Dear New Mom:
I am so excited for you. You are about to embark on one crazy ride, so I hope you have your big girl panties on because you’re going to need them.
I have been thinking long and hard about what you should know about motherhood. First, I wanted to provide you with some practical tips that would help you transition smoothly into parenthood, but you’ve read the books and taken the classes, so that didn’t make much sense.
Then I wanted to offer you some mind-blowing insights into what it feels like to be a mom, but honestly, I know you’ll get it as soon as you see your baby’s face for the first time.
And you don’t need me to tell you that sleep will never be the same again or a hot shower will feel like a vacation or how you never knew how much you could love someone you’ve only known a few moments — someone you would die for just to spare them one second of pain— now that you are a mom. You’ll understand these things soon enough.
After mulling it over and over, I came to the conclusion that there is only one piece of advice that I want to give new moms.
Parenting takes courage, so always be courageous.
Be courageous that first time you are alone with your baby and you can’t get him to stop crying and fussing. Don’t give in to that feeling you are a failure. Remember, the two of you just met and you have to figure out how you work best together.
Be courageous and leave him with someone you trust. Know that no one else can meet his needs and fill his heart the same way as his mother, but you will be a better parent by having some time to yourself.
Be courageous when you come face to face with Mom judgment. There is not a single thing you will do as a parent that someone does not have an opinion on — and probably will share without being asked. You can let it feed your insecurities or let it fly right out of your head with a smile and a nod. Everyone believes the way they raise their child is best, and you need to be brave enough to believe in yourself.
Be courageous in the Mommy Olympics. So many of us use our kids as a benchmark for our self-worth. It’s unfair to our kids when we gauge their success against their peers, and we should never feel shame because a child is not measuring up to an imaginary bar set by their play group. Keep the focus on your son or daughter and celebrate their victories, whenever they may occur.
Be courageous when telling your child no. Don’t let fear or embarrassment dictate your parenting. It’s okay if your child has a tantrum in the candy aisle at the grocery store because you won’t buy him at Kit Kat or if you have to drag him out of a restaurant for throwing food. Discipline is a gift we give our children that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. Limits are often about safety — for them and for others. Respecting (appropriate) authority and understanding rules will take them far. These are all important life skills.
Be courageous when advocating for your child. Never accept limits on your kid imposed by someone else. Believe in your son or daughter and they will always exceed your expectations.
Be courageous in comprehending that you will never really know what you are doing when it comes to parenting, and that’s okay. Every time you think you are getting the hang of this parenting thing, your enter a new phase and start all over again. There is no perfect way to parent, and as hard as I have looked, no handbook either.
Be courageous, because there is no getting your heart back.
And always know that I believe in you.
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A few months back, I was hanging out with an old friend who let her eight year old son have a coke.
“Don’t judge me,” she said with squinted eyes. “I know what you are thinking. It’s only one soda.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“Seriously, he never gets it and I told him he could have one,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied.
“One coke is not going to kill him,” she went on. “I know how you feel about it, but I already told him he could have it.”
“Absolutely, let him have it then,” I said trying to hide the smile on my face.
“Crap. Now you made me feel guilty. Now I can’t give him the (expletive) soda. You suck,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied.
It’s no secret to my close friends and family how I feel about kids and soda. Even though I don’t talk about it often, my kids will tell you they are not allowed to have it, unless it is a special occasion. It’s just not something I believe in, but I haven’t started a national campaign against it. I would love to say that I don’t judge you if I see you giving your kids soda, but I’d be lying.
That being said, I have a gaggle of friends who I think are fantastic parents that let their kids drink it…some by the liter. I don’t agree, but guess what…not my kids, not my dental bills. So I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself.
As moms, one of the things that rattle our cages the most is the feeling of being judged. Breast feeding, day care, c-sections, co-sleeping, organic, home school — the list of things that start the Mommy Wars goes on and on. I would go so far as to say it is the single pervasive issue that limits Girl Power.
But I do think there are two different types of judgment. First, there is the mom judgment that is self-inflicted, as illustrated above by the conversation with my friend. This is the type that is often proliferated through blog posts that say things like “Ten Reasons Why Co-Sleeping with Your Baby Makes Him Smarter.” It is that insecure feeling we get knowing that someone parents differently, and maybe that way is better.
And then there’s JUDGEment. I mean that of Judge Judy-like quality. Like when your kid pitches a fit at Target and the mom with four perfectly dressed, well-behaved children leans over and says, “Did someone miss his nap today?” Or like when another parent says, “Wow, your two-year old really knows how to use your phone. She must be on it a lot!” Or even when that stay at home mom says something in a group of women like: “I could never leave my kids with strangers all day.” And of course, the working mom in the group feels judged. Yep, I’ve seen all these things first hand.
