4 Things You Probably Feel Guilty About as a New Parent and Shouldn’t
By Amber Alexander
Motherhood. The most amazing, glorious, heartbreaking, painful, humbling experience I have ever known. A fluid, continuous journey that changes and flows as my daughter grows and becomes. A touching, emotional part of life.
And, in part, one of the biggest lies I was ever told.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore being a mom. From a very young age, I knew that one of the things I wanted to accomplish in this life was to have a child of my own. And, like many parents in this world, I grew up absorbing the picture of being a parent that society paints where the parent is always happy to give their all for the wealth and health of their child with a smile on his/her face. Even during the hard moments when chaos ensues, the picture (quite literally in advertising) is of a barely disheveled parent with an exasperated, yet entertained, half-cocked smile on his/her face.
This was disappointing to me because I can say with absolute certainty that when chaos was reigning in my household with a toddler in it, I didn’t look nearly as pretty and – at times – it came with an incredible amount of guilt.
I remember very clearly an evening at home with my sweet-smelling newborn and my first feeling of despair and crippling guilt.
My partner had just come home from a long day at work. I was still learning how to balance having a body that was at the whim of a baby’s needs while also taking care of myself and still physically recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. I hadn’t showered or slept in days and my sweet baby was never out of arm’s reach. The thought of taking a shower by myself was enough to make me weak in the knees. I fed my little one and passed her off to daddy and leapt as gracefully as I could into the bathroom alone. As I leaned back in the shower to let the hot water cascade over my physically and emotionally exhausted body, I heard the baby start to cry, but she was with her dad so I started to lather my head with shampoo and enjoy the scalp massage I was giving myself. Until there was a knock on the door.
“The baby is crying and I can’t get her to stop, I need you to come take her.”
My response? Tears. Before I knew it, I was sobbing. 5 minutes alone was all I wanted, just some time to wash myself and do one thing for myself without juggling someone else too. I wanted to scream. I wanted to ignore the crying I heard outside the door and cry to myself… alone.
Instead, I turned off the water, dried off quickly and rushed to comfort my sweet, screaming baby.
As she nuzzled into my neck while we fell into the rhythm of bouncing, she quickly quieted down and I could feel her soft breath on my skin. And that is when the guilt descended. How could I have been so selfish? This little being is helpless in meeting her own needs, how could I have resented not getting my shower in? It was just a shower!
But here’s the thing – it wasn’t just a shower. It was a moment for me to exist solely by myself. There was no one feeding off of me and I was doing something that directly benefited my mental, emotional and physical health, which, in turn, made me a better mom and partner.
Or so the reinforcements in my life SHOULD have said.
What I got was, “It’s only a baby and, moreover, it’s YOUR baby, it’s not like you are burdened with caring for the entire world. Just one cute baby.”
I think the people that perpetuate that attitude either have never had kids, have what I refer to as “baby amnesia” (where, years later, you never remember the painful aspects of childbirth or the stressful parts of having a young child, just the flowery, romanticized good times), or they had way more help than the average new parent does.
As my amazing child has grown into each new phase, there are new situations presented in parenting that challenge my confidence in my own ability at being a good mom. Whether the pressure comes from the “super parent” school of thought – someone who knows exactly how they will parent their future children – or myself, there are endless opportunities for me to stop and question the idea of what a “good mom” must be. If someone would have just handed me a list of these things as a heads-up, I feel like it may have saved me a lot of guilt trips I put myself through over the years and the amount of judgemental opinions I put up with as well.
So, here is my list of the top 4 things I feel it’s not worth feeling guilty over as a parent. Hopefully these little reminders will help YOU on YOUR parenting journey.
1. Being overwhelmed.
It’s not “just a baby.” It’s a small, precious, helpless, demanding human life that has graced you with the task of not only caring for it, but doing so in a way that creates a functional child, then teen, then adult. That’s a huge responsibility. And when you are a new parent, it is SO overwhelming to think about all the things that could go wrong. On top of that, you are exhausted and sleep deprived and – especially during the early days – self-care tends to take a back seat, which leads to you feeling more stressed out and overwhelmed.
2. Having differing parenting theories or opinions than those of your parents, siblings, in-laws, friends and that one lady you bumped into at the grocery store.
There are as many different ways to raise a child as there are children. I have plenty of friends with multiple children who even admit to applying different parenting methods to each child they have. We are each unique individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, personalities, preferences and needs. Why would our children be any different? Having different styles of parenting than those around you just means that you are listening to that deep wisdom inside of you that is pointing you in the direction you are meant to take this one crazy life of yours.
3. Not having a perfectly clean house.
Having a baby is hard work on an on-going and daily basis. Why stress over having all the dishes and laundry done all the time? If I tried to make that happen, I would never be able to occupy any room in my house other than the kitchen or laundry room. Being present and interacting with my kiddo was much more entertaining and important than cleaning my house anyway! I am not encouraging anyone to live in a pigsty by any means, but what I am saying is that the world will not end if there are dishes in the sink. I had to let that one go because I was running myself ragged trying to have the sparkling clean house AND be the mom I wanted to be all the time. Accepting that there will always be a mess made life much more enjoyable.
4. Needing a break.
Somewhere along the lines, I internalized the idea that needing to get away from my child equated to me not being fit to parent her. This is quite possibly my own personal, biggest challenge in the “not worth feeling guilty about” department. I love my daughter and I love being a mom. There is nothing in the world I would rather be than that role of being her mother. So, when I found myself getting too overwhelmed and wishing I could be alone, I felt a lot of shame. It was my big lesson in learning that it really does take a village to raise a child.
It is healthy to have time for self-care. It is healthy for your child to have connections to trusted family members and adults other than yourself. The larger and stronger your little village is, the more enriched you and your child’s life experience will be. It is not a sign of your ability as a parent to need a break.
When someone is depending on you for everything 24 hours a day and you are living on their schedule entirely, it can be hard to feel like there is any of you left. There were moments where I just wanted to sleep longer than an hour at a time because I was so tired I could cry. Our children pick up on our frustration and exhaustion and when we don’t reach out for help, they internalize it. My frustration was not my daughters fault, it was no ones fault. I just needed a nap and some time to leisurely eat a meal or take a bath. A moment to fall back into myself and not feel like I was on high alert. Knowing I had a community of people there to step in allowed my daughter to be embraced in love and care by not only her parents, but an extended network of people so that I was able to step back and take a moment away. It made me a better parent.
I think the list of things that aren’t worth feeling guilty about as a parent is endless. Some of them are comical, like not feeling guilty when your child swears like a sailor while out in public and outing you as the world’s biggest potty mouth, while others are heart-breaking, such as the first time your child experiences heartbreak and there is nothing you could have done to prevent it and there is nothing you can do to make it go away other than to hold them and cry with them.
When I say these things aren’t worth feeling guilty over, I do not mean that they are things that are of little value. Most of them are things that have a deep impact on us as parents, or on our children. I just mean that there are certain times as parents when it is for the greater good to accept how you feel without judgement and move on in the best way you know how. Perfect is the evil of good and, when it comes to our own children, no one knows them like we do, so we should never feel guilty for following our instincts in caring for them and in caring for ourselves.
So, let’s hear it! What, in your experience, is just not worth feeling guilty about? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
As a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Amber Alexander follows her passion for vibrant wellness by supporting others in cultivating greater health and joy, specializing in family nutrition and individuals recently diagnosed with autoimmune diseases and/or food sensitivities.
When not working to make the world a healthier place one person at a time, she can be found on her yoga mat breathing deeply, in her kitchen cooking up nourishing deliciousness for her family and loved ones, or out dancing in the woods. She strives everyday to do at least one thing that infuses her whole being with radiance, joy and strength and believes that a hug can solve almost any quandary.
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