On my newborn son’s first day home from the hospital I had to take him back to the doctor for a blood draw. When I handed my baby over to the nurse she was clearly displeased. She gave me a very frustrated look and remarked in her best, I think you are a completely crap mother voice, “geez Mom, you didn’t think to put socks on him.” My baby’s bare feet did look cold. She made me feel awful. My first test as a parent and I had failed.
I should have said, I’m exhausted, I just pushed out this kid, and I’ve been home less than 48 full hours. I managed to get him dressed, in the car, and all the way here so I am feeling pretty proud of myself. Instead I apologized and felt a huge sense of “mom-guilt”. The guilt that I have somehow failed my child, that I am an incompetent parent, and that my license to mother should probably be revoked.
This was not however the first time I had experienced this feeling. For me, “mom-guilt” began the minute I realized I was pregnant. Every nutritional misstep, heavy bag lifted, or missed opportunity to adequately nurture my little growing bean of a baby and I would feel guilty. I once had a real cup of coffee during my first pregnancy and convinced myself I had just cursed my child with intellectual deficiencies of the worst sort. To top it all off, I had taken my child to his first official appointment and presented him without socks, guilt, guilt, and more guilt.
Fast forward seven years. I am older and slightly wiser. The comment made by that nurse would make me laugh today. I have given birth to three babies. I have been through trips to the emergency room, broken bones, and screaming meltdowns. I have forgotten coats on cold days, fed my children pancakes for dinner, and allowed them to wear pajamas to play outside. I have plopped my children down in front of the television when I needed a break. I have taken them to McDonalds on multiple occasions, and yes there are times when they have had milk that is NOT organic and of the chocolate variety.
In the beginning I felt horribly guilty for all my perceived failings. Over time, I have learned to start cutting myself a little slack. I have realized that for every parent fail, I do a lot of things right. I also realized relatively early on that my children are these amazing, incredibly resilient, awesome human beings. My children continue to thrive even when I fail to be a “perfect” parent. They appear to be growing even though my youngest refuses to eat anything green. They are learning and they are smart despite the fact that their tablets are filled with a lot of mindless crap instead of educational gems. They are kind and loving even though I occasionally lose my temper.
My point is feeling guilty for each parental blunder does not actually help anyone. As Elsa would say, you have to let it go. I recently read another parenting blog that argued, the simple the fact that you worry about being a good parent probably means that you already are. Parenting is tough, exhausting work and adding guilt and worry into the mix just adds to it. Last week my oldest son wrote me the sweetest letter telling me how much he loved me. Not one time in that letter did he mention the whole missing socks, cold-feet crisis. I guess he has forgiven me.
I hope that as a parent you too are congratulating yourself more and feeling guilty less. Being a great parent most of the time is a much better goal than shooting for unobtainable perfection. Not to mention, I would be willing to bet that your child thinks you are amazing just as you are.