It didn't take me long to realize that, as a mother, I was going to "fail" on a regular basis. In fact, it was the second I held my son. Looking at his perfect face, I realized that I would never live up to the standard I had arbitrarily set for myself. I wouldn't be able to protect him from pain and I wouldn't be able to always be there and I wouldn't have all the answers to his questions. Thankfully, it also didn't take me long to learn the rules every mom should follow when she feels like she's failing; rules that remind you that mistakes are human and normal and unavoidable and just because they happen, doesn't mean you're "failing" at all.
The expectations society places on mothers are brutal, to say the least. Not only do we have to make sure our postpartum bodies don't look like they've just grown and birthed another human being, but we have to love every single aspect of motherhood and not give up on our own ambitions but quit work after we've had a baby. We have to be "perfect" and we shouldn't ask for help and we shouldn't take time out for ourselves, because that's "selfish." I mean, it's relentless and impossible to live up to and when we inevitably don't, we feel like we're failing. Well, I do at least. I am constantly trying to remind myself that I'm capable and the best person to be my son's mother and the only person he runs to when he's scared or hurt or just in need of a hug. I have to tell myself that the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy that I felt when I held him for the first time wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to my son and it certainly wasn't fair to me. Being scared of motherhood is normal — because holy sh*t is it scary — but I am capable (and so are you).
So, I can't say that every mother shouldn't feel like she's failing. That would be nothing short of hypocritical because, well, I feel that way on a pretty regular basis. I can, however, remind every mother that those feeling aren't fair, and they're certainly not accurate representations of how well she's doing as someone's mom. So, with that in mind, here are a few rules moms should follow when self-doubt rears its ugly head:
Rule 1: Take A Moment To Find Neutral
It's easy to get swept up in a busy routine that leaves little time for you to stop and breathe and gain perspective. However, that's exactly what you need to do when you feel like you're failing.
When the day is getting away from me and I've messed up a meal or spilled something all over myself or forgot something for my son or just made a few too many mistakes, I usually retreat to the bathroom for a few minutes. I'll grab my phone and put on some music and close my eyes and let whatever is going on around me fade into the background. Do those few minutes change anything? Nope. However, they do give me a chance to re-charge and tackle the situation from a different angle; one that doesn't involve me thinking I'm a failure.
Rule 2: Ask For Help
Whether you have a parenting partner or not, you're not in this alone. I know that when I feel like I'm failing, it's usually because I've taken on too much and overwhelmed myself. In those moments (even when it hurts my pride or ego) I know I need to ask for help.
The expectations our society — and in turn, other people — have of mothers are outrageous, yet they're also somewhat difficult to avoid. While I know that I'm being held to a standard that fathers aren't, I still find myself judging my own capabilities when I fail to meet that standard. That's when I know I need to ask for help and share the responsibilities of parenthood with someone.
Rule 3: Remember All You've Accomplished
I can safely say that I'm my harshest critic (and that's saying something, trust me). I hold myself to such a ridiculous standard that I forget all that I've accomplished.
I had a very difficult pregnancy, that involved numerous hospital stays, a blood infection, losing a twin son at 19 weeks, pre-term labor scares and a slew of other complications. I ended up birthing a baby that was alive, and a baby that wasn't. However, I also made it through those difficulties and that's worth remembering. So, when I feel like I'm failing as a mom, I look back and remember what I've already survived and accomplished. I take stock at what I've provided my son and tell myself that I may have lost one little battle, but I'm winning the overall war.
Rule 4: Look For The Lesson
While feeling like you're failing is kind of the worst and something I try to avoid, I also learn more from my failures (or perceived failures) than I do from my successes.
The mistakes I've made as a mother, have only made me a better mother. Each mistake teaches me something that I can carry with me as I continue to parent my son. So, when you feel like you're failing, look for the lesson. It's there, and it will help you not only avoid the mistake you've made, but give you the confidence you need to get through the next mistake (because you're human, and mistakes are inevitable).
Rule 5: Stay Off Social Media
No, but really.
Look, I love social media just as much as the next millennial. In fact, it's somewhat of a life-line for me. I live far away from the majority of my family and friends (the other side of the country, in fact) so social media is my connection to the people who love me and care about me and support me. However, it's also a great source of self-doubt and judgment, and that's the last thing I need when I feel like I'm not good enough to be my son's mom. The filtered posts and perfect pictures and the declarations of wonderful, pain-free lives are all beautiful to see, but they're not necessarily "real," and they certainly aren't something I need to be staring at when my house is a disaster and dinner is burnt and my son is throwing a tantrum and I'm behind on a work deadline.
Rule 6: Talk To Someone You Trust
Anytime I feel like I'm failing, those feelings are usually compounded if I don't have the chance to talk about them. That's when, of course, a friend comes in handy.
Yes, I can (and do) talk to my partner, but sometimes I just need to be in the presence of women who understand what it's like to be judged differently than men. Knowing that I can talk to my girlfriends — some who have children, and some who don't — and not only be understood, but be supported, is paramount. Noting makes me