It happened this week.
I was in our house one morning, feeding the dogs, when suddenly I realized that baby Bear had been quiet for about five minutes. Not a peep.
What did I do? Obviously, I panicked. The kid was clearly dead, in some sort of SIDS/parental neglect catastrophe that had occurred the second I turned my back. (Never mind that he was safely in the Pack-and-Play: in my mind, something terrible had happened.)
So I race over, and what do I find?
This happy baby. Just sitting there, playing with his toys. Not making a peep.
File this one under: Happy baby, Happy mama.
And, gosh, you guys. Isn’t he so freaking cute?
A few weeks ago, at my postpartum checkup, my doctor asked me what about being a new mom most surprised me.
I answered her completely honestly, and told her that I was surprised at how much I loved it, how wonderful it was. Even despite the 3 a.m. feedings and the grocery store meltdowns, all it takes is one lopsided little grin from our baby boy, and I just melt.
I love him so much more than I ever could have imagined; it brings me to my knees, every single day.
But there’s a second thing that surprises me, one that I didn’t mention… and it’s a lot less wonderful to talk about.
There is so. much. pressure.
Oh my gosh, you guys. The amount of pressure on moms to do their job completely perfectly is so prevalent and so pervasive that it’s completely overwhelming.
Baby doesn’t sleep? There are literally five thousand books you must read.
Want to change something about the baby’s schedule or diet? Search the internet for seven straight hours. Read every forum post on TheBump and BabyCenter. Don’t give up until you find the answer, even if the answer is comment #463. You must read the first 462 to know for sure.
And you know what kind of a culture this creates?
In a world where you make a million different choices every single day, it gives you the information and opinions to second-guess every single one of them.
I’m a perfectionist. I’ll admit it. My whole life, I’ve shot for the A+. In high school, after getting an SAT score that was thirty points shy of the perfect 1600, I told my parents I wanted to take the test again. I wanted that perfect score, and I wanted more than anything. (Yes, I realize now how totally insane that was, and thankfully, my parents talked some sense into me.) But that’s just my personality.
And here’s what’s scary: I want to make the right decisions for our baby boy a million times more than I wanted that perfect SAT score.
And so I have been making myself completely crazy for the last three months.
I have been trying so hard to make everything perfect. To give him the perfect schedule, the perfect food, the perfect set of developmental activities, the perfect amount of one-on-one time with mom, and everything else I can think of. If there is a perfect way to raise a child, I have been determined to raise our baby that way, exactly that way, with no compromises whatsoever.
I have been treating parenting the way that I treated high school, and college, and law school, and my legal career: with single-minded determination to be the best.
And do you know what is a quick and easy way to make yourself completely insane?
Doing exactly that.
But, you know what? I realized it. This week, I had a moment where suddenly I realized just how hard I was being on myself, trying to be the perfect, A+ mom.
Because the reality is this: I am doing my best, but I am probably making mistakes as I go. There are some things that I don’t do by the book, because they don’t work for our son. I am trying as hard as I possibly can, and I am putting a ton of pressure on myself to make all the right decisions, but sometimes life gets in the way.
Case in point: this past week, I kept Bear up past his bedtime for a totally selfish reason. I was sitting at a cafe with a friend and we talked a little too long and by the time I get him home, it was half an hour past his usual bedtime and the kid was cranky.
Stinks, right? Sure. But then I got him to bed, and once he was peacefully sleeping, do you want to know what I did?
I beat myself up over it! I thought about how if I were a better mom, I’d have him in bed at 7:30 on the dot, every single night. I worried that skimping on a few minutes of sleep would cost him precious brain-development resources at this early age, and I made crazy resolutions like, “I will never meet a friend after 6pm ever again because it is not fair to our son to cost him half an hour of sleep.”
Yes, I do. Because he is my #1 priority, and when I do something, I do it perfectly.
Even when expecting perfection is making me completely miserable.
So here is my resolution, three months into our son’s life:
I will recognize my tendency toward alpha parenting.
