Seven years ago today, I became a mom. It was as humbling then as it is today. While I strive for a Utopian work-family balance, sometimes I feel like a miserable failure.
Reflecting back on those first days and weeks and months of motherhood, I can't say I enjoyed it much. I felt awful. I had extreme difficulty with breastfeeding; I felt overwhelmed and overly-anxious, lonely, crippled with sleep deprivation, and torn between staying home with my baby or going back to the job I previously loved. I felt plagued with guilt and fear, and suffered from severe postpartum depression. I slept about 8 hours a week for roughly 6 months. I thought I was losing my mind.
How I managed to get myself out of this is a long story, but somehow my husband and I were able to reinvent our lives from two parents with full-time jobs and a (wonderful) nanny, to two parents running home-based businesses and ample time for ourselves and our family.
Though often I feel like my family is totally out of balance (and always feel like it's my "fault" if we are), I endeavor to keep us all on track, and have ample time/space for everything, everyone, and be fully present in every moment.
It's extremely challenging to cultivate balance, and feel happy in all aspects of our lives, but I truly believe it's possible. I have a long, detailed strategy of how I balance family and work, but even with all my lists and systems and strategies, it doesn't always work.
In those moments, when everything comes unraveled, I try to not judge myself, because that's just the way it is with kids sometimes. It's a mess, and it's magic, all at the same time.
So all this is to say, keep striving for balance, people. I believe we CAN enjoy our work and family and ourselves, if we make it our top priority.
As a new parent, you will do anything to shush your baby's tears. You feed and rock and bounce and pat and change your baby, in an effort to comfort and ensure that all of their precious little needs are met. But sometimes, in your rush to instantly stop the crying, you might miss the opportunity to learn your baby's cries, understand their different tones, and respond accordingly.
Around sleep, there's a lot of controversy about whether or not you should let your baby "cry it out" and help them learn to fall asleep independently, or cuddle, nurse and soothe your baby at every opportunity, round the clock. There's a lot of judgment about this, so as best as you can, try to ignore all the theories and opinions that don't work for you and your family. If you want to co-sleep and you're all sleeping well, who cares what your mother-in-law says?!? Alternately, if your 6 month-old baby is waking every hour, and you're becoming suicidal, you shouldn't rule out some form of sleep training because your best friend thinks it's bad.
Now I’m not saying that you should ignore your baby's cries. I’m just saying that crying is a normal and healthy behavior, and though it's excruciating to hear your baby cry, it’s really nothing to panic about. I cried like a baby the other day because I was tired and hormonal and frankly, I just needed to get it out!
Our cultural-adult tendencies are to squelch tears, but sometimes we just need to cry, and so do our kids, despite our attempts to stop them. My kids (4 and 6) still cry when they're hungry or tired, or need to pee but don't want to stop playing, or simply because I won't let them have candy for dinner. Eventually, as our babies grow into kids, we become accustomed to crying and realize that it's just part of parenting, and sometimes, our kids just need to get it out, just like we do!
I want to live in a world where parents don’t have to choose between career or family or self; a world in which all parents have meaningful, flexible work, and have ample time to simply be with their families without constantly rushing. I want to live in a world where parents feel fully supported by society and by their communities and by each other. Yes I know it sounds Utopian, but...
The truth is that we don’t live in this world unless we create it. We have to build community, make time for ourselves and demand flexibility from our jobs, or create businesses of our own so we can design our lives to work around our families. It’s challenging to live life the way we really want, but I truly believe we can do anything we set our minds to. So strive for happiness, work less, play more, put yourself on your priority list, and enjoy life as much as you possibly can!
Because really, how many of our kids will ever think, If only my parents had worked harder and made more money!?!
Parenting is really, really hard. I've got 2 kids, 2 years apart, and I'm still humbled daily by the endlessness of parenting. Nobody told me I would have these feelings, but I swear every mom feels them. Even if you don’t admit these things to yourself, guilt may be secretly wearing away at your very core, threatening to take you down. Here are Five Mom Taboos, with correlating Guilt-Liberation Tips.
1. We feel like failures at everything. Whether we work at home, outside the home, or we’re the primary caretaker, we feel like we’re never doing anything good enough. I know you’ve heard these voices in your head: I’m a terrible mom, a lousy wife, a bad friend and I’m so tired, I can’t even do my job!
Guilt-Liberation TIP: Resist multitasking, cultivate efficiency, and re-program those negative voices! You’re not a failure; you’re a mom, you’re doing your best, and that IS good enough. Pinky promise.
2. We let our kids watch more TV than we admit. I’ve finally stopped agonizing about this now that my kids are 4 and 6, but I am guilty of lying to friends about how much TV they watch, and I know the lies are reciprocal!
Guilt-Liberation TIP: Chances are, if you’re reading this, your kids have very well-rounded worlds and have a LOT of stimulation. Give yourself a break, and worry about something else!
3. We want to run away. OK, maybe it’s just me, but some days I seriously feel like I just can’t take it anymore. Last week I was feeling particularly cagey from caring for sick kids ALL WINTER, and I thought, if I hear Mommy! one more time, I’m going to die, or leave, or both!
Guilt-Liberation TIP: Thinking about leaving and doing it are different. If your kids are driving you nuts, go away with a girlfriend for a day or a week, so when you come back you, want really want to be there! (I go away with a girlfriend for a week every year and it’s amazing, try it sometime!)
4. We have violent feelings sometimes. Yes, it’s true. We all have them. It’s those moments when your inconsolable baby is screaming at 3am, or your toddler is having a tantrum and hitting you.
Guilt-Liberation TIP: Relax, it’s normal. Yes, you might lose your cool with your kids, and feel TERRIBLE when you do (been there!), but beating yourself up about something you merely thought is a waste of energy.
5. We’re not interested in sex. After childbirth (or c-section), 24/7 hour breastfeeding, between the full time day-job or childcare-job (SO much harder); between laundry, groceries, poops and puke, I’m sorry man, sex isn’t on the priority list!
Guilt-Liberation TIP: You don’t have to pretend to be interested, just throw him a bone every now and again. Or trade for a massage if necessary. It will help your marriage, I promise!
Some people ask me if I believe in any particular parenting theory, and the answer is no, I don’t. I don’t subscribe to one parenting theory in the same way I don’t subscribe to any one religion. Yes I read Buddhist philosophy and I meditate, but that by no means makes me a Buddhist.
One of my favorite Buddhist quotes is: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Of course this is loosely translated from Sanskrit, but I love the sentiment and apply it to my life daily.
Like religion, many new parents are looking for a book or theory that will give them all the answers. The problem with following one theory or one religion, is in the consequences. For example, some parenting theories (and religions) argue that if you don’t follow their principles, you will create an emotionally damaged child (or go to Hell). Sorry folks, but this doesn’t agree with my common sense or reason!
When I speak with confused new families, I suggest they try to forget everything they’ve read and everything they’ve heard and everything they think they SHOULD do, and then simply look carefully at their babies and at each other and in their own hearts.
The answers are not in a book or a theory or in anything you can buy. So go and throw out all your parenting books and listen to your own reason and common sense!
Today I want to honor my colleague-partner-client, Sara Frohlich, who recently joined the New Mom Club with the birth of her son, Henry. Sara, this message is dedicated you, and all Newborn Moms:
You have crossed into an unknown land, one that you’ve heard spoken of, but have never before entered. Now that you’ve arrived, it may be a much nicer terrain than you imagined, but it may also be a surprisingly dark and scary place. You may find breastfeeding difficult. You may not instantly “bond” with your baby. You may cry more than your baby does. You may wonder whose idea this was, or feel angry and helpless and alone. You may feel totally in control one minute, and then completely out of control the next. You may stare at your baby for hours and forget to brush your teeth. You may berate yourself for all the aforementioned things, especially considering millions of women do this every day. How can this possibly be so hard?
Now, I want you to hear this loud and clear: Every new mom feels these things. Every new mom struggles. Every new mom wonders if they’re doing it right; if they’re good enough for this job. Every new mom feels guilt, and fear and doubt. Every new mom cries. Every new mom wonders why other moms look more “together” than they do. Every new mom is sleep deprived, and it’s a bitch. Especially when you hit that two week mark and you’re so tired it feels like a bottomless pit.
The good news is that the coming days and weeks and months are all revolving PHASES. It will get easier, and you will sleep again, I promise. If you can make it to 6 weeks, you can do anything. Meanwhile, let people help you. Accept food from strangers, let your friend do your laundry, and if you need anything at all, I’m here!
Before we have kids, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us have NO idea what we’re getting into. As new couples, we look at families with children and we think warm, glowing, happy thoughts. We name our hypothetical babies in bed as we cuddle with our partners. We dream about becoming mothers ourselves, but don’t truly understand what’s going to happen if and when that happens. In the media, motherhood looks beautiful. Expectant mothers “glow”, they instantly fall in love with their babies, they giggle and play with their kids in the park – they look happy! And maybe many of them are, but as a mother of two young children, I see the another side, and I worry for all the moms who think they should be happy, when they’re really not. I see a lot of moms who are pretending, because it’s not socially acceptable to be an Unhappy Mom. What about those of us who hated being pregnant, hated breastfeeding; those of us who didn’t instantly bond with our babies and really felt (if we’re truly honest with ourslves) that having a newborn was more of a trauma than a difficult childbirth? What about those of us who really miss our former bodies and sleeping in and having private time and reading novels and having our own identities beyond mom/wife/worker? The societal pressure to be Happy Moms is driving many women into a deep, dark depression, and we need more honesty and open dialogue about how we’re really feeling. If not for our own sakes, for our children – to become better, more honest mothers and role models. It’s OK not to feel all the things the media tells us we should feel. And it doesn’t make you a Bad Mom if you don’t love motherhood 100% of the time. I’m curious to hear from moms about this. How many of you feel like a Bad Mom at least some of the time? Please tell me I’m not alone!
There’s a problem that I’ve been trying to put my finger on for some time. The status quo isn’t working for most parents, but it’s so deeply ingrained in us, most of us don’t see there’s a problem at all. I think it’s part of an American cultural phenomenon stemming from the disintegration of extended families and tribal communities. We’re so conditioned to do everything ourselves, it’s become increasingly difficult to accept help, especially from strangers. How many times have you answered a well-meaning friend or acquaintance with, “Oh no, I’m fine” when you really could use a hand. We often secretly wish someone would step in and take over, take our kids for a few hours, or cook us a meal when we’re sick, but most of the time, we deny help. Why? What is it about our culture that is so fiercely independent, that we won’t accept help? New parents: Will you accept help when someone offers? If it’s free, or within your means to afford, I encourage you to open your arms and accept it. You only become a parent once in your life, and other parents understand how you’re feeling. So step aside and let us help you!
If you’ve moved beyond pregnancy and childbirth books, you might begin to notice that there’s a HUGE theoretical divide amongst parenting experts about how you should care for your baby. On one (very popular) side, there are credentialed individuals who advocate for attachment parenting, based on Dr. Sears theory that we should sensitively respond to our babies cues, feed them on demand, and be physically attached to our babies at all times (including co-sleeping and baby-wearing). On the other side, we have Dr. Weissbluth and many other credentialed individuals who recommend exactly the opposite, based on theories that parents should take the lead, foster independence, sleep-train, and create feeding and sleeping routines our babies. Both sides of the theoretical argument suggest (roughly) that if we DON’T follow their advice, we will have needy, and/or emotionally insecure children. If you’re already getting heart palpitations, take a deep breath, because it gets worse. You will soon learn that EVERYONE has an opinion about how you should care for your baby, and most of it is conflicting. Seriously, in the hospital with our first baby, one nurse responded to our babies cries with, “No wonder she’s crying, it’s so cold in here!” and she swaddled her up. Moments later another nurse came in and scolded us for having the baby swaddled and said, “No wonder she’s crying, she must be so hot!” And that was just the beginning of the unsolicited advice onslaught. The one thing that the experts aren’t saying, is that there is no single theory or book that has all the answers. There is no right and wrong way to care for your baby. So take that stack of newborn and parenting books, and read it all with a grain of salt. YOU are the only expert you need to care for your baby. And don’t worry – despite your deepest fears, you’ll be a great mom!
I’m a control freak and I know it. Many of my women friends are; we simply can’t help it. We’re so used to being in charge of everything, we forget that other people can sit in the driver’s seat if we let them. I realized much later than I’d care to admit, that if I allowed my husband to be completely in charge of our kids, the world didn’t end. And when I managed to restrain myself from micro-managing the details, he did (and still does) an amazing job! I caught myself often grumbling about why I was always the one packing for the kids when we went out of town, and why it was my job to be in charge of knowing when the kids' needed new shoes or coats. But before my feminist feathers got too ruffled, I really thought about it one day, and realized that I had set it up that way myself. So often I see new moms worry when they’re not completely in charge of their babies every detail. As new moms, we may feel compelled to give instructions about how to hold the bottle or change a diaper or put the baby down for a nap. But it’s important to remember that we have to back off and really, truly let dads develop their own parenting style. Moms go through the trial and error of learning to breastfeed, burp, soothe and get our babies to sleep. If you have a partner who really wants to be an active participant in caring for your baby/ies, by all means, don't stand in his way. Not only will you be more relaxed and have more time for yourself, you might just fall in love all over again watching him take charge and give you a much deserved break!