Peaceful parenting: A Myth or a constant work in progress?
— Read on mumconfessionsdenied.com/2020/08/04/peaceful-parenting-a-myth-or-a-constant-work-in-progress/
As a first time mum, I had absolutely no clue about what to do with my newborn. Yes, I was well read and well informed but somehow was lost when it came to applying that knowledge to my own child. As an early childhood educator myself, I knew what it was like to be responsible for a child and a student in my care. But I had never truly been solely responsible for another human’s life and well-being before. It felt like I was well prepared to be a mum, given my decade long experience and knowledge about children. But then it felt like I knew nothing and I had this new born innocently staring at me, completely dependant on my skills and knowledge.
So, today, I would like to enlist a couple of “small” nothings I wish I had known before my first and only child was born. Hoping this could help some new mums out there…
1. Follow your own instincts: Trust me, you have those! Everyone will always have their own inputs and opinions based on their own experiences and knowledge. And most of the times, although shared with good intentions, these inputs can be more confusing than helpful. I didn’t always know what I should be doing and honestly didn’t even have the time or energy to seek anyone’s advise. But advise somehow has its strange way of making through all that chaos and noise (be it warranted or unwarranted). I wish I knew a more diplomatic way of managing these back then– given that some were absolutely impractical and some were truly invaluable. And whatever decisions I made back then, I’m sure there was always someone who thought that I was crazy enough to do that. I didn’t care of what people thought of me as a mum, I cared about what my baby thought of me as her mum. She is and will always be the only one who has the ultimate rights to comment on my mothering decisions and skills. And regardless of whether her feedback will be positive or negative, I know for sure that it would be real and meaningful, just like motherhood.
2. Babies are born strong and resilient: Although its our human instinct to see babies as cute, fragile, cuddly, dependant, helpless and so on…more so when they are newborns. But they are “human” babies after all and they are born with some innate skills. They are capable of sensing, coping, and surviving. I wish I knew this back then because one of the constant fears I was living with, was that I might “break my baby”. However silly and irrational it might sound, but the most valuable advise given to me back then was by my paediatrician. He had a casual attitude towards every small and/or big concern I raised and always said “Nothing to worry! Babies are born to survive the errors made by their new parents.” Back then I complained that he never took my concerns seriously, but now I wish I had taken his advice more seriously.
3. Babies cry and its only natural: And that’s fine. They can be persistently loud and that’s fine too. I wish I had not instantly answered to my baby’s every little sob and cry. It was my new mum’s guilt that made me do that and somewhere I was projecting my own anxious feelings onto her. Her every cry made me think about where I was falling short. I wish I had known better that babies often cry in their sleep and if given some time and space, might simply go back to sleep. I was guilty of being a helicopter new mum, never letting my baby be. Now, when I hear my toddler cry in her sleep, I pause for a minute or so before running to go check on her. Most of the times, she just needs a tap of reassurance and she simply goes back to sleep on her own. Much like us adults, babies too need to be given that space and time to understand and deal with their own emotions. I don’t really need to overanalyse and overreact by clobbering her with my understanding of her emotions. I need her to learn to figure it out on her own and adapt. This is the very beginning of a toddler’s problem solving skills and of course, I will always there for her, like I have always been, on an “as and when basis”.
4. It’s perfectly fine to let your baby cry: As a first time mum, I was an anxious, helicopter parent since day 1. I hovered over my little one and wanted to fix each and everything right away. I didn’t even let my baby cry for more than a minute. In a quest to comfort her, I overburdened her with my own anxieties and caused her even more discomfort. Probably, if I had simply sat down next to her and given her some place and time to cry and calm down, it would have not only relieved her of her own anxieties but also given me some time to settle my own and clear my head. I could have raised her to believe that crying is healthy, at any age, instead of making her believe that crying is always a sign of weakness and misery. Better late than never! I did learn this soon enough and now we are able to better handle our emotions – specially feelings of disappointments and sorrow.
