No one is a perfect mother. Ironically, perfection wasn’t even on my list of goals going into my pregnancy. I was just excited to have a baby and figured everything else would work itself out. When I finally went into labor I was one of three women who arrived at the hospital at the same time. The first was already deep in second stage and quickly zoning into third. The second was nervous and anxious to get her epidural. I was sipping on a thermos of water, hugging my pillow and moseying to my room with a smile saying, “Let’s have a baby!”
I rocked pregnancy. I’d be pregnant again in a minute.
Being a new mom, on the other hand… I never want to repeat that year of my life again.
Okay, that’s not a totally fair statement. I want to repeat my son being that little again. The clothes, the endless cuddling, the fascination with new things, the falling in love with each other. All of that I’ll be happy to re-live. What I vow not to repeat for the sake of my own health and sanity is listening to the inner critic that kept accusing me of being less than perfect. All the time. And sometimes, just downright bad at being a mom and a wife.
Transitioning from full-time employment to stay-at-home mother is hard. You go from being a successful earner with her life in order to a newbie learner immersed in chaos overnight. You have very few people to talk to during the day because you don’t want to bother the rest of your family and friends who are working. So, you start talking to yourself. A lot. And you’re tired. A lot. Ever try to talk to a tired, cranky person? Yeah, the conversation goes downhill pretty darn fast.
Nothing was ever good enough for me. I became obsessed with getting my son on a decent sleeping schedule so that my husband, who spends 15 hours a week commuting, could get a good night’s sleep. So what if I didn’t nap when the baby napped? The important thing is that I finally got the kid down, even if it was on me.
It took me nearly 6 months to give in and text my husband to bring home dinner. When I met him at the door with overwrought apologies he looked at me like I was crazy. “You’ve had dinner on the table every night since we got home from the hospital. I never expected that.”
I also put an insane amount of pressure on myself to excel in my freelance writing career. Once again I sacrificed sleep along with food in the pursuit of exceeding my pre-baby income. That little voice in my head kept nagging me that staying at home just wasn’t enough. It still surfaces from time to time and when it does, my husband simply cuts me off with, “You’re saving us 20 grand a year in child care. That’s your economic contribution. Done.”
We mothers are the hardest on ourselves. We can be our worst critics, our most vindictive judges. When I’d break down in tears of exhaustion in front of my son I’d immediately condemn myself for showing him anything less than a smiling face. Looking back on it, all the hysteria was absurd. But, that’s what the ugly cocktail of exhaustion and anxiety can do to a new mom. When you’re the engineer of the house and you don’t feel good, nothing you do can possibly be good enough.
So many jokes about second children revolve around relaxed parents who let their second kids get messy to the point of eating dirt because they’ve finally relaxed into parenting. Next time around I’d much rather see myself confidently put the baby into the playpen so I can eat a full meal, or in the crib so I can snooze, too. The only thing I want eating dirt is my exorcised and buried inner critic.