Mothers have constant guilt. It kind of just comes with the territory as a new mother. We are told, all the time, to make time for ourselves- To balance our self-care with caring for the baby. We are given tips, advice, and well-intended finger wags to take care of ourselves. As a brand new mom, this type of balance almost seems impossible. We feel as though we need to be with our baby all the time, and even when we do self-care, we find ourselves feeling guilty the entire time we are away from them. We check our phones every three minutes and race through our Target run (or even our showers) so that we don’t burden other people with the tiny being they offered to watch. In the words of Alanis Morisette- Isn’t that ironic?
But we know that self-care is good for the baby, because it is good for us. And a happy mom means a happy baby. In fact, a quick Google search for “self-care for moms” will bring up hundreds of articles about why making the balance between caring for yourself and caring for your children is so important. And those words are all well and good, but putting it into practice is a whole other story.
And then there is the comparing and the self-doubt. Again, it’s just another unspoken “gift” of motherhood. Guilt, comparison, and self-doubt are a package deal and as soon as that baby comes out of your body (and oftentimes before the baby is even born), moms find themselves questioning everything. “Should I really go to Target by myself? I can take the baby,” “Look at Gina. She’s always so put together,” and “Is it ok that I didn’t make my own baby food?” are questions we all ask ourselves, weighing us down with additional exhausting stress.
So, about that whole balance thing. I’m bad at it. Really bad. With my first baby I found myself floundering in the idea that “I have to do everything always” and I am still mostly this way (much to my husband’s chagrin). And now that we have our second baby coming I find myself determined to make some changes. I know what it is like to have a baby in the house and I know that some of the anxiety of doing everything myself right away is going to go out the window. I also now know that I can reasonably leave the baby and/or my toddler in the care of other people without having to feel guilty. As I sit here feeling the kicks and the movements of my new little one growing in my belly, I have a strong determination to create a better balance for myself. I’m going through my mental list of things I want to do differently now that I have some experience under my belt, but I also know that this will be a significant challenge for me. Here are some things I plan to try to get better this time around:
- I will put the baby down. Sometimes. Once upon a time, I thought bouncy seats and swings were for mean mommies. But you know what? We need both of our hands and a full range of motion from time to time. To feed ourselves, to tend to the needs of our other children, to wipe up that dust bunny that brings our hormonal selves to tears because we’ve been staring at it for a week with a sleeping baby in our arms. Even the fanciest slings and carriers come with limitations. Tending to other things, including, you know, basic hygiene, is part of the program. And the baby will be no less content and secure. If she is, I trust that my instincts will pick up on it. Which brings me to…
- I will trust my instincts. I had a hard time with this one early on. Could you blame me? What did I know? First, I’d never been a mother, so it was all new territory for me. Second, my mother had passed away years before my first was born, so I didn’t have that person I felt I could call to give me the right answer every time. I relied on books, where each one contradicts the next, and instinct. In retrospect, I’ve realized that instinct usually trumped what I found in print. This time around, I’ll acknowledge that my mothering instincts are there and in working order. We are equipped with them for a reason.
- I won’t be so paranoid about nursing in public. More often than I’d like to admit, I left a cartful of groceries in the middle of the aisle to run out to the car, or ducked into a bedroom, or surveyed a building upon arrival to find a hidden place to nurse, or lugged around an extra 15 lbs of bottles, pumped milk and ice, or made my crying, hungry child wait for a bottle to warm. And for what? For the comfort of the few squeamish who, in my humble opinion, need to lighten up? Wow, I prioritized rude strangers’ comfort over my child’s and my own. Not cool. I can’t whine that breastfeeding isn’t the norm if I’m not willing to be a part of the change I’d like to see.
- I will try to remember that I’m a person, too. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about passing off parent duty to the husband or a caregiver to go to that yoga class I wanted to try, or to take a hot shower, or go to an actual store to find post-partum clothes that fit (vs. buying online). True, the baby might cry. And if I’m not there, Dad or the person in charge will do their best to soothe her.
Confession: I still feel guilty if I take a shower while my toddler is awake. My husband would think this is stupid.
- I will live in the moment. As soon as my little guy was born, I started my mental panic countdown to the day I would have to go back to my full-time job. How much time must I have wasted feeling sad about someday being apart from him when I could have been enjoying my time with him?
Although I will be able to stay home with my kids this time around, being present is just as important. Sometimes it’s hard to do the day-to-day thing mindfully in our multi-tasking, over-scheduling culture. I need to remind myself to slow down and enjoy every moment as much as one can on just a few hours of sleep here and there.
- I won’t feel guilty when I don’t get it all done. Heck, I don’t get it all done now. I would love to be superhuman, but see #4. I’m just a plain old’ person. Even if it doesn’t get done, it’ll all be okay. It always turns out okay.
- I’ll ask for help. Well, I say that now, but when the time comes I probably won’t. Those who know me know that if I’ve asked for something, it’s pretty much a life-or-death emergency and they should rush to my side. Hey, I listed it, which means I’m going to try. (I hope I don’t alarm anyone).
My logic tells me I need more time to myself in order to be a better mom, but sometimes the guilt overpowers me and I find myself not quite finishing my shower or telling my hairdresser not to worrying about styling my hair after she cuts it because the pangs of guilt are calling me home. I worry about being the super mom everyone else seems to be with their clean houses and Pinterest-style chalkboard meal planning menus. I know this much about myself, and I hope it is just enough to remind myself to be like Elsa and just freaking let it go sometimes.
Maybe I should revisit this list once the baby is born.
Image Credit: Pawel Loj