Perhaps you’ve picked up a theme from my recent blogs. I’m hard on myself. I worry and mull and research and ponder. Mostly, I’m fine with that. It’s how I am. I like the workshopping. But sometimes I am reminded at how I can easily become stuck in the mire of musings.
“I think you’re way too had on yourself,” a friend told me last weekend while we baby-wrangled at the pool, referring to my recent blogs.
“Why are you so hard on yourself?” my husband asked last night after a massive dinner fail involving rejected, smeared enchiladas.
I get it. I’m hard on myself. I always have been. We could probably trace that back to some childhood experience where I fear failure and just want to please everyone. But, surprisingly, I have eased up a bit since my son was born.
Those first weeks and months as a new mom were brutal. Not only did I have no idea what I was doing (who does?), but I allowed myself to become completely overwhelmed. I quickly lost all sense of confidence and control. While I was pregnant, I did yoga and meditated and had a mantra — all to ensure that I could calmly and confidently welcome my son into the world (and yes, so that I wouldn’t gestate a nervous baby). It seemed to work. But then he arrived, and I fell apart.
Like I said, I’ve gotten better. I don’t allow the words “I’m a bad mom” to pass my lips. And I refuse to let myself say or think anything on the order of “I’ve totally messed this up.”
That’s not always easy when you immerse yourself in parenting books and blogs written by smug know-it-alls who think they have the answer to raising healthy, well-adjusted children. I have a friend who has one single piece of parenting advice: Don’t read parenting books. Instead, she trusts her instincts and that of her children. She has confidence in her decisions and isn’t as hampered by fear of mistakes.
“Pay attention. Try and fail and learn from your own kid,” she told me in a recent email.
I respect her confidence and lack of fear of failure (at least perceived). I’m working on building that every day (as I’m sure she is as well). I can’t guarantee I’ll lay off the parenting books and columns, but I can certainly put it all into perspective. I’ve become far more discerning of the philosophies and guidance, and spending far more time listening to my son and husband.
I also return to my mantras from time to time. When I was a young girl, my mother used to tell me to repeat this phrase: “I am beautiful. I am smart. I am loved.” Or something on that order, usually while looking in a mirror. I also had a running mantra when I was training for a marathon a few years ago: “I am stronger than I think I am. I can run farther than I think I can.”
Most recently, my motherhood mantra has been “It’s a phase. It’s a phase. It’saphaseit’saphaseit’saphase” — usually muttered while my boy stomps and claws and screams. It’s not the most graceful, transcendent mantra meant to remind me of what a calm, thoughtful mother I am (or want to be), but it works. (Muttering “I’m a good mother” just feels flat and contrived.)
It also reminds me to enjoy it, and almost laugh a bit at it all. It is a phase. All these moments are fast-moving phases that will end so fast. Even though not every single second is perfect and amazing, they are my seconds and my son’s and I should cherish as many as I can.
Sara Michael is a first-time mom with Type A tendencies. She likes rules, makes lists, and follows plans. That all seemed to work out fine until she had a baby. Now she balances her need for order and answers with the desire to enjoy the unpredictable journey she is on with her 2-year-old son (and a second on the way). Her day job? She is a writer and editorial director at a health care media company where she manages content for an online publication. Her journalism background started in daily newspapers, covering health, science and government. Follow her on Twitter @sara_the_writer.