As a parent no one ever really tells you that you are doing a good job. It’s the only job in the world that carries so much responsibility yet you receive no monthly, quarterly or even annual performance review of what you are doing well or some constructive criticism around what you could do better.
I remember when I was handed our first born in the hospital. After the initial gushes of love and sheer amazement at this tiny human we had created, the reality that she was ‘ours’ suddenly hit us. She didn’t come with a manual and there was no receipt to send her back when she didn’t do the things we had thought babies were meant to do, like ‘sleep like a baby’ for example.
I was lucky enough to have my mum over from the UK for the first 10 weeks of her precious life. This meant I was given a huge head start in comparison to many other new mums. She taught me the basics such as, bathing a tiny baby, how to deal with newborn flaky skin, what to do with explosive yellow poo when it leaks all over everything, she encouraged us to get a routine started and helped us soothe the baby when she was screaming and we had no idea why. She supported me incredibly through those initial, toe curlingly painful breastfeeding days when I was so close to quitting. After having three breastfed babies herself, she knew that in time, the pain would ease and the reward I would feel for persevering would be worth it (this was the case for me but I totally respect and understand this is different for lots of other women).
When my eldest was 10 weeks old, mum returned to the UK.
My husband and I were on our own to care for our baby.
We fumbled our way along, reading various books and haemorrhaging Google whenever we came up against anything unknown to us. The experience, whilst one of love and happiness was also filled with hundreds of questions, self-doubt and worry that we were doing it wrong.
When she was a new-born we worried if she was too hot, too cold, hungry, full, tired or breathing! We constantly checked to see if she was breathing, at times she was so still we were convinced we’d lost her.
As she grew bigger (age 1-2) we worried about the things she did more such as: why does she keep hitting herself, why does she play with buckles all the time? why does she walk on tip toes, why hasn’t she started talking or walking yet, why is she throwing her food on the floor? is that behaviour, dare I say it -NORMAL? One occasion, when she fell off a climbing frame and banged her head, I managed to convince myself and everyone else that the climbing frame was HUGE! I rushed her to A & E and she checked out fine. Since then I’ve returned to the playground and am embarrassed to admit it really is not that high after all.
Now I have a 14 month old and a nearly 3 year old I still continually question and doubt myself in my role as a mother. I am what people commonly refer to as a ‘worrier’ so this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me reading this. However, I have been surprised to see that some of the strongest women I know, who are full of self-belief and confidence in other areas of their lives, have been affected by the same self-doubt and insecurities as me since becoming mums.
I was prompted to write this blog because a friend of mine contacted me the other day, upset and angered by an encounter with a stranger. She is one of these women I would identify as being strong in character and self-confidence.
The encounter with the stranger went like this:
My friend was in good spirits, doing the weekly supermarket shopping with her toddler in the trolley. Her toddler wasn’t quite so chipper. She was crying and objecting (as toddlers do) at being restrained in the trolley.
As my friend reached the checkout she was approached by a woman who proceeded to tell her that she was a child psychologist and the fact that she was allowing her child to cry and not comfort her was damaging her child. My friend was shocked. Of course she wasn’t enjoying seeing her child upset but she was trying to deal with it in her own way.
That was all it took, all her self-belief went out of the window and she began immediately doubting herself. No matter how much all of us outside of that situation can say the stranger was clearly a nutter/busy body who had no right to make such a statement, it doesn’t matter. All my friend could hear in her head for the rest of the day were those words, questioning her ability as a mother.
I had a similar incident after having my second child.
I honestly thought, “second child, easy peasy- I know what I’m doing this time, it’s going to be fine.”
Someone once told me the definition of ‘fine’ is:
I can confirm that since having my second child I have been all of the above at certain points.
My second baby was diagnosed with severe reflux, much worse than our first daughter. Reflux is distressing for all involved. Immediately I looked to blame myself for why this was happening again.