5. Babies don’t go “by-the-book”: They are called “little humans” for a reason. Just like us adults, they don’t necessarily follow all the guidelines of ideal existence. Although there are tonnes of books about babies and their care, but they are merely guidelines. And more importantly, much against our wishes, our babies aren’t well versed with those books and articles that we, as “mums-to-be” have spent days and weeks brushing up on. Yes, there’s research and statistics to back up those guidelines but then there are always limitations and outliers. Babies, much like adults, will do as they please, regardless of our well planned routines and repeatedly revised schedules. However, one of the many super powers of motherhood is that we not only learn to flourish on the job but we soon adjust to this “new-normal”, even before we know it.
6. Silence admist the noise and chaos: Another mad quest that I was constantly on was to ensure that there was no noise or sounds of any kind, when the baby is sleeping. Newborns nap a lot but in comparison, mine did not nap as much through the day. She wanted to be carried all the time and fed often. Sleep was not really her priority back then and when she did happen to sleep, I became this insane person who ensured that there was absolute silence. I wish I had known better and trained my baby to sleep through the noise and chaos of a typical household. I couldn’t possibly tiptoe through all of her nap times and sleep times for the next decade or so. So, more than training the baby to sleep alone, its more important to “not” train the baby to sleep in an overly hushed environment. The key is to strike a balance between excessive noise and pin-drop silence.
7. All is well, even if you feel otherwise: Feelings cannot be right or wrong. It’s okay to feel stressed out, anxious, inadequate, guilty, overwhelmed, and anything of that sort. Its natural and right, even if its illogical and irrational, even if you are the first one on this planet to feel so about motherhood (which you are not!). I wish I knew that I was not alone. I was not the only one who let my baby cry for a few more minutes just so I could breathe and clear my own head. I wish I knew that I was not the only one to cry hysterically myself as a new mum who is usually portrayed as being nothing but overjoyed. I wish I knew that I was not the only one who found my life and routine going haywire. I wish I knew that back then there was nothing more important than being happy and healthy, rather than being perfect. Eventually, through that chaos, emerged a routine and through that routine emerged a “new normal” – which I have now grown to accept, will never be perfect and will need constant review and revision. Bottom line is that it all works out just fine. I can now be a much better mum when I have let go of the yes and no’s, rights and wrongs, perfections and imperfections of motherhood.
8. Stay in love with yourself: Postpartum anxiety and depression is real and can go easily undiagnosed. It’s more common than we know of and is only natural. I wish I hadn’t been through it but it was beyond my control. But I’m glad I accepted and addressed it in a way that made me the hands-on yet laid-back mum that I am today. We excitedly waited for the arrival of our little bundle of joy and I knew that it was going to be all about her, once she was born. But it shouldn’t be so as the new mum is just as important as the new born. I learnt the hard way that it was so critical for me to look after myself so that I could better look after my baby. I deprived myself of being “ME”, I deprived myself of my “me-time” and that was my biggest mistake when I became a mum. I could have been a way better new mum if I had focussed on my own well being too. Happy Mum = Happy Baby, its true. Today, even if I have to squeeze it into my schedule, I focus on my own well being just as much, without feeling any guilt. I have grown to accept the most logical reality of motherhood: I cannot serve from an empty vessel, and I shouldn’t even have to try.
9. Parenting as a team: This doesn’t mean that both parents need to do the same amount of work and feel the same way towards their little one. More than a battle for being equals, I believe its about playing a balancing act. As new parents, we were equally lost but somehow took turns to freak out on the emotional roller coaster that we were on. With time, we learnt to support and help each other to form a balanced parenting team. We fill in for each other and keep each other in check on an “as and when basis”. We have our own set of duties and roles, we don’t interfere in each other’s parts and yet we stay involved and provide each other with honest feedback and productive strategies to carry on. It’s not about who does more for the child or who spends more time with her. Naturally as parents, we both love our little one to bits and do whatever it takes. But its more about what we do for each other that makes it easier for us to deliver as parents.
