I must have been 30 weeks pregnant when I was given my first piece of parenting advice. And then I got the same piece of advice from someone else while visiting our home when my daughter was about a week old. Two different women, one piece of sage advice. Every single day, though I try to remember their words, I fail miserably at actually following them. Both of these women, one looking down at my pregnant belly, one looking down at the bundled infant in my arms, offered the same words of wisdom: “Just make sure to let go of the guilt.”
Say what, now? You mean I’m supposed to let go of these feelings?
Really, I tried. I mean, I went into this whole take-a-baby-home-from-the-hospital thing with an open mind. But then my daughter developed gas pain when she was two weeks old. I was completely bewildered at what I was supposed to do for her. It was on day three of this when someone suggested giving her gas drops. And the gas pains drastically improved. Cue mom guilt for not asking earlier.
At her one month visit, her pediatrician asked me if I was reading to her. “Read to her, as much as possible,” he instructed, “As much as you can.” I thought back to how much "Downton Abbey" I was watching to pass the days of constant nursing. For fuck’s sake, I should have been reading out loud to her instead! (In my defense, I’m sure she at least absorbed some killer British accents from all that TV.) Cue more mom guilt.
And the whopper of them all: The morning I woke to hear a loud thump right next to me. My eleven-month-old daughter had rolled off our very tall bed. She was fine. She cried for 10 minutes. I cried the rest of the day. Mom guilt, you guys.
My daily guilt doesn’t even have to be brought on from the struggle within my own mind. It comes when I compare myself to other parents. Sarah sings lullabies to her son every night. Should I be singing more to her? Abby is keeping her daughter away from TV until she’s two. Is it awful of me that I watch "Breaking Bad" reruns while she plays on the floor? What if her first word is methamphetamine? Jessica only serves her baby organic vegetables. I buy whatever is on sale at the grocery store. My baby may as well take a bath in chemicals.
The truth is, I have no idea how to lessen the guilt.
Every day I tell myself to let go of the guilt, and everyday that goes out the window. I turn on "Daniel Tiger" for her so I can take a half hour to clean up the kitchen. And then maybe I keep it on for another episode so that I can actually drink my coffee hot. I feed her far too many Cheerios while we’re grocery shopping because, much like her mother, food is the one thing that can keep her in a pleasant mood.
I should be reading to her more. Reading is my favorite pastime and I’ve dreamed of having a little girl who loves the hobby as much as I do, but I’m completely messing up its execution. The truth is she's much happier right now chewing on the pages than actually sitting still and letting me point to the words and comment on the different animals on the page. But her Story Time teacher at the library said this was an excellent literacy skill, and so far, I’m failing miserably at it.
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I wish I could end this with some sort of well-meaning advice to combat the guilty feelings we mothers have. The truth is, I have no idea how to lessen the guilt. I know I’m not alone. We may have different experiences, but we all struggle with wanting to do the right thing, but never being able to measure up.
So Mamas, listen to me. Listen to me closely. From one guilty mom to another: You’re doing a job. Really, you are. Do your best and let the rest go.