“It’s because I was so sick through the pregnancy, I didn’t eat much dairy so I’ve made her intolerant’’
“It’s because my milk is ‘bad’”
“It must be something I’m eating”
“My milk flow is too fast”
“IT’S MY FAULT”
I joined a Facebook reflux support group and went to see a paediatrician. He made me realise that medication was the only thing that may help her and wasn’t convinced that changing my diet would make a significant enough difference. I was relieved. After 9 months of nausea I couldn’t bear the thought of completely abstaining from all dairy. I’m so selfish, such a bad mum not prepared to quit breastfeeding (which I loved) or change my diet. Constant self-doubt and questioning ensued.
One warm sunny day I was waiting for the bus at Bondi Junction. I had my newborn in the ergo carrier, my toddler was having a melt-down because she wanted a ‘whole’ biscuit but when I’d opened the wrapper it was broken. I should mention that the lead up to this day was, as any new mum may relate to, severely sleep deprived. I’d been functioning on about 3 hours of broken sleep a night for the previous few weeks and hadn’t been able to master the art of getting 2 kids under 2 to sleep at the same time in the day.
Finally my toddler stopped screaming about her broken biscuit and I heaved a sigh of relief as she began quietly sucking away on her dummy (this is what dummies are for).
Everything was calm.
Next thing I know, a random passer by stops and shouts at me,
“You are killing your baby!”
Horrified, I looked up to see a lady, around my mum’s age, staring at me in disgust.
“Excuse me?”I could barely speak but managed to force the words out.
“You shouldn’t have your baby in that outfit or that carrier, I know these things. You are killing her. I know what I’m talking about.”
I looked on in amazement, like a startled rabbit. I’d half expected someone to say something when my toddler was having her tantrum, but this was so unexpected. I froze.
“I don’t think that’s any of your business actually ” I managed to comeback at her with.
She stormed off ranting under her breath that “I was killing my baby”.
I was gob-smacked. When you’ve had no sleep for weeks and something totally bonkers like that happens you start to question whether it was real or not.
Suddenly I felt someone’s arm wrap around my shoulder and heard their voice saying angrily,
“What an idiot. Who the hell does she think she is?”
The tears poured out of my eyes and down my face with such force it was like a dam had just burst. I could barely breathe, let alone speak.
Immediately I believed her – this stranger who had shouted at me.
I must be doing something wrong. I’m a terrible mother. I don’t know what I’m doing.
All those self-doubting and negative words buzzing around my head making me feel dizzy.
A few other people at the bus stop came over to say how sorry they were at what had happened but it didn’t matter, the damage had been done. She had questioned my ability as mother, and I was hanging onto her every word. What she didn’t know was that I’d spent ages procrastinating about what to dress the baby in before leaving the house. Aware that it was a hot day, she was too young to wear sunscreen but also that I would only be outside for a few minutes whilst waiting for the bus. The rest of the time would be in the air conditioned shopping centre. I’d deliberated for a good few minutes and carefully selected a special summer babygrow so there was no risk of sunburn and she wouldn’t get too cold. Oh my Godness – I’d obviously got it wrong. I’M A TERRIBLE MOTHER!
Of course as time has gone by I have moved on from this upsetting day. I do know that she was just a strange individual and that I was of course not killing my baby by dressing her that way or by using a baby carrier. As I continue on this journey of motherhood I know that there will be many more occasions when I will doubt myself and be affected by the words of others, especially if they get me at a time when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable.
Recently social media has been campaigning to remind us to treat other people with respect and thoughtfulness as you never know what battle they may be fighting. I wholeheartedly support this campaign.
Being a parent is wonderful and challenging in equal measure.
We must be kind and not judge others on how they bring up their children. We don’t know the personal struggles they may be fighting.
And if a stranger takes it upon themselves to question what you are doing, don’t allow that self-doubt to swallow you up.
Instead, remember it’s:
YOU your child asks for when they are sick or upset.
YOU they cry for when you leave them.
YOU they jump into and wrap their little arms and legs around so tightly in excitement and happiness when they see you again – even if you’ve only been apart a short while.
Whilst there may be tough days, tantrum days and downright dire days….for every smile, kiss or cuddle we get from our children, let’s take that as the best and most constructive performance review we could ever ask for. This is our childrens’ way of telling us that we are doing a great job and whilst we may not be perfect, they love us.
Either that, or we should adopt the self-belief of my toddler, who will not be swayed once she has made up her mind she is right.
Case in point. It was an argument I was never going to win.