10. Enjoy every phase, as much as you can: In those early clueless and chaotic days of motherhood, I was often told to enjoy this new baby phase as much as I can because, before I know it, it will be gone and it will all be missed. I simply rolled my eyes to those remarks and I still do. With time, I realised that I somehow tend to always look forward to the next phase of my baby’s growing years. Probably because I focus on the advantages of the next phase and disadvantages of the current phase. However, in this race against time, I realised how it’s important to accept that every stage of childhood will continue to have its ups and downs and secretly hoping for time to fast forward, isn’t going to make that “joyride” any better. So its best to make the most out of every phase, accepting and working around its ups and downs. Trust me, there will always be more ups than downs, although the downs can be extremely frustrating and “in our face”, but the ups have this humbling yet powerful emotional value that gets instantly engraved, deep into our heart. And in some way or the other, at some point in life, even if I don’t wish to rewind the time, I find myself often looking back on those memories, with nothing but a wide smile. So now, I have learnt to consciously slow down my pace of motherhood so I can cherish every moment it brings my way – the good and the not-so-good ones!
Being a mum isn’t easy, it sure has its ups and downs,
Being a mum was never easy, as we grin on and simply get over our frowns.
Yes, we laugh, we play, we learn, we sing, we dance, we hug, we cuddle, we snuggle,
and often rather conveniently forget to highlight how we SNAP and STRUGGLE
Yes I confess, just like my little one, I snap, I yell, I shout, I scream,
and I can throw a bout of tantrum just as dramatic,
or even much worse than what she’s ever seen.
I often say “I’m busy”, “Go play alone”, “Don’t disturb me” and many other such statements which basically imply “Please leave me alone!”.
And each time I say that, I can feel her heart break and the shattering of my own.
My heart skips a beat or two, as I see my little one startle and panic,
when I throw a tantrum of frustration which can be just as erratic.
My soul is crushed when I see my little one looking for someone to run to,
Some one to rescue her from me… searching for her next best person to go to.
But then something miraculous happens…
She instinctively runs to me, in no time,
as she cries uncontrollably, her soul shattered just like mine.
Her eyes reflecting an intense mix of fear, disappointment and hope…
a hope to never have to go through that moment, that made her feel all alone.
My heart cries a thousand rivers when I snug her tight into my arms,
and she grips me with a force so strong,
that its hard to believe that she’s only a 2 year old trying to figure out what she did wrong.
Although the fear and confusion continues to exist,
the relief that follows is hard to resist.
And wrapping her arms around me, she squeezes me so very tight,
Only hoping that now everything will be alright.
In that moment I realise, how her love for me is so pure and unconditional,
and I feel so shallow when I expect a 2 year old to be all rational.
While raising her, I often struggle to have some personal space,
but I fail to realise how I am her only “safe place”.
I am eternally grateful that my little one exists,
and continues to not only test me but also manages to tactfully twist my wrist.
Yes, I feel stuck and suffocated at times but she only makes me a better person,
and when I am not, she forgives me as if nothing wrong was done.
In moments of outbursts, when our patience and strength runs low,
we simply melt into each other’s arms,
And stay there safe, as we let all of our emotions flow.
That, then and there, is a moment we cherish,
Because that is called “coming back home” after we are done being foolish.
I whisper in her ear, “I’m so very sorry for getting upset”,
But in a way it puts our relationship up for a test.
Just as I tell her how I love her to the moon and back,
She gently reaches out to touch my tearful eyes and cuts me some slack.
And then as we close our eyes and call it a day,
We both let it go and have nothing more to say.
We get all cosy as we cuddle and sleep,
The silent peace that takes over is so insightful and deep.
We wake up to start a new day, as if yesterday never happened,
And yet accept each other in spite of everything that happened.
As I raise my little one and teach her how to be,
I realise that she has so much more that I can learn to be.
Strong headed, with a Forgiving Heart, Loving Soul and Caring from the start.
Emotionally resilient yet empathetic, and has so much more to offer from her cart.
I am far from being a perfect mum, but I’m sure that I was made to be “her mum”,
I goof up time and again and yet she chooses me over everyone.
I don’t have to be the best, or put our relationship to test,
As long as I know that she loves me come what may,
That puts all of my mothering doubts to rest.
She has taught me to believe that I can do it all, even when I can’t,
She has taught me to be “her mum”, and silenced all of those idealistic “motherhood” rants.
Loosing my cool, doesn’t make me a bad mum.
Messing up and giving up doesn’t make me a bad mum,
Wanting some me-time doesn’t make me a bad mum.
My little one has taught me to block out many such doubts that come.
If anything, she makes me introspect so so deep,
These are the moments when she tells me that I am forever hers to keep.
It’s as if she has hand-picked me to be her mum,
Good or bad, we shall only know in the time to come.
Even when it often feels and looks like something is amiss,
Her and me, as a team…we fight, we make up and we kiss,
Right then and there, we always end up making a promise,
Only to remind each other that “We’ve got this!”
Yes, I’m being constantly nagged by this feeling called “Mommy Guilt”. I honestly didn’t know of its existence or rather didn’t pay much attention to it until I became a mum myself. Unlike postpartum feelings and issues, I’m glad that this feeling of mommy guilt is discussed often and much openly today. It is such a nagging feeling that it persistently goes on regardless of what I think, do or say. The variables contributing to this phenomenon are numerous and can be intense. They can range from being rational to irrational, reasonable to unreasonable, or even simple to complex. For me, it can be triggered by an incident as minor as me not being able to take my little one to the park every evening or an incident as major as me having to discipline her sternly when she is busy testing my patience and her limits as a toddler. Yes I am one of those mums who secretly cries after scolding her kid and gives her a “sorry” kiss when she’s asleep. But a mum’s gotta do what she’s gotta do… whatever it takes, right? The heartache caused by this feeling called mommy guilt can range from simple disappointment to intense frustration to mind numbing hopelessness. And as the problem solver in me tries to address each one of those issues in the hope that the guilt would go away, there’s always something else that pops up and enables that nagging feeling to take over. I wonder why!
By definition, mommy guilt is the feeling of guilt, doubt, anxiousness, and uncertainty experienced by mothers when we worry that we might be failing or falling short of expectations in some way. So, basically it’s a fear of under performing and “not meeting expectations”. Whose expectations are we talking about here? Well, fortunately or unfortunately, in my case, I am trying to meet my own expectations which are of very high standards BTW. I say high standards because I have always had this obsessive need in me to make sure that I, not only give MY BEST but also ACE everything I do. This has held true to most aspects of my life and raising my little one was definitely not going to be an exception. For me, as of now, its not just about competing with the rest but its more about being the best version of myself. So it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I am the one putting the pressure of “performing up to the mark”, upon myself. And I get very touchy sensitive if I fail in any way; and sadly the same goes when my 2 year old fails in any way. I take it as a personal failure if my kid misbehaves or is not living up to her best potential. This process of giving my best, to raise the best, can be exhausting. But I am not able to tone it down and sure hope that this passes on to my kid only as a healthy trait. Also, I don’t like to leave room for any sort of regrets and therefore I tend to give it my all, in the first place. My commitment to be a mum is all about passion, at most times bordering on obsession, with unusually high motivation, leading to either immense satisfaction or intense frustration.
My mommy guilt was born the day my baby was born. And it only got more and more intense as time flew by. I had miserably failed as a mother in those early months of my baby’s life. The first 3 months for a newborn and the new parents is chaotic as it is but for me, it was plain simple disaster – an unexpected disaster which I was so not prepared for. I had had a traumatic delivery and was suffering from severe postpartum anxiety. I also had a major physical impairment after my delivery that took about a month to heal. Let aside motherhood bliss, I was in parenting hell. I failed to bond and connect with my innocent newborn, I was unable to comfort her, I was anxious about my skills, I was in doubt about my decision to become a parent and I basically let everyone down, specially my baby. Once I painfully and gradually got over my issues, I made a conscious decision to stay on top of everything that my little one would ever need. I decided to never let that awful feeling of disconnect and failure to come back, ever. #SuperMomInTrainingForever. For my own sanity and that of my baby, I had to take some bold, courageous decisions back then. To name a few, I took anti anxiety meds when my little one was a month and a half, I reduced my breastfeeding efforts when she was 2 months, I switched to exclusive formula feeds when she was 2 and a half months, and I resumed work when she turned 3 months. Although those decisions were controversial and “out of the box”, I didn’t leave any room for any sort of guilt to creep into me, because those decisions only made our lives healthier and happier as a family. But little did I know that I was not “Guilt Free” for life, on the contrary, I was gonna be having “Mommy Guilt” forever. I was constantly going to be nagged by questions beginning with Did I? Was I? Should I? Could I?, in addition to the usual whats and hows of motherhood.
Honestly, I was more than happy to resume work on a part time basis when my baby turned 3 months. It was a refreshing change and a much needed break after a challenging 3 months of struggling with emotional anxiety and physical exhaustion. And turned out, that physical and mental space did us good as a mother-daughter team – we missed each other for a bit when I was briefly at work and yet, on returning home, we felt bonded like never before. And then on, the bonding only grew deeper and stronger. But soon, as I started working full time, my baby started to achieve various milestones and I started to feel miserable. As a working mom, especially as an early childhood educator, I started to feel like I was giving my best to strangers’ kids and missing out on the growing and developing years of my own. I have always been passionate about my career but suddenly I started to see no purpose in educating and caring for strangers’ kids, all of those who I ironically treated as my own, before having my own. I have always felt so connected with my students and their parents all these years and I have proudly been a part of their growing years. So what had changed that? Well, I was missing out on the most foundational, growing years of my own kid’s life. Working Moms guilt started to creep in …
Just when I was dealing with this gnawing guilt and frustration, my husband got this work opportunity that needed us to relocate. The timing was perfect, I could use this time to be a “Stay At Home Mum” and live “Guilt Free”. Or at least so I thought. Now, we have moved to a whole new continent and I am living a whole new life as a SAHM. Well, I am enjoying every bit of it, its ups and downs, highs and lows, slows and fasts, but I can see that I am somewhere starting to lose myself, once again. The SAHM guilt of not contributing financially to my family and losing my professional title is hard, BUT I’m not ready to go back to work as yet. The words “household chores” and “child care” are too small to actually describe the tasks it involves. Although my working mom guilt has vanished, I am now entertaining loads of SAHM guilt. Although as a SAHM, I feel like I am not doing much, yet I constantly find myself on my toes and not surprisingly, I’m dead exhausted at the end of the day (sometimes even at the very start of the day). But I tell myself to enjoy most of this time because this too shall pass and something new will come up to give me a reason to feel a new kind of mommy guilt. Might as well make the most out of it. Grass is rarely greener on the other side, but it is always greener where I chose to water it.
As of now I keep reminding myself that this is what I always wanted and now have the means to live it. In spite of giving it my all, I am still nagged by mommy guilt from time to time. I still have my days where I question my skills as a mother and what I am imparting in my daughter. But I keep reminding myself to be confident and give my best in raising my little one. Yes, giving my best can be extremely exhausting but its very satisfying to see a “mini me” blossoming into such a beautiful person, right before my eyes. I keep reminding myself that as I am giving my best to raise the best, I shall make no room whatsoever for any sort of doubt or regret to creep in. And as far as “meeting expectations” goes, I not only set my own expectations but I also tend to tweak it from time to time to keep it realistic. I have accepted that Mommy Guilt is here to stay, however I am giving it my best fight to not let that feeling take over, for the worse. After all, behind every great kid is a mom who’s pretty sure she’s screwing it up. And yet, I keep reminding myself of how the love and bonding that the “mini-me” has inspired in me, is of an all-consuming nature and has gotten embedded in me with this unexpected, fierce protectiveness I had never known could exist in me. #BabyBondingBeatsMommyGuilt.