***Disclaimer: the following post is exactly what I meant here, please read sparingly.***
There are people who usually think of others first and themselves last. I am not one of those people. I am a selfish person. It’s something I was terrified would affect me as a mother. One of my biggest fears when I was pregnant (and by this time you know there were many) was that I would be a selfish mom. I would daydream about the following scenario: it’s 4 AM and my baby is crying because she’s hungry and I’m just EXHAUSTED so I let her stay hungry and cry. I was terrified that I wouldn’t WANT to go to her because I’d be too tired. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to put my baby’s needs, wants and well being before my own. Then, she came, and nothing else in the world mattered except for keeping that little person happy and healthy. It didn’t matter if I hadn’t eaten in a day. It didn’t matter if I didn’t sleep. It didn’t matter. She was ALL I was worried about. It’s not something that I had to “work on” it was something that just happened. She was born and BAM I immediately became second. Immediately.
You may be thinking to yourself: “but isn’t that how EVERYONE is? doesn’t EVERYONE automatically have a baby and put the baby first and themselves second?” Well, no. No, everyone isn’t like that. And, really, you can’t blame them. I mean, when your child is born something inside you either CLICKS or it DOESN’T CLICK. I don’t think you have control over this “clicker”. Some people have the biologically, programmed, instinctive CLICK when their child is born and all of a sudden the child’s well being, wants, health, etc. come before their own. It’s not something they have to work on. It’s not something they have to think about or struggle with. It just…. HAPPENS. Automatically. And some people don’t.
I guess that’s what my fear was… that it wouldn’t be automatic for me. I’m glad that it was because I think I’m too selfish to NOT have that “click” and be a good mom at the same time. Some people don’t have that click, but they are self disciplined enough to work through it and others can’t. Being a parent is kind of about baggage, you know what I mean? Like, when you’re beginning the parenting path, you think about your own childhood and what those GREAT things were your parents did (or didn’t do) and what those not so great things were. You decide to make a conscious effort to not do the things you thought weren’t so great and you want to try as hard as you can to replicate the great things. In a sense, when you become a parent, you give your parents a report card. For example, let’s say that you came from a divorced home and it negatively impacted you, your goal is to NOT get divorced. Or, let’s say that your mom was overbearing and nosey, you want to give your children space. The list goes on and on.
I’m a great mom. I know that’s something that’s taboo to say. I know you’re not supposed to say it, but it’s true. How am I a great mom? I love Elaina unconditionally. She comes first in my book. I think carefully before making a decision that will affect her. I listen to my gut. I research when my gut gives me nothing. I ask for advice from those I trust. I try my very hardest. I spend time playing with her. I spend some time disciplining her. Does that mean I’m perfect? No. Certainly not. Does it mean that I don’t make mistakes? No. Being a “great” mom doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes lose my temper and say something a little louder than I wish I would have. It doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t lose my patience or need a second alone. It doesn’t mean that I don’t turn on the TV so she can watch cartoons while I chat with a friend or read an article in peace. It doesn’t mean that I never crawl into bed thinking about what I could’ve done better. It doesn’t mean that I don’t mess up; I’m human. We all mess up. Being a great mom doesn’t mean that I don’t question myself and feel guilt constantly. Even if deep, deep, deep down you KNOW you are a kick ass mom who is just totally awesome, you’ll still have moments of guilt. Guilt is programmed into the mom’s DNA.
When Elaina was born, Marvin and I didn’t watch TV for about 4 months. I mean it. For 4 months we watched absolutely no TV. We had cable, but we didn’t use it. Why? Because of my baggage. My dad was a doctor who worked a lot and spent his non-working hours either working on his ever-changing hobbies or locked in his room watching TV away from us. That’s how I felt. It’s my perception. (My dad has a different perception, and that’s ok.) Dr. Phil will tell you that perception is reality. So, you can guess that my fear as far as Marvin was concerned was that he’d be an uninvolved Dad. Marvin would get up, go to work and then come home and he’d have to stare at Elaina until it was bed time. Literally. If he was looking at something else or not paying attention to her cute little 2 week old face for even a SECOND I would panic. Marvin talks about how silly that little phase I went through was. He loves telling people “I couldn’t even watch TV.” Marvin is a laid back guy (as I’m sure you know by now) so he just went with it, like he normally does. He just follows along with my crazy and waits (and hopes) for it pass and then brings it up when it’s a long distant memory “remember when….” and then we laugh at how crazy it was at the time.
I remember one time I told my mom that I was having some guilt because I felt like I didn’t spend enough time with Elaina. “You are with her everyday,” she responded. Now, looking back, that was a silly way to feel. How could I not spend enough time with someone I spent EVERY moment with? I don’t know. But, at the time, I felt like I was failing her because I didn’t always give her 100% of my attention.
The crazy thing about parenting, though, is no matter how hard you try, you’re going to make mistakes. You don’t get to decide what was or wasn’t a mistake. Your child will grade your paper when they are older and have children for themselves. For example, when I was growing up I told my mom EVERYTHING. I mean EVERYTHING. She laid down some sort of foundation where I was never scared to tell her something. I felt that I could be honest with her and I trusted her input. I want to replicate that with my children. I want them to be able to be honest with me about everything. Like, if my 13 year old girl is in a “relationship” and thinking about becoming sexually active, I want for her to come to me and feel comfortable talking to me about it. I hope I can handle those conversations with the same delicacy and grace my mom handled them with. In the same breath, my mom hardly ever asked questions. When I would tell her about a fight I had with a boyfriend or some drama that went on at school, she listened attentively and quietly, and just let me vent. I think she was careful not to “pry” or make me feel like she was being too nosey, so she tried to just listen calmly and would only offer advice if I asked for it. At the time, it kind of felt like she didn’t care. Like she wasn’t interested. Now, looking back, I know that’s not the case. I know she was trying to handle the situation delicately to make sure that I continued to feel comfortable talking to her. And, she wanted me to have my own experiences and make my own decisions. But, at the time, it felt like she didn’t care. So, that’s something that I want to change. If I’m lucky enough to raise my children to be as “open” with me as I was with my parents, I would like to make more of an effort to ask questions and ask for details and give advice. Now, here is where parenting gets tricky: I will bet you that when Elaina gets older she’ll think of me as one of those “overbearing” moms who always asked questions and wanted details and was TOO involved. She’ll feel like I didn’t give her room to breathe, and then she’ll want to give her children more space and so they cycle continues.
All you can do is try your best. Try your very best. Some days you’ll feel like a failure, and some days you’ll feel like you killed it. It’s part of the job. You’ll question yourself. You’ll have guilt. You’ll worry. You’ll have anxiety. It’s normal. It’s GOOD. You’re raising another HUMAN BEING. It’s a big job.
I’ll leave you with some advice my mom gave me that REALLY stuck with me. I told her how I worried sometimes that I was a sucky mom or I was failing or I wasn’t doing the BEST job I absolutely could. Do you know what she told me? The shitty moms don’t wonder if they’re shitty.