And I will nip it in the bud.
I will spend time with our son engaged in activities he enjoys, and not just plow through a list of “recommended” and “right” things to be doing with him.
I will breastfeed him, which we both love, but I won’t make myself crazy if he has a few ounces of formula occasionally when I can’t be around.
I will not stress if his bedtime includes one or two “sleep cues” and not all the sleep cues that any baby book has recommended, in the world, ever.
I will make his life as conducive to sleep as I possibly can, but I will not burst into tears if the doorbell rings during his nap.
I will keep him away from germs, but my head won’t explode if Rambo licks his face.
I will do what works.
I will do my best.
And I will let perfection slide.
I think we’ll both be a lot happier this way.
Because motherhood isn’t something that’s graded. In a few years, when our son hits high school, he won’t score my performance. It’s not something that I can get an A+ in, and it shouldn’t be.
There are a million different ways to do it right. And the way I choose, the best way that works for our family, is just fine.
So instead of worrying about whether I’m doing everything perfectly, do you know what I’m going to do?
I’m going to look into our baby’s eyes. And watch him smile. And sing him songs and read him books and sometimes keep him up a half hour past his bedtime.
I’m going to spend my time enjoying his company, not reading parenting books.
We are going to have adventures.
We’ll probably make some mistakes.
And, you know what?
In fact, it’s better than ok.
What a month this has been – I’m sure I’ll say this constantly in your first year, but this was the biggest shift you’ve gone through. You’re out of the newborn realm, and I can hardly believe how much you’ve changed in just a few short weeks.
In a way, Month Three has been the hardest because I had all these expectations of what life would be like once you were three months old. In my starry-eyed, pre-baby mind, at three months old, you would be sleeping routinely through the night (obviously). Taking care of you during the day would be effortless (obviously). My days would be spent calmly and blissfully, enjoying your company and getting to know you as you grow (isn’t that what moms do?).
The reality is a lot different — not surprisingly, my pre-baby outlook had a lot of things wrong and a few things right. My time with you truly is blissful — watching you smile and laugh is, without a doubt, one of the happiest experiences I’ve ever had. Sometimes when I look at you, my heart can’t even contain the amount of love it holds — it washes over my whole body; it actually becomes physical.
But it is hard, too. For every moment that you smile, there is another moment when you cry — and there is no worse feeling than when you’re crying and I don’t know what to do. When you were about nine weeks old, at the very beginning of this month, you had a day when you didn’t nap at all, and by mid-afternoon you were so exhausted and over-tired that you just couldn’t stop crying. I tried everything to get you to sleep, but nothing worked, and I had so much stuff to do and no time to do it… but you were crying and I couldn’t put you down, so I just held you and rocked you and did my best.
It was tough. It was a really tough day. The memory itself is almost vague to me now, through the haze of my own sleep deprivation and frazzled nerves, but I remember honestly wondering, at that point, how we’d make it through the afternoon.
But you know what? Looking back, that afternoon was as bad as it ever got. The next day, things were different — you took a morning nap and I got some help in the afternoon and by the end of that week, things were fine. They weren’t easy, but they were fine. I could manage them again.
And now, just a few short weeks later, that afternoon feels like a distant memory. You’re a different baby these days — when you cry, it’s intense but short lived, and I know pretty quickly how to make you feel better. We’re learning this whole mother-baby thing together, you and I. Every day, we get a little better at it.
And a long time down the road, when I’m not in the thick of these day-to-day moments, what I will remember is this: Raising a baby is hard. It is very, very hard, and I will remember how hard it was.
But much more than that, I will remember those moments you smiled, when my heart opened up in a way that was so new and so intense that it physically took my breath away. I’ll remember the way you laughed when I sang you our favorite little songs, and the way I burst with pride over the smallest things you did.
I’ll remember how tiny you were in these early days, and how wonderful it felt to hold you in my arms any time I wanted.
And I’ll remember how quickly month three flashed by, in the blink of an eye.
Three months, already. How did that happen?
All my love,