A few weeks ago, I was going through a bit of a self-constructed personal nightmare and I asked a friend for advice. She very thoughtfully explained to me that she had realized somewhere along the line that I was struggling as a parent. And I really do mean that this was a thoughtful conversation, not a criticism, not an insult, so please don’t think poorly of her. But my very first instinct was to tell her she was wrong. That motherhood was easy, that it was going great, that it was everything I imagined it would be.
But the thing is, she wasn’t wrong. I just wanted her to be.
Before I had Eli, I was told regularly by family and some friends that I would be a great mother. I believed them and went into parenting with confidence because of my experiences with other kids, as a teacher and the like. I smugly expected that parenting would be easy for me, which if anything has made the reality harder to handle.
Loving my son has come easy. I love him fiercely, more than I have ever loved anything else in the world. I maintain that he is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life and anything else I write here does not erase or diminish any of that.
The struggles started on day one. I know everyone is tired of hearing about breastfeeding and I’m not going to stay on this for long, but that was the first wake up call. I just remember being shocked because I had just assumed it would work, and it failed so very miserably. I was struggling because I could not do something that was supposed to be the most natural thing in the world. I failed the very first mothering test.
From there it was dealing with his reflux, trying to figure out what was best for him and for us and what the science said. Then it was sleep. Then naps. Going back to work presented new feelings of inadequacy, even though I had always planned to work part time.
The other night, I bought and served Eli jarred food for the first time and as I stood in the store looking at which variety of plums I wanted to give him, I felt like a failure. Logically I knew that it was perfectly fine and that it would be just fine for him, but inside, I felt like I had failed my child again. Like I wasn’t a good mother because I couldn’t cook all his food, because I had to buy pureed fruits (it didn’t help that I was buying them because I way oversteamed the plums I bought the night before and didn’t have time to do more since I had worked that day).
And now that he’s sick, like legitimately sick (bronchiolitis), for the first time I feel even more helpless. I can’t make him happy right now, I can’t make him feel better, sleep better or do anything else besides whine and cough. He is miserable and I am basically useless to help. It’s awful. I actually called my own mother today and asked her to come down here since my husband is going out of town from tomorrow until Tuesday.
Throughout these past 6 months, I have felt disappointed. Not in my child, never in my child, but in myself. The expectation I had that this would be easy was shattered almost every day in a different way. It turns out that my previous experiences had not prepared me for parenting and even though I have a very laid back baby, it was/is still difficult. And this was so hard to handle because I think at some point, I started to believe that if parenting wasn’t easy, then I wasn’t good at it. That if I was struggling and if I needed help, that meant that I wasn’t really cut out for this, that I wasn’t the best mother for my child.
It’s taken me a while to realize that those two things are not the same. Parenting is hard. Raising a child is hard in every possible way, even if you’re good at it. I don’t think enough mothers say that out loud. I certainly didn’t know it before becoming one. It is amazingly rewarding and I wouldn’t go back and undo our decision to have a child for anything in the world, but I would go back and tell myself to not expect it to be simple. To expect there to be bumps in the road, in fact, I would warn myself that somedays there aren’t any flat parts at all.
And I would tell myself that that’s okay. That it doesn’t have to be easy. That you don’t have to pretend like it is, there’s no street cred to lose here. I would tell myself that it is okay to ask for help, that it’s not a sign of weakness, and that taking that help when it is offered is more a sign of strength than anything else because acknowledging your limitations is one of the toughest skills to master.
I struggle daily with my abilities as a parent, with feeling successful and like I’m doing right by my baby, but I am gradually getting better at realizing that ease of parenting doesn’t mean successful parenting. That some of the biggest successes have been the most difficult experiences. And that if my child is well, if he is happy, then I have succeeded as a mother.
And my biggest parenting goal is that from now on, that is the only score I’m going to try to keep.