Like a lot of mothers, I struggle with ‘mom guilt’. I often question myself, the decisions I make, and my parenting style. I question whether or not I’m teaching him the right lessons so that he will learn to be respectful, responsible, and kind. I question my parenting skills—if I’m around enough, empathetic enough, creative enough, and if I’m having a positive effect on the person he’s becoming.
The self-doubt is endless.
My first born is a handful and a half. He’s the type of kid referred to as “spirited” or “wild child”. He’s gone through many challenging phases in his four years of existence. After struggling to understand why he would scream and cry at family gatherings around people he knows and loves, or would refuse to go to certain public places, we finally brought him to the doctor.
After eventually finding out that he was experiencing social anxiety that would he likely grow out of, and being reassured that there likely wasn’t anything further to worry about—I began to feel guilty. I can only assume he inherited that from me. Throughout the first year of his life, I struggled severely with depression and anxiety, and I can’t help but think that it affected him.
I didn’t realize it then as much as I do now, but those nagging feelings of self-doubt played a big part in the way I parented my son. I analyzed (and over analyzed) nearly everything. His sleeping habits, developmental milestones, and the way I thought I was perceived as a mother topped the list of my everyday stresses.
After his birth, I was in the thick of postpartum depression (PPD), and my anxiety was running sky high regularly. I felt like everyday decisions that I made would be detrimental to who he would eventually become (no pressure). It wasn’t until I began to manage my PPD that I realized it’s not necessary to feel this way and I don’t have to feel this way—I learned to ease up on myself.
And even though I learned to ease up, or that I should ease up—I feel terrible about it.
I feel terrible because while my son was stuck with a mother who was constantly on edge inside, his baby sister gets a mother who has the ability to properly manage her feelings. I often wonder if he would have benefited from having a mother who had stronger coping techniques instead of potentially projecting her anxiety and stress on to him. Maybe he wouldn’t struggle so much to manage his own feelings.
After the birth of my second child, having already been through my proverbial “first rodeo,” I am much more relaxed this time around. I worry less about what others think and tend to have a (mostly) go with the flow attitude around my parenting style.
At 7 months, my youngest still sleeps with me and I have a relatively relaxed sleep schedule with her which is a stark difference from my son, who slept in his crib at 6 months old. Determined to get him to sleep through the night, I searched various techniques and consulted with friends, almost obsessed with ensuring he spent his nights in his room and not ours. Although my son does sneak into bed with us occasionally, I often wonder if he might feel slighted when he sees his baby sister sleeping in Mama’s bed.
My first born is self-sufficient and enjoys playing alone but even independent kids notice when attention is diverted to someone else. Even with family around helping out, my attention was the one attention he wanted when the new baby arrived.
I was grateful that he wasn’t jealous of his sister instead, he loved her dearly, almost immediately. I realized this and made sure to include him in as much of the tasks involving my daughter as I could. This was as simple as asking him to put a diaper in the garbage pail, passing me wipes, or grabbing her blankie. It was helpful for him to be a part of things, I loved watching him feel so important, and it helped ease my guilt knowing he felt included and loved.
Some of my better parenting moments definitely come from experience and realizing that I can only do my best. I’ve realized over time something really important, something that has changed my mindset and has ended the guilt trip I’ve put myself on the last few years: I’m learning and growing just as much as he is. I’m learning how to be a mom just as he’s learning how to be a big kid with big feelings.
I’m a parent, and I’m also human. We’re all just trying to figure out what’s best for our kids based on trial and error (with a side of Google).