Find your self-love, Mama!
As a sleep coach, I talk to new moms all the time with their own mom in attendance. And Grandma will often remark "I don't know why babies don't sleep these days. In my day, we just put them in the crib and walked away and they slept". Well, yes. Right there folks- I just gave my baby space to learn and she did it on her own. Sleep used to be, like many things about parenting, different 20+ years ago.
Modern parenting is stressful! It's really hard, actually! I can remember being pregnant with my first and being bombarded by the options. Babywearing or stroller? Baby-led weaning or purees? Solids at 4 months? No! Wait, 6 months? What to cook for baby! Because GASP my baby can't have anything processed AT ALL! Oh and then there's the whole pacifier debate? Will it prevent SIDS? Oh CRAP! SIDS! I need to research that! How did I miss that one? And the list went on and on and suddenly I felt completely unprepared to parent my daughter who was already depending on me every day just to keep her alive in my womb. The responsibility felt HUGE.
As my children arrived, and we survived all of those tough big decisions, the shift moved to so many more big decisions. What will we do about sleep? Or our lack of it? Daycare or dayhome? Preschool vs. Montessori? And the more I met other moms and other children, I learned we were all making a variety of choices. Raising completely unique little individuals. With different beliefs and values and cultures. And sometimes I'd find moms just like me, and other times I'd find parents who did everything differently. Yes, we still held something in common. Choices in our parenting and a desire to raise happy and healthy children. The absolute goal of parenting to raise well-adjusted people who know love and are ready to enter the world on their own, when that day one day comes. (YES, feel free to live in denial...I do too!).
Look, we might not nail it. Some choices might not work out perfectly. And as I've learned, we sometimes say things like I once did and totally change our stance. I'll never forget being pregnant and reading a very ignorant blog about 'sleep training " that lead me to believe I'd NEVER allow my child to go through such a barbaric ritual. And fast-forward to a child not sleeping, both of use losing brain cells every day, and suddenly the next thing I know my children are both sleeping and I've studied to become a sleep coach! HA! My old self would NEVER have believed that one!
Mama guilt is an awful phenomenon. We all get it. 20-20 parenting is what I call it. Hindsight can be so clear. If I'd just taught my child to sleep earlier! Or if I'd only known I shouldn't use a pacifier! I hear this all the time. So not only are we agonizing over every little choice and decision we need to make but then re-analyzing the results and often feeling guilty that we didn't nail it 100% and that another choice would have been better. Would it? Is it our child's life or ours? Could it be that what we did was fine and that our child is learning on his or her learning curve? Could it be that we made the right decision at that particular moment in time with what we knew and believed to be true?
When I was pregnant, I read a very ignorant article on "sleep training" that left an awful taste in my mouth. I quickly decided that I'd never leave my baby to cry AT ALL and declared that my baby would learn to sleep the "natural" way. Wel, fast forward to a baby who wasn't sleeping AT ALL at 5.5 months and a mother dying of sleep deprivation and spiraling towards post-partum anxiety and depression, and I suddenly found myself changing my mind! Look at that! We have no idea what our future will look like. The old me would never believe that I later studied to become a sleep coach and have helped hundreds of families to gently develop sleep for their children. HA! We evolve through our journey!
Mama guilt has no place in parenting. I mean, OK. Feel bad for your child when things are hard for them. Learn from your lessons. But don't let the guilt bully you. It's not fair to you, and it isn't fair to your child. Afterall, you've already taught your child to eat. To smile. To laugh. Don't dismiss how hard these tasks were for your or your child. You're parenting just by showing love and affection and devotion to teaching your child every day about what life is! You've GOT this! You're a GREAT mom!
But, if you really need some validation that you're doing a great job, I'll provide a few ways that I've found a reference point over the last few years:
- Listen to what others are saying to you. Really listen to the message behind the words. When you are at a coffee shop and a stranger approaches to tell you how sweet and well-behaved your children are, really listen. Not to the words, but to the message. The stranger is telling you that you're doing a great job. Your children stand-out because of the great job that you've done. And they wouldn't come over to tell you if it wasn't true!
- Believe in yourself. We never fail at parenting until we stop trying. We might need help, resources or even experts. We may need more patience or time. But if you're trying to help your child and teach your child, you're already amazing. The strongest parents are the parents who work hard every day to do their best. Whatever that best is.
- Be patient. You aren't giving him back, are you? 18 years = 6,570 days of parenting. You don't have to get it perfect today. You've got time for plenty of mistakes, life lessons, and grace on this journey. Perfectionism is an unrealistic goal and you'll learn more about this little person every day.
- Gauge your success in what your child does well not what your child struggles with. My mom was a single mom. My brother got sick as a baby and as a result, had learning disabilities. Sure, he had a lot of school struggles, but she always focused on what an amazing person he was/is. And that's no lie, he's always the first person to help someone out. He's so compassionate and caring. He eventually caught up in school, graduated, and got a career, wife, and children and he'll passionately tell you that his mom had flaws, but she was the most loving Mama who worked so hard to raise him the best she could. Isn't that what we are going for?
- Prioritize the problems you're facing. I often meet parents who are overwhelmed with sleep being so off-course, but also that baby isn't eating well. So they question if they should even do anything? Perhaps waiting until she's older will be better? The amazing thing is that when parents start with the biggest problem (such as sleep) we often end up with a baby who starts eating better BECAUSE she's better rested and on a great nutritional routine. Or, if she doesn't we now have a Mama who is well-rested and ready to tackle the next challenge. We can't do it all and our children need us to focus and pace ourselves because they can only handle so many changes as well! Don't try to do it all. If you're slowly pitching away, you're winning!
And, lastly. The BIG ONE. Self-care. You can't fill up a cup from an empty pitcher. I'm the first to admit that I spent YEARS justifying why I couldn't take time for myself. What if she needs to eat and I'm not back yet? What if she misses me? What if both kids are too much for my husband? It's not fair that I leave, I signed up for this! But yet, parenting is a 2nd job on top of our careers. We HAVE to find our breaks. We leave our careers every day because it wouldn't be healthy not to! We need to rejuvenate and find balance and even our employers know that. Even our government insists on it! We must do it by law.
What if you put breaks and rest into your family law? What if your daughter saw you take time for yourself? Do you want to teach her that self-care is important? Will she believe you if you don't take time for YOU? What is the message she hears when she sees you head off to Yoga for an hour on a Saturday? Is it that you don't care about her or is that you care enough to take care of what you have to do so that you come back to her, happier than ever? Prepared to be patient and more present? Your mental health is important. Your health depends on it and when we start taking care of ourselves, our mindset changes. The role of parenting actually becomes easier. We find clarity and we live in the moment. And our children are learning from us- so when they see us finding what makes us happy, they are more likely to find thier happy.
So, learn. Grow. Love and let the guilt GO. You are enough, Mama. More than enough.
Michelle McAvoy is the owner of Bliss Wellness & Sleep. She is certified both as a Health Coach and as a Sleep Coach and she works to help parents to find sleep for their children and improved wellness for themselves. You're invited to book a FREE discovery call to learn how she could help you and your family achieve BLISS and complete joy in your lives!