I remember the day my son was born. It all seemed very surreal, but I remember distinctly everything that happened. The few weeks after he was born, however, are quite blurry.I remember counting his poops and examining them to make sure he was healthy. I remember being in awe so many times that we had created a little person. I remember telling my son that I was sorry I would not be a perfect mother, but that I would try my best. There were sleepless nights trying to get him to sleep in his pack n’ play, hearing him grunt and make noises until he hurled out and choked on chunks of partially digested milk, worrying about him choking on those chunks of milk. I remember the one night he cried for hours and would not sleep, and the one day he cried for hours. Both of those crying fits ended when he burped and fell asleep because he was exhausted too. I had all these plans about how he would sleep and how feedings would be. My son, however, had other plans.
Motherhood in general has brought so much joy and so much worry all the time. Many times, you feel like you may lose it and that you are the worst. Other times, you feel like you’re simply not sure what you’re doing. I mean, really, why did nobody tell me that my child eating bananas would result in poop with dark strands that looked like worms? Most of the time, I laugh it off when I can. I like to keep a sense of humor because I know that motherhood is messy and imperfect.
What I was probably least prepared for in becoming a mother actually had nothing to do with being a mother. What I wished someone had prepared me for was how mothers are viewed – that we simply cannot win with others or even with each other. There is a standard for fathers that is so different than mothers. We don’t get a pat on the back just for simply spending time with our child. We are never told that we are great for “helping out” with our child, and nobody ever tells fathers how lucky they are that their partner is willing to make dinner/change a diaper/watch over the baby, or just do a little of their own part to help. Society has set a double standard based on gender. Not only does it take very little to be a great father, it also takes very little to be labeled as a bad mother. What is perhaps the most disturbing is that many mothers participate in this view, especially with labeling the latter. You can see this on many mothering sites, discussion boards, and many mom groups. I was not prepared for so many people judging my every move and for so many different “expert” opinions. Being a mother is difficult enough without the constant judgments from those who are supposed to support you the most.
There are so many guidelines put out by doctors, researchers, and scientists that I can rarely read into something without another opinion from an “expert” that conflicts. This puts you on a roller coaster of emotions – “I think it’s okay…oh wait, no, I guess I was supposed to do it that way instead even though it never seems to work for my child.” After being a mother for a few months and having friends who are mothers, I honestly believe that modern day science has made many mothers abandon their motherly instincts. The judgment and the feeling that you are not doing something right put forth by other mothers is terrible.
“You’re co-sleeping? You need to stop now.”
“You should stop feeding him so much. He eats out of habit and doesn’t need it.”
“He doesn’t sleep well some nights? Have you tried cutting dairy out of your diet?”
“He’s gassy? Maybe you should try formula.”
“Yeah, you’ve tried formula before, but have you tried soy formula?”
“Breast is best. Why would you ever bottle feed?”
“Your child is so picky. Mine does not mind when she has pooped and does not demand to be changed right away. She just goes about her day.”
“You use cloth diapers? That’s disgusting. I can always tell when people use cloth diapers because their whole house smells like poop.”
“You think you want to do cloth now, but you just wait until you actually do it.”
“You need to just let him cry it out now.”
“Don’t let him cry it out. He will have sleeping problems in the future.”
“He wants to eat again? Just give him water.”
Before becoming a mother, I was a huge fan of science, and in many ways, I still am. However, when it comes to ways to be a parent, motherhood has changed my views on one research study working for all. There is a science to motherhood, but it may not be your typical science. There are various methods and not all will work. There is no one way to parent. In fact, there are so many ways to parent that it is absolutely crazy to think that there is one method that will work for every single child. Maybe what we need is to understand that every child has their own science and every parent knows what works for them – there is a reason that your child belongs to you. I have learned in the last few months that it is okay not to do everything that has worked for everyone else because what matters most is what has worked for our child. Moms should talk about how we give our children what we believe they need at the time, whether all the research agrees or not. Instead of shaming each other for our actions, perhaps we need to trust our instincts and trust each other.
Therefore, if nobody has told you this today, you’re doing a wonderful job with your child.
Michelle Leonard is a teacher turned stay at home mom for the time being. She loves experimenting with food, finding good bargains, and making a crafty mess. She and her husband also like to constantly make up stories about their son and pretend to be him. If you are curious, feel free to browse through the Gumshoe Gordie section at www.mamaswithmunchkins.com