If You Take One Piece Of Parenting Advice, Let It Be This: Go Easy On Yourself
I first became a parent in 2006. It was the most glorious, breathtaking, and meaningful moment of my life. I have since had a daughter in 2008, married an amazing man who also has a daughter, and now we are pregnant with our first together. I’m due in 78 days to be exact. I can tell you that for every child we’ve brought into this world (including the one still in my womb), our hearts have expanded a million times over. But it’s also gotten…well, complicated.
It’s just not easy to be a parent these days. We have to figure out what rules, guidelines, and boundaries work for our family. There seems to be this invisible standard that we must reach — an invisible line of tape that we must run through at the end of every day, a long list of boxes to check to make sure that we’ve achieved “good parent” status.
Where does this come from? Well, it’s partly in our own minds, I believe. But there’s also the million people who love to interject their sometimes solicited and sometimes unsolicited opinions and advice. There is the pressure from the media. (Please don’t follow yoga instructors on Instagram while you are pregnant.) There are people who just have a million questions for you, which of course totally make you second guess if you are “doing it right.”
“You are using cloth diapers only, right?”
“You know, making your own baby food is much better for the baby than any of that chemical-containing, store-bought crap in a jar.”
“Oh, I’m so glad to hear that you plan to EBF.” (Exclusively breastfeed — see, I’m starting to get their lingo down!)
“You should only let your child have X amount of screen time. You do know that, right?”
“Oh, you are only going to take that much time off for maternity leave?”
“You really should go back to work at X weeks. This study has shown it to be better for your baby to be around other kids in a daycare setting.”
Vaccinations. Enough said.
Honestly, I could go on forever.
One of the funniest things about being pregnant almost 10 years after my youngest was born is that everyone in public automatically assumes that this is my first baby, which makes these types of questions and “suggestions” even more hilarious and aggravating at the same time.
So this is my truth that I’ve come to: We don’t always get it right, but it’s our experience to live and learn, and then adapt, making any changes we as parents feel are necessary. Being a parent is hard. Just when you think you know your kids, they grow and their interests change. Suddenly, what they liked last week they dislike this week, especially if you’re crazy like us and have preteens and a newborn on the way!
So we do our best. We get knocked down (sometimes it feels like more often than others) but we pull ourselves back up, asking, “What can I learn from this situation? How can our family function at the highest level possible?” We cut out the negative chatter in our own minds as well as those who love to “suggestively parent.” We take up a confidence within ourselves as parents, knowing that whatever decisions we make, we make with our family and children’s highest interest at heart. We take experiences that we have personally learned from in our childhood and adjust our parenting to make our children’s more enjoyable and healthier than ours was. This is the goal of every good parent, correct?
Too often, we seek outside validation of our personal growth and lean on others’ opinions of us to nurture our self-esteem. They are many naysayers out there, and unfortunately, some of them may be your best friends or even blood-related family. In this journey, the one thing we have learned absolutely is that none of that matters. I believe that there is only one opinion that truly matters anyway, and not one human being can give that.
At the end of every day, we have to face ourselves in the mirror knowing that we have tried our best — for that day, because it’s always one day at a time. If our answer is no, that’s okay too because if we are lucky enough, we will have another “today” when we wake up in the morning. Remember that every parent has bad days, and it most definitely does not mean that you are a bad parent.
So be easy on yourself. Smile at the miracle that your body is creating or has created. Rub that ginormous miracle of a belly that is causing you to lose sleep and pee every 13 minutes as well as losing any sense of balance. Listen to your body, and especially to that little voice deep inside. I promise there are no guidebooks that will lead you into this journey of parenting feeling fully equipped, but if you listen to that voice you will always be led in the right direction for you.
This morning I woke up with this quote in my head (I’ll get to it in just a minute). I think I read it on Pinterest sometime in the past couple of years while typing in “how to be a good parent.” This journey of self-discovery, especially in the past seven months, has taught me to never do that again, but I did come across something pretty awesome. This journey is yours and your partner’s. It is about putting on the earmuffs to block out anything that does not serve you (sometimes including your own thoughts). It’s about being guided by that internal voice that will always tell you which direction to turn if you are still and listen. About 200,000 years of modern human evolution has been preparing you just for this moment. You are well-equipped to do this, taking whatever advice rings true to your soul and disregarding the rest.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” So enjoy it and stop stressing about how you will reach that invisible ceiling of “perfect parent” status — starting now.