One of the funniest truths about parenting is that we all feel we are “experts” yet at the same time we are all worried we are screwing our kids up (or if we don’t profess it, we certainly think it!) If you look at it from a macro perspective, being a “good” parent means providing for the child’s basic needs on both an emotional and physical level. For most of us, that involves developing a bond with our kids in a warm, nurturing environment.
While there are “bad” parents — those that are abusive, neglectful or choose to abandon their children altogether — most of us just want the best for our kids. So where is all the judgment coming from?
The details. The little things. Stuff that seems important to us in our every day life, but really are just a matter of personal preference. Bed times, breast-feeding, day care, co-sleeping, and yes, even allowing soda. It’s the choices we make for our own families because they are important to US, but may not be for others.
As moms, we are convinced that these little decisions will determine our children’s destinies, and if we don’t “help” others, they will live a lifetime of regret when their child is screwed up. Or, we feel so passionately about something that we believe we are actually “helping” someone by telling them that Twinkies will give their kid cancer.
But here’s the thing: at the end of the day, even an eight year old kid who is allowed to play his iPad until 10:30 p.m. while eating Cheetos and drinking a liter of Code Red Mountain Dew is probably going to turn out okay. That’s just the way the world works.
Unfortunately, as humans, we are programmed to judge others. Seriously, our brain is hard-wired for moral judgments. Add to this that parenting is the most personal and emotional task we can take on in our lives, and oftentimes linked to our self-esteem, and there really is no way we can completely eliminate the Mom judgment.
There are, however, a million different ways to respond to someone who is judging us. You can come back with a slew of retorts, you can ignore it, or you can confront it head on.
But the only way to stop judgment in its tracks is to simply not accept it. And we can do that by knowing our kids will be fine because we have done our job by loving them and making the best choices we can for our own families. Being confident in the decisions we make and keeping our eye on the big picture can allow that judgment to slide right off our backs.
Everything else we do for our kids — the breastfeeding (or not), the co-sleeping (or not), being a good role model by having a successful, fulfilling career or homeschooling — it’s all correct. Truth be told, we won’t know if we’ve screwed our kids up for another two decades anyway.
It’s also important to remember when you are feeling judged that it’s often not about you. When someone is projecting their issues onto someone else, it often speaks more to their own insecurities than it does to yours.
And what do we do if we’re the ones feeling all Judgey McJudgerson? Like when I saw that family at a nice restaurant all with their iPads out at the table or the kid who pitched a fit at the grocery store and his mom gave in by getting him a Snickers?
Well, when the judgment started coming out, I tried to change my thought process. Maybe that couple was just desperate to have a night out and their babysitter didn’t show up or maybe that Mom was just having a really bad day. Compassion can work wonders on judgment.
And I’m pretty sure those kids with their iPads and their snickers bar and even their soda, well, I’m pretty sure they will turn out just fine. Now if I can just stop screwing my own kids up.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was when my kids were very little: “No one will advocate on behalf of your child like you can. But don’t be a jerk about it.”
Sage words of wisdom.
I kept this in mind a lot as I went through two different state’s special services programs for my daughter ensuring she received the therapies she needed both at home and at school. It was easy to justify my assertiveness, questions and at times, demands.
To really succeed, she needed the right teachers, the right classroom dynamics, and the right therapies. I stayed on top of everything like a hawk and was relentless in ensuring she received the services that were allocated to her. Yes, I was a little obsessive-crazy about it, but I always tried to do it with a smile.
Fortunately, I think most people are extremely understanding when you have extenuating circumstances that apply to your child. But sometimes you just want the best for your kid regardless of what the circumstances are.
Take teachers. We all know that in each grade there are the coveted teachers, and the ones that are just okay. Most schools have a policy against requesting a specific teacher, but you can fill out this little form that allows you to write about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, which is code for trying to match it up to the teacher you want. For example, “I need a teacher who will make my little Mary follow the rules but with a loving, encouraging hand.” This sort of statement would correlate with a teacher who is stern, yet warm and fuzzy.
A good friend of mine — who also happens to be a teacher — disagrees with me on this every year. Her perspective is that the system should work on behalf of your child, and it is good for kids to have all different sorts of teachers. I always say that’s a load of proverbial crap (we really are good friends!).
In this case, the squeaky wheel gets the oil and I have always been over the moon with our teachers. She has felt just so-so about most of them. We’re both comfortable with our choices, but I’m the one that has to walk into school each time wondering if I’m labeled as “that mom”. The annoying mom that is constantly in their faces asking for more with the hope that there is always another parent more annoying than I am.
And while I think you should always advocate for your child when it comes to their education, what happens when it rolls over to other things, such as sports teams, extracurricular activities, or even making friends? When do you step in and when do you let it ride?
We had an interesting experience recently when one of our daughters tried out for a team. We thought she did great, but obviously we know we are biased. She initially was placed on the second team, which does not play as strong of competition as the first. Our daughter was fine with it, but we had doubts.
After discussing it, and because we are new to this area and organization, we sent an e-mail to the director asking if he could explain the difference between the two teams so we could have a better idea of what her experience would be like the coming year. Honestly, that was all we asked.
Within an hour, she was moved up to the first team (which had an open spot). Can you say awkward? I feel quite certain that most of the parents believed she earned her spot on that team, but I’m also pretty sure some of the parents felt like we got her moved because we cried sour grapes. We’ll probably never know what went on behind the scenes, and now we have to feel confident in the fact that advocating was in her best interest.
I think advocating is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. For example, a few years back the school district we were in was re-districting the elementary schools. A set of parents banned together and caused a ruckus at a few of the school board meetings to ensure that their neighborhood would not be affected. Because all of the elementary schools in our district were quite good, I could not quite understand the distress considering most of the students impacted would be going to school with their neighborhood friends, but the parents were adamant that they remain at their chosen school. And guess what? They won.
Unfortunately, I think too many times as parents we realize that by stepping in and speaking up, you do get the benefit of something better for your son or daughter. But at what cost?
At the end of the day, I do believe the following about advocating for your children:
+ The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Making your opinion and desires known will at the minimum ensure you have a leg to stand on if a situation goes awry, and sometimes you may even get what you asked for.
+ Sometimes even the best [teachers, coaches, therapists, parents] just need to know you’re paying attention. Since I just moved, I tried to give our new teachers some time to get to know my kids. The girls settled in great, but I was disappointed that some issues we had discussed up front weren’t addressed a few months into the burn. After setting up a few meetings and discussing it, I was thrilled to see the changes that were made and how great the teachers responded. I could have remained bitter and disappointed, but instead we’re ending the year extremely satisfied with their progress.
+ Respect is better than threats. I’ve found that when I’m unhappy with a situation, it’s always better to go into a discussion that first identifies where the other person is coming from. No one wants to be bullied, and normally everyone wants to work in the best interest of your child.
Photo by Jon Collier
+ Be realistic. Advocating is doing what’s in the best interest of your child, not getting your child out of sticky situations. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to get your child’s grade changed if they didn’t study for a test or turn in an assignment. And I don’t think it’s in their best interest if they don’t own up to mistakes they may have made.
+ Pick and choose your battles. There are some things I am relentless about, such as the girls’ education; others, I try to ride it out and realize that maybe I should keep my big mouth shut, which is much more difficult for me than it sounds. When I get myself all riled up about something minor, that’s when I call up a good friend to get some perspective and try desperately to sleep on it.
That being said, in our house we live by the “will I regret this next year knowing I could have changed the outcome if I spoke up” rule. If we think something will truly bother us a year from now, we at least have a discussion about it.
+ Sometimes no means no. In the case of my daughter and her try out, we had already decided that she would play on the second team regardless of the director’s response. And recently we decided not to “appeal” a placement decision on behalf of one of our daughter’s based on advice from her teacher, which was extremely disappointing to our kid. Learning to accept rejection is an important life lesson, and although I always want my kid to have the best, it’s also important for them to understand that they don’t always get what they want.
What kind of mom are you? Do you constantly advocate or sit back and see how it will turn out? Are you scared that you are “that annoying mom” or do you believe in speaking up without hesitation? Let me know in the comments below!
One of the most inspiring blog posts I have ever read was My Rock-Bottom Mom Moment Caught on Camera by Erin Zammett Ruddy. She shared a photo of her six-year old on the iPad while bottle-feeding her 2 month old. Close by is her four-year old daughter sitting in the infant carrier with a sharp pencil in one hand and another iPad on her lap. Ruddy set the stage by explaining what so many of us moms had been facing this winter — kids constantly home from school and daycare due to extreme weather conditions and our real-time work commitments continuing to pile up.
If I was in a room with Ruddy, and I didn’t think I would get arrested, I would kiss her.
She had a couple of choices after taking this photo: a) she could have not shared the picture at all for fear of being judged; b) she could have done a “woe is me” pitch for sympathy for the working mom; or c) she could have been snarky about the whole thing daring anyone to question her parenting. Instead, she did something beautiful that we don’t see enough of in today’s world of perfection parenting — she owned it.
Bottom line: I think it’s important for moms to share the “doing-whatever-it-takes” moments as well as the Pinterest-inspired, picture-perfect ones. Would I have posted this on Facebook? Um, no. Am I proud of it? Not really. But I’m taking one for the mom team and throwing myself under the bus here so that other moms can feel better about some of their own subpar parenting. You’re welcome.
Well, let me say a big fat thank you.
Like all of us, I work hard to be a good mom. I’m an active member of the PTA for God’s sake. But my mom career is marked with some blemishes. These are things I don’t normally share on Facebook, and I certainly didn’t plan on sharing them on my blog full of strangers.
But I’ve received some great e-mails from my readers. A few of you have shared some pretty hilarious stories about your own experiences with competitive moms. I received a few messages detailing some tough situations you’ve had with your own children. And I’ve had a couple of messages that just break my heart — the ones that say as a Mom, you just don’t ever feel good enough. These are the worst of all.
Because of this, I thought I would share some of my dark secrets. These are just a few of the “imperfect” moments I’ve had as a mom. The ones I would normally only share with my most trusted friends over a (few) glasses of wine. I hope it makes some of you feel better about any mistakes you’ve made, and for those of you feeling alone out there, know that you’re not.
So, here it goes….my top five worst Mom moments:
5. I was feeding my daughter a bottle while on a conference call with my client. My part was only 15 minutes, so I had my older two watching a video in the other room while I thought I could keep the baby quiet with the bottle (I’m an optimist.) I was answering a question in elaborate detail when I started to feel something wet. The top must not have been on tight and there was milk all over her and me. She seemed to think it was funny, but only for about 30 seconds before she started howling. I fibbed and said my nanny brought the baby into my office with a quick question and I had to hop off for a moment. I never rejoined the call.
4. My nanny called in sick one morning when I had a day of marathon conference calls and a new product launch I could not postpone. I set out a trough of goldfish and juice boxes, and taught one of the girls how to operate the DVD player. I think they watched six Disney movies in a row basically without a break. When they would come up to my office door (which was glass so they could see in), I bribed them to keep quiet with Hershey kisses.
3. When one of my twins was an infant, I was pushing her in a grocery cart through a parking lot after shopping. She was in her carrier in the front, which I thought was locked in. It was freezing, so I was trying to hurry. I hit a small pot hole and her car seat flew out of the cart, did a few flips in the air, and landed on the pavement. Thankfully the handle was up so she never physically hit the road. She was fine and didn’t even cry until I took her out of the car seat to check her; I am still traumatized 9 years later.
2. We were trying a modified cry-it-out method for our four-month old one evening who refused to go to sleep anywhere but laying on top of someone. The doctor had recommended she lay in her crib for 5-10 minutes each night with some soothing music in order to get her used to sleeping in it. We used one of those lighted LeapFrog music players shaped like Tag the frog in the corner of her crib, safely away from the baby. After about 10 minutes, her whimpers turned to full-scale freak out mode. When I went in to check on her, there was Tag, laying right on top of her. She had somehow pushed herself to the bottom of the crib and knocked it so they were nose-to-nose. She still doesn’t like frogs, and I think she slept on top of me for another two months.
1. When my third daughter was born, my twins were only 16 months old. My youngest was what the doctor called a “happy spitter” so burp cloths were a must. One day after feeding her, I realized I didn’t have anything to wipe the spit up. I put her all swaddled up in her bouncy seat — without buckling her in — for just a second to go to the other room to get a burp cloth. By the time I got back, one of her sisters was standing behind the bouncy, pushing it lower and lower, looking like she was going to launch the baby out of the seat like a stone in a catapult. Needless to say, for the next 9 months she stayed in the Baby Bjorn at all times. I’m not even sure how she learned how to walk.
So there it is. While I cringe just a bit while reading these, I also realize that these moments aren’t so bad after all. My kids are pretty happy, and obviously they survived my Momtastrophies. I make new mistakes all the time, and I’ll try to share those along with my successes. Because we’re all in this together.
If you want to share one of your worst Mom moments, please feel free to comment below (anonymous is fine). Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog via e-mail (just enter your address to the right) and like playdatesonfridays on Facebook.
It’s Friday peeps, so cheers!