When my son was born, I felt so completely lost. He was a terrible sleeper. He refused to eat more than a few bites of food at each meal. He only wanted to be held by my husband. I would call my mom for parenting advice, and she would help as best she could, but the truth was, nothing seemed to help. He was a difficult baby, and there was no magic formula for fixing the myriad of problems I faced as a new mother.
One day, I paced around the room with him as he fussed in my arms while my mother watched me on Skype. I was exhausted from trying to figure out what to do with him. I felt like I had tried and failed at every method that should have gotten him on some sort of routine. I wanted someone, anyone, to give me an answer that would work.
“I don’t know what to do with him,” I told my mom. “How do I make him eat? How do I make him sleep?”
Then my mother said the six words that instantly and completely changed the way I approached parenting.
“Stop trying to figure it out,” she said.
I stopped pacing for a moment, realizing she was right. It was as if the lens through which I processed motherhood had suddenly become clear in a way I had never known before. I saw for the first time that there were no answers. At least not for me — not now — not in this moment. There was no magic cure for my baby, and struggling against that truth was killing me. I needed to let go of the expectations I had built up around motherhood in order to survive. I needed to stop trying to figure it out and simply live it out.
I wasn’t enjoying my son’s infancy because I was so focused on all the things that were “wrong.” The truth was, he would eat eventually. He would sleep eventually. Trying to force him into a pattern wasn’t worth the stress I felt when I failed to build a “normal” routine. We would find our groove eventually — my mother knew it, and deep down, I knew it too. It‘s why her words echoed in my mind, and why they became the cornerstone of my parenting philosophy going forward.
As I began to let go of the unrealistic vision I had in my head about what motherhood should look like, I found that all the problems I had been obsessing over weren’t such a big deal after all. If he didn’t nap at a certain time every day, it didn’t have to lead to a mental breakdown on my part. He would doze off when he was sleepy, sometimes with his head on my shoulder where he felt safe. By not worrying about whether or not I was doing things wrong, I was actually able to enjoy motherhood. I did not need to have it all figured out, and I realized, none of us do.
Of course I still worry from time to time. I’m a mother, and I’m only human. I want my kids to eat balanced meals and stop watching so much TV and not act like borderline psychopaths when talking to the cat and sleep (oh my god, I want them to sleep like normal children), but none of these things are the crux of my parenting anymore. I do not measure my success as a mother by the difficult phases or some unattainable ideal routine I imagined before I had kids. I measure it in love and whether or not I show up and give it my all.
It turns out that when you aren’t busy trying to figure out what’s wrong, you realize how much you’re doing right.
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