I’ve listened to myself say a thousand times over that despite having 3 kids of my own, I have nothing, but nothing, to offer a new parent by way of advice. I’ve started wondering why that might be. Perhaps I’m too jaded and battle scarred by my own experience of being a brand new mother. I know that these days, in the face of the complete and utter absorption that goes hand in hand with new parenthood, I can become flippant and dismissive. I get overwhelmed by the desire to stop the newbie anxieties, to offer reassurance that it pretty much all works out in the end. To stop them in their tracks. To try and protect them from themselves, to tell them to enjoy it more and worry less about trying to be perfect.
Of course, none of this is about the new parents I come into contact with, and all of it is about my own unprocessed experience of new parenthood. About the crippling anxiety I felt about parenting “right”, about the pressure I felt to justify every little choice I made about my baby’s care. How completely paralysed I was by the feeling that I was being watched, judged and found lacking time and time again. How my biggest fear at the time was having those shaming words “she’s making a rod for her back” directed at me, by someone more experienced and knowledgeable. How by virtue of being a parent I was suddenly expected to know things, be sure about things, be somehow invulnerable, at a time when I had never felt so at sea in all my life.
And then I read this blog post that struck a chord really rather nicely. It highlighted something I find myself thinking about now the kids are a little bit older and self sufficient. About all the needless worry. About the time and energy that went into angsting, reading, and googling my way through new parenthood. And how at times, that definitely stopped me from enjoying it more. At that earliest stage in my parenting career I absolutely, completely and utterly believed that there was a correct way to do things, particularly where sleep was concerned. I was convinced that if only I could find the right website or book I would find THE answer, that would make my screaming infant slip into a deep and contented sleep with nothing but a contented murmur.
I now get that all this crazy came from a good place. I simply wanted this little screamy creature to be happy – a “contented little baby” if you will. I wanted to be the best mum I could for him. I wanted to be a calm and happy mother. Misguidedly, I thought I could research my way into being that. Instead, I found myself yearning for the simplicity of the 1940’s and 50’s when, there was one, unquestioned, way of doing things with a baby, instead of the thousands of approaches and methods that were bewildering and confusing me in 2005.
I was very low on the old self compassion back then. I gave myself a really hard time for not being and doing better. For not knowing more. I was results driven, like a horrible boss, giving little encouragement for effort, and a lot of negative attention when my attempts fell short of my self imposed exacting standards. I compared myself unfavourably to others. I told myself I wasn’t calm, organised or good enough.
I still owe my new-mother self a break. If I could talk to her, I’d tell her: It’s ok. You’re doing your best. You’re going to get it all wrong sometimes. He’s small and screamy. He has no words. It’s all guess work at this point. You don’t have a clue, but neither does he. You’re both imperfect. You’re both working it out.
Id tell her to roll with the punches. Cry when you need to cry. Get up every day and have another go. You will adjust. So will he. Moment by moment. Pretty much imperceptibly. Sometimes you’ll even start to think you’ve got your shit together, and other times he’ll remind you that you most definitely haven’t. Some days it’s the most awesome job in the world, and others it’s the most thankless you can imagine. But go along with it. Because you’re gonna keep going through this process over and over for a loooong time.
That screamy little fella’s nearly 8 now. We’re still going through it.
So I’d tell the new-mother me, settle in. Enjoy the ride.