As I noted in Part I of this post, I am generally a very self-confident person, a trait I hope to pass along to my children. Ironically, though I am generally not bothered about what others think of the clothes I wear, food I eat, things I say, work I do, etc., my confidence wavers when it comes to my kids.
From the beginning – literally, from the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child – I began doubting choices that I had never before questioned. I worried about my diet (was I eating too many nuts?), type and amount of exercise (what is prenatal yoga, anyway?), clothing (are these pants too tight around the middle?), home (our apartment definitely had lead paint!), and a whole host of other, relatively minor decisions (was I cheating my unborn child by taking generic prenatal vitamins instead of a name brand?). I wish I could say that my natural instincts kicked in when my son was born and that I have since found my “mommy groove” so no longer stress over every parenting decision. The truth is, I still constantly question the choices that pertain to my kids.
In fact, certain insecurities around my parenting have gotten worse over time. I practiced Attachment Parenting with my son, which seems to be the fashion at the moment and felt right to me. My son is the most compassionate and affectionate little boy I know, but I cannot be sure if that was due – even in part – to being in a baby carrier by day and co-sleeping by night. What I do know is that, since we booted him from our bed more than a year ago, he struggles to put himself to sleep. In the hopes of avoiding another bad sleeper, I am doing things a little differently with my daughter. My husband and I rarely wear her, but we are always interacting with her and try to respond promptly when she seeks attention. She has slept in her crib from day one (and was sleeping through the night at six weeks). Still, I cannot help but wonder if my daughter will be less cuddly and sensitive as she grows up because I had less physical contact with her during this formative phase.
It doesn’t help that I am continually faced with new decisions that seem likely to affect the health, success, and/or well-being of my kids. Is it okay to let my four-month-old sleep on her side, rather than on her back in a swaddle, since she seems much happier that way? Would my son be better off in a structured preschool or spending his days doing more informal activities with my husband and his sister? What does “better off” mean (happiness, social awareness, academic development?) and how is it measured? Is it confusing if my husband and I take slightly different approaches to discipline or do we need to coordinate for the sake of consistency?
This insecurity leaves me very vulnerable to the opinions of others, and I am often overwhelmed by the perceived judgment I feel. Note – I am not alleging that others berate me for my choices. All it takes is a passing comment or a sideways glance for me to feel like a terrible person not fit to be a mother. For example, my son is getting his two-year-old molars right now, which is causing him to drool profusely and to bite his friends occasionally (even though he knows it’s wrong). I am mortified by this behavior and find myself apologizing and attempting to explain it over and over again. Even after I have weighed all options and made a parenting decision, I often question my choice when I see other moms I respect doing things differently. For example, I weaned my son around eighteen months because I was exhausted during my first trimester of pregnancy with my daughter and did not want to tandem nurse. It was emotionally difficult on my son and I at the time, and I still feel a pang of guilt when I see other toddlers happily enjoying a nutritious breastmilk snack while I just hand my son a string cheese.
The more regard I have for a person, the more sensitive I am to any criticism they have of my parenting. Comments from my parents are the worst. Even when cushioned in the form of well-meaning advice, I feel they are disappointed in me for not being as good of a parent as they were to me. And if I do not, or cannot, implement my parents’ advice, I fear that will be seen as disrespecting the parenting choices they made while raising me.
Deep down, I know that every parent (even my own mom and dad when my sister and I were young) shares these fears, doubts, questions, and insecurities. So I do not judge other moms for the way they parent (unless they are staring at their phones while their child tries to get their attention, which is a pet peeve); to the contrary, I am inspired by moms I know who proclaim their choices as a statement, rather than as a question they’d like affirmed. As my pediatrician told me when we first met her: “There is no ‘right’ way to parent; if there was, everyone would be doing it.” I am hoping that as long as my husband and I love our kids unconditionally, the millions of other decisions – big and small – will not amount to much in the end.