The second part of my article, “Your Feelings Are Valid (Parts 1 & 2),” with mental health specialist, Dove Pressnall, really got me thinking. She said, “Parents make the mistake of taking ownership when things go well with their kids.” And it made me realize, you can’t win mothering.
Where are all the other competitive moms at?
This really struck a chord with me because I’m naturally a very achievement-oriented person who is very competitive with herself. I like to be good at things, and I thrive on charting tangible wins. Plans, outlines, to do lists, guidebooks–yes, even rules–are my jam. I like them because there is a singular path to success. And if I do all the things on the list, I can predict the outcome pretty well: I know it will almost certainly be positive.
This doesn’t make me seem cool–which is nothing new for me–but I even like doing my time sheet at work. Why? Because it’s a mindless task that makes me feel accomplished. You get the point. So hearing Dove talk about the “taking ownership mindset” made me realize I am totally guilty of it.
“Words of praise” is one of my love languages, so anytime someone complimented me throughout my pregnancy or on something after giving birth, it reinforced not only how “well” I felt like things were going and also how “well” I thought I was doing. Not how I was doing mentally, but literally how good of a job I was doing being pregnant or being a new mom.
Who else feels like they need validation from others?
Because I feed off of the validation of others, the way many people in our individualistic and heavily success-oriented American culture seem to. If someone said I looked good while I was pregnant, it earned me points. Someone says my baby is cute, I get more points. Someone says I look great postpartum, and I level up. So of course, finding out my baby is in the 98 percentile for length made me overflow with smugness. Buying 9 month onesies for my 4 month old had me absolutely glowing with pride, practically skipping down the aisles of Target. Because wow, I had created this perfect, rapidly-growing little boy. And I deserve credit for that.
It probably doesn’t help that I have what some people call a “good” baby. He eats well, sleeps relatively well, grows well–obviously–and is an overall very happy camper. And again, my husband and I TOTALLY give ourselves credit for this. Because… this is just another one of our many accomplishments and one of the rewards for working so hard and being such fantastic people, right?
Well… I guess… wrong. Because what I’m realizing is this: If this is how I choose to build myself up, what does that do for other moms? Like my friend who has a colicky baby? Does that make her a bad mom? Do I believe she’s doing something wrong or didn’t follow the same unwritten motherhood guidebook as well as I am? Well no, of course not. So now where does that leave me? Again why I say, you can’t win mothering.
There’s no such thing as a “good baby.”
Then there’s also the problem with the phrase “good baby.” If my son is a good baby, does that mean there are bad babies, too? Or are there just babies who are different? Grow differently, develop differently, and have their own unique personalities? Isn’t getting the baby you get, really just the luck of the genetic draw? Or maybe there’s some cosmic matching system to what kind of baby you have the capacity to mother? Or maybe it’s destiny?
I guess all I’m trying to say is… I’m going to try to cool it with taking credit for things that aren’t mine to take credit for. And distance myself from thinking my son’s demeanor is some new achievement of mine. Because now that I’m consciously aware of doing it, I don’t like what it implies about the other moms and babies I’ve met. And I haven’t even begun to work out what it will do to my self esteem when I do run into more challenges along the way with my son.
Here is what I know for sure, (besides that you can’t win mothering).
You’re still a good mom if your baby is fussy. You’re still a good mom if your baby is colicky, small, big, happy, or sad. Or sleeps for long stretches. Or sleeps for short stretches. Develops quickly or is slow to meet their milestones. After all, we’re all just being the best moms we can be. And we’re doing a damn good job of it if you ask me.
So in the end, I guess I should just let my son have his own accomplishments, growth spurts, and milestones. And I’ll be over here cheering him on and guiding him as best as I can. Because mothering isn’t something I can achieve or accomplish or win. We’re all just supposed to enjoy the journey. And I can already tell it’s making me a better person.
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Photos by Ashley Zapata Palms of Zapata Palms Pictures