Ten years ago, I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. The past decade has been a wild ride of ups and downs, struggles and joys, calamities and pleasant surprises, to say the least. And if I am to believe the assorted “parenting experts” out there, I have made about a million mistakes as well.
As a new mother, the mistakes I made felt heavy and monumental, not the least of which was being a breastfeeding “quitter.” Let me be clear, I am very definitely pro-breastfeeding and defend a woman’s right to breastfeed where, when and how she wants. For many women, breastfeeding is a positive experience that strengthens the bond between mother and child, but this was not the case for me. I breastfed my first son for an excruciatingly long six weeks and hated every minute. What’s worse, part of me was angry at my baby throughout those six weeks, and my feelings toward breastfeeding exacerbated my postpartum depression and hindered the bonding process.
My decision to stop breastfeeding after a few short weeks was difficult and fraught with shame and guilt. As mothers, we are told that we should sacrifice our own needs for our children and that “breast is best,” and for many mothers and babies it is. But it was not for best for me and my son. In other words, quitting was the right decision for me. It took a long time to get to a place of acceptance and comfort with that decision, but when my second son was born three years later, there was no doubt that I wouldn’t breastfeed at all.
Do I admire and respect women who are able to breastfeed and enjoy it as well? Of course. But in the words of Amy Poehler: “Good for you! Not for me.” I broke several other “rules” as a new mother as well.
Recognizing my own need for sleep, I sleep trained my son when he was just a few months old, and I adhered to a strict nap schedule, sometimes racing home so that I could avoid the dreaded five-minute car ride nap for a nice, long two-hour nap in his crib.
Taking hundreds of photos during my son’s first year alone, I allowed myself to be consumed by distraction and welcomed the diversion that photo-taking and photo-editing provided. While it was definitely a time-suck and a distraction from mothering—a big no-no, according to mindful parenting experts—the photos also saved me. They saved me from falling too far into the depths of postpartum depression by providing just enough of a distraction from the darkness in my mind while I worked toward recovering.
Now that the baby years are behind me, my “mistakes” look a little different. I sometimes swear in front of my children and remind them that there is a skill involved with knowing when to swear and when not to swear. I let my 9-year-old sleep with a blankie and suck his thumb, reasoning that orthodontia bills are a small price to pay for a good night’s sleep. And unlike my first years of motherhood, I probably don’t take enough photos these days. I worry that I might not be preserving all of our family memories or documenting the important moments of my children’s lives, but then I remind myself that I am living the sweetness of everyday moments and preserving these memories in my own way.
But perhaps worst of all—if I am to believe the countless bloggers and parenting experts on the subject, that is—I am a yeller. I yell when my kids are fighting with each other. I yell when I’ve asked them to put their shoes on and get in the car 15 times and they are still dilly-dallying around. And I yell when my kids won’t stop yelling.
Yes, I know that yelling is not ideal. I know that it would be better if I responded calmly and directly when my kids push my buttons. I know that there are other (better?) ways to respond. Believe me, I don’t need to look far to find a parenting “expert” to make me feel guilty for yelling and inadequate as a parent because of it. But, you know what? I’m kinda full up on guilt these days. Yes, I yell. But I also apologize and talk to my kids about it, and we all learn something in the process—not the least of which is parents have feelings too.
These days it seems practically everyone has an opinion about the “right” way to raise a child, and we can find loads of conflicting advice and suggestions offered by doctors, psychologists, bloggers, and other parents about how we should be parenting and reminding us of all of the mistakes we’re making.The trouble with all the advice touted by the self-proclaimed experts and the proselytization by other parents, however, is that it can feel a lot like we are tsk-tsking each other’s parenting, and it can be difficult for parents not to fall victim to the heavy weight of guilt and regret that comes along with well-intended advice. What might be a mistake to one parent is a win for another. After all, there are a million “right” ways to love and to parent.
Over the past 10 years, I have made more than my fair share of what some might consider mistakes. Haven’t we all? And I have no doubt that I will continue to make mistakes as long as I am a parent. But maybe regret shouldn’t be one of those mistakes. Maybe the mistakes are part of the journey. And maybe the things we think of as mistakes aren’t really mistakes at all, but a chance to learn to trust ourselves and enjoy the wild ride.