If I Could Tell A New Mom One Thing

If I could tell a new mom one thing, it would be to trust yourself.

I carry guilt. For the ten times I am patient, I carry the one time I yell. For the ten times I play superheroes, I carry the one time I brush them off.

I carry these for a moment. On a particularly bad day, I carry them for hours.

But what keeps me up at night is not these moments.

Even the day when I thought I would hit my children because I was so tired and angry and lonely. I don’t carry that day because I walked away from the crib or the room or the car.

And walking away takes fortitude. Courage. Strength.

No, what keeps me up at night are the moments I took someone else’s advice.

Not a suggestion on how to make gluing paper easier or whether a 5-year-old can handle Star Wars. But those moments I thought: I am a bad mom. My kid won’t {sleep, eat, stop hitting, listen} and these other’s moms and experts know how and even they though what they suggest goes against ever parenting instinct I have, I will do it. Because I must suck not accomplishing these {sleeping, eating, stop hitting, listening} milestones that prove our worth as caregivers.

Like a child sleeping through the night is a badge for the Mom Scout sash. Like it  proves anything beyond luck and inborn temperament.

It doesn’t. No matter what a mom, a mom board, an article, a doctor or your husband tell you.

My kids eat great, don’t sleep well and are sweet as can be, but my son once punched me in the face.

I didn’t win anything for the triumphs, but I lost at the failures. Not because I should have lost or won, but because I believed I had more control than I do.  I believed these moms who had kids who slept were doing something right. Or more importantly, I believed they were proof that I was doing something wrong.

At night, I lay there thinking of my son crying in his room because I was told that he needed to cry in his room at night. Or when he hit. Because I thought his crying and not sleeping and emotional-ness were my fault.  And so did most people.

And some part of me knew that most people felt this way. So I gave in. Even though my son would just cry harder.  Even though it didn’t help. Even though I sat in my basement and cried, too.

It’s not about whether he had gone to sleep after crying for ten minutes or cried for an hour. My guilt is about not ever wanting to let him cry like that. But doing  it anyway.

And I always knew it wouldn’t work. He’s my son. She’s my daughter. I know them. Not perfectly. But I know enough to know when some well-meaning or well-tested advice is not for them.

But sleep-deprived and sad, I had no backbone.

Today, I know the only time my son should be crying in his room is when I’m going to yell or hit him if I don’t leave. And that isn’t often.

And my daughter figures I must not hear her when she’s crying if I don’t show up and she comes to find me. Even if she’s crying over losing a marker that she used to draw her portrait. On the wall. Repeatedly. She still follows me around crying. And I pick her up. Because my love is not conditional on her use of markers. Because not picking her up doesn’t change whether she draws on the wall. Because we all do things we shouldn’t have done and sometimes we do them twice before we stop.

So if I could tell a new mom one things, it would be to test every suggestion, every book, every well-meaning blog and article against your heart. Against how you want to be treated. Loved. Respected.

When I had my children, I birthed instinct and guilt along with them.

So did you.

Trust your instinct.

And may love win.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

41 thoughts to “If I Could Tell A New Mom One Thing”

  1. This post brought tears of recognition.

    Yes, just last week–I still have 17 yr old guilt for how I let other moms tell me what to do.

    GD it I get so angry.

    But, as I get older, I want to be kinder to myself. I really need to be kinder to myself.

    But I was so desperate for friendships, I thought if Iagreed, I’d have friends: but in the end, I felt like I wasn’t true to myself or my baby.

    My grandmother said it best, in Spanish: Better alone than in bad company.

    Awesome post, A.

    1. I had to create mantras for years to remind myself that I was (am) a good mom. I wish more moms would realize that they aren’t that powerful except in their ability to love.
      It’s nice to be understood by another mama.

  2. If I could tell husbands on thing: I have tried explaining this to a few dads, but they dont really seem to get it. The single greatest regret/guilt I carry is not trusting my wife enough. Its so easy to get all “Mad Men” and think the little lady must being getting a little stir crazy being cooped up in the house all day. and we are fixers. we fix. its what we do. Surely she just needs us to get in there and tinker a little bit. the child will respond to more consistency – which only a man can really provide. and things always seem to get better when we get involved. see. nothing to worry about. just try a little harder mom. its too bad I can’t be here all the time. but we need bread on the table. just try to be a bit more like me and everything will stay better.
    It sounds so unbelievably douchey when you write it out. I never thought I would be that guy. But, that is how I let my family down. I started thinking I could do a better job than my wife. Its not because I’m a chauvinist. Its because I wanted everything to be normal. So I was willing to do/believe/listen to anyone or anything that told me it was “normal”. and willing to NOT BELIEVE my wife.
    I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make that right. Just like the guilt she has for going against her instinct, I’ll always have the guilt of wanting things to be O.K. so much that I didn’t trust and support the woman I married.
    You probably wont listen. Its just too easy to think you can fix it. But it will come at a cost – even on the very outside chance that you are right.

  3. Oh Alex this is such an amazing post. It takes a long time to build up that confidence within ourselves and trust our own path of mothering. I am happily at the point where I can nod with a fake smile as someone gives me advice I won’t use, knowing I’m comfortable doing it my way.

  4. This is beautiful and so very spot on. The best, best thing my husband did when we first brought a baby home was trust my instincts even more than I did, and it gave me courage to do things differently. The way they worked for us. Inspite of criticism from family and friends. Inspite of the terrific fear that maybe I was just doing it wrong since all these people said I was.

    When my sister had her baby, and her husband told her how to feed/swaddle/whatever, I shook inside. Instinct is a precious gift. And squashing it is one of the worst things we can do to one another.

    Of course, there have been moments when I succumb to the advice of others, well meaning, but fit for certain situations, not always mine. And those are moments that will haunt me too.

    When we met a new neighbor the other day, he talked about how as a parent you are truly not in control. All children go though phases and stages and our goal is not to stuff them into the right box, but help them find the most true path to being their best selves. I loved hearing that from a dad of four nearly grown kids.

  5. This is so beautiful.
    And so true.
    We carry so much guilt as mothers.
    I know for myself when I hear someone say “Well you should be doing x and y and z” it makes me question my parenting and makes me feel terrible about the choices I’ve made.
    But I need to realize that I’m doing a good job. I really am.
    Thanks for this post.

  6. I was just working on a post with a similar theme – you did a fantastic job! I so agree with you. People want to tell you how to do it “right” and then it becomes so confusing. My son is 2 and 1/2 and still rarely sleeps through the night. I guess I didn’t get that Mom Badge. 🙂

  7. Your post made me weep.

    Your husband’s comment made me go into the Ugly Cry.

    I may not have kids, but I’m bookmarking this in the hopes that I’ll be able to put this advice into practical use some day. Thank you.

  8. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.
    Even though I didn’t realize it until I read your words here.

    I had my first child two years after my sister had her last and (because I didn’t trust myself) I let her choices be mine.

    They didn’t work for us.

    Then I felt betrayed by magazines and books that promised their systems for feeding, sleeping, discipline would ‘work’. And they didn’t. (“What’s wrong with my kids that this is effective for everyone else? What’s wrong with me?”)

    I enrolled in a parenting class because surely an expert would solve our problems. (Can you tell I cared deeply about doing the right thing? That I wanted desperately to not just be a parent but a great parent? I did. Oh yes I did.)

    And what I learned – eventually – is that there is NOTHING (not. one. thing.) that works for everyone. For every child. For every family.

    What we must find is what works for US. Our children. Our family.
    I wish I’d known that sooner.

    Because yes. Guilt.
    Sadly, yes.

  9. What wonderful advice. I think the best thing I have ever done as a mommy (so far) was listen to myself. So many people have “well-meaning” advice, but the truth is, no one knows what style of parenting will work for you and your children EXCEPT YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN. Thank you for expressing the importance of trusting your self as a mommy in such an eloquent way.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Before my daughter was born someone told me that the best thing I could do was to trust my instincts and so frequently, I forget to do that and get pressured into things by friends and doctors. I’m going to save your post forever.

  11. Raw, real and thought provoking.

    My instincts have worked time and time again with my little man. It’s funny how we are programmed to be mamas of we would just put down the damn book and trust ourselves.

  12. “Like a child sleeping through the night is a badge for the Mom Scout sash. Like it proves anything beyond luck and inborn temperament.”

    I am shouting this from the rooftops.

  13. For the first time in a long time, my instincts are very unpopular with those around me. And that is uncomfortable.

    But I know who I’m advocating for and nothing. can. stop. me.

    Because when we listen to our intuition? We are unstoppable. And our kids are the direct beneficiaries of our good instincts.

  14. Beautiful. And so true. It’s not worth the guilt. We all do things our own way, but can be judged so heavily for it. It’s so unfair. That’s the dark side of this wonderful community — lots of support (when they agree) and lots of judging when they dont.

  15. Beautiful. Thank you for this! I have a 2 1/2 year old and still feel like a new mom some days! It’s so true – You have to do what you feel is right in your heart for you and your kids. Despite everyone’s best advice. I will remember this. Especially with #2 on the way and having to relearn newbornland with a toddler in tow.

  16. This is so exactly…Yes.

    I was in the exact same spot with Eddie. I thought I needed him to sleep on my schedule. I thought I had to listen to everyone. I thought I needed to let him cry. Even though all my insides said NOOOOOO!!!!

    I know better now. Thank the Lord.

    This is some of the BEST advice you can give to a new mom…it is so true…and so freeing.

  17. well said. I’m 3.5 months into my second round of mommy-ing and enjoying a billion times more because of knowing *this*. I wish so badly I had known then what I know now. I hate all the joy I missed out on because of the worrying and analyzing and obsessing I did.
    thanks for this!

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