It took me nine months to become a mother, and years to take on the label.
As I continue to grow into myself as a mother, I'm learning that everyone's going to have opinions. It sometimes feels like toting a kid around is like wearing a sign that says, "Criticize me," because people know you're vulnerable.
Maybe they've made their own parenting mistakes and have regrets. Maybe they're full of shame for the way they raised their own children. Maybe they're just having a bad day and your kid just knocked them over.
It took me nine months to become a mother, and years to take on the label. Unlike other things in life where you could study or do an apprenticeship beforehand, there's nothing that can give you the experience of someone handing you a crying bundle, knowing that now this child is your responsibility forever.
Early in the game, I learned the differences between expectations society has for a mother versus expectations society has for a father. Like the many times he has been praised for changing our son's diapers. I, on the other hand, have gotten strange looks, eye rolls and lots of unsolicited "advice" on how I should raise my children. (And, for the record, no diaper changing praise.)
It has taken years to be able to hear the words of advice thrown at me without letting them pull me down into the abyss of "I'm a bad mother" thoughts. Because, you never know if the decisions you're making on a daily basis—even the benign ones—are going to screw your kids up one day. How can you listen to other mothers whose children are now adults and not let it affect your choices when you're new at parenthood and everything from choosing a bottle to a bib can be overwhelming?
No mother wants to live with the guilt of a bad decision. And every mother will have a story about the night they let their baby cry it out or how they lost their temper. But no one has the magic ball that will reveal the "right" answer and even when we know what to do, there is plenty of outer and inner pressures to reconcile with. That's why everyone has an opinion—because they don't want you to have to go through the guilt of what they're still living with.
I used to be the mother who couldn't sleep out of fear that I was making the wrong decision. The one who stayed up reading every new parenting book and magazine article I could find. The one who would stare at my kids wondering which one I screwed up the most.
But I've had time (and sleep!) to think things over.
And here's what I want to say to myself back then.
Your voice is what matters.
You love your kids.
You're going to make mistakes. That's okay.
You can forgive yourself.
You can try again tomorrow.
It might not sound like much, but it took years of learning to choose compassion and forgiveness for myself when I knew I messed up.
My sons have been out of the breastfeeding and cloth-diapering phase for a long while now. They're both in school. There are still lots of big decisions to make for them like public or private schools, how much screentime they should get and other issues with gray areas, but I like to think I survived most of the peer pressure and was able to wait until I knew what was right.
Because eventually all the voices got real soft, and all I could hear was my own.
You did it. They're okay. And you're okay, too.