I’m not completely sure I knew what I was getting myself into when I said I wanted kids. I knew about the lack of sleep. (OK, I had a vague understanding that there would be less sleep, but no one can really prepare you for sleeping a total of 45 minutes every night for four straight months. Putting the half and half in the cabinet after pouring it into the coffee and leaving the keys in the front door more than once are but two inconvenient side effects of the no-sleep thing.) I also knew that life as I knew it would change. (To that end, it did take my husband and I quite a few months to get used to the idea that we were tethered to the apartment once our son was in bed for the night. No more impromptu dates or dinners or walks to the Pinkberry up the block. From now on we would have to take turns running out for dessert or a bottle of wine. And if (a big IF) we had the forethought to hire a babysitter, we would kiss a cool $60 goodbye before even spending a penny on a bite of food.)
But those things one can get over. Kids are small for such a short time and before you know it they’re leaving you to hang out with their friends at night. No, the things I was unaware of go deeper than torturous amounts of sleep deprivation or house arrest. It’s the guilt I’m talking about. The gut-wrenching, heart-aching, I-want-to-scream-and-cry-my-eyes-out guilt that a mother can feel at virtually every turn. And with that, I present the ways I have failed as a mother since my son was born 19 months ago (partial list):
- In the first few weeks with my newborn, I felt shackled to him because I was breastfeeding. I envied my husband who could run out for an hour or two without a care in the world, because I COULD NOT. The baby came with me, or I didn’t go at all. Our situation was further complicated by the fact that he outright refused the bottle. So it was boob or hunger strike (accompanied by a beet-red screaming face). I loved him to pieces but wanted nothing more than an escape hatch. For this, I am a terrible mother.
- On more nights than not, my son would sleep for no more than 30-45 minutes at a time. Nothing worked to improve the situation. Nothing. I would get downright angry in the middle of the night when he would wake me, wanting to eat again, just minutes after I fell asleep, only to do it again 45 minutes later. I was angry at my newborn. Worst mother in the world.
- When Jake was 4 months old, I began working part-time. Two days per week I went into the office and left him with a babysitter. Since he was still refusing a bottle, he did nothing but wail at mealtime and go down for his nap hungry and upset. When I would come home from work, he would feast on the boobs like he had never eaten before. I starved my kid and made him scream while at work. Kill me.
- Sometimes I cannot muster the energy to play with my kid the way I know I should. On my good days, we’re in music class, the park or the children’s museum. We read and dance and sing. But I have my limits. Some days we spend the entire day in the house, and I beg him to find new ways to entertain himself with bowls and bottles and whatever else he finds that doesn’t have a sharp edge. I sit there as he attempts to play with the empty milk container from the recycling bin and I pick my battles. I know I should be engaging him, but I cannot.
- As a toddler, my son refuses to eat. (It’s a theme with him, as you can see.) He spits it out, wipes it off his tray, or feeds it to the dog. I spend an inordinate amount of time finding healthy food that he’ll accept, preparing it, and then picking it up off the floor after he’s refused it yet again. Once in a while I cave and give him a pouch of baby food, because I know he’ll eat it. Sometimes he forgets how to squeeze it from the bottom, and when I try to help him, he gets frustrated with me (for daring to help) and squeezes it so hard that it squirts like Old Faithful into the air. A sticky concoction of spinach-pear-chicken adorns the walls. I lose my cool and bark at my kid, as if he were doing this on purpose. (And perhaps he is, but yelling will get me nowhere.) Despite having read every word written on how to deal with toddlers, tantrums, and food, I break down. I cannot handle my own child. I have failed.
Now, before someone accuses me of being dramatic, take a moment. Because haven’t we all been here? You try your best as a parent, but continually feel like you’re coming up short. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. You want a healthy, happy, well-adjusted kid but no matter what, it feels like the cards are stacked against you. At least that’s how I feel. I suppose the best we can do is take the great moments when they come, and try to ride the wave when we have no control. This too shall pass.