am nursing my son for the 8th time in a 24-hour period, I will go on my phone and check in with my team, or scroll through Etsy or Instagram.
And guess what? I am still an amazing mother. So are you. You are an incredible mom.
I like to think that for most of us, it is built in to our DNA to want the very best for our children. Parenthood will never go as we plan. Life is not an Instagram feed. Shit happens. And sometimes it happens while you're giving your little one a bath. Or it happens and it's a total blow out, or a poo-nami as we call it, and you have no choice but to cut his onesie off with scissors and hose him down in the shower in the middle of the night.
Ultimately, I don't feel the least bit of guilt for making the choice to nourish myself. I know that if I do what I need to feel good emotionally, physically and mentally, then I am able to be the best sleep-deprived version of myself. Yes, my baby means everything to me, and I absolutely want the very best for him. I also know that in order to best serve my little man, I have to take care of myself, be present in my marriage, keep my business going, and tuck away little pockets of time through the week to nurture my wellbeing. Doing that is exactly what makes me an amazing mom. And I don't feel the least bit guilty. You best not either.
I am very lucky. When I am crawling back into bed at five in the morning after the third or fourth feed of the night, my husband will tell me that I am an amazing mom. He's an amazing dad, too. We tell each other this all the time.
Parenthood is hard. Don't choose guilt. That only makes it harder.
Be as present as you can be. Hug and snuggle your little ones. Get sleep when you can. Nourish yourself as you need. Take care. If you are good, your child will be too. What your child needs most is love and you have that to give unconditionally.
You all know a mom, struggling to best care for her little ones. Please, tell her she's rocking it. You have no idea how much that positive affirmation helps when we are in the midst of the swirling chaos that is motherhood. Unless you are in it, right now...
And if this is you? You are enough. You are a mom. YOU ARE AN AMAZING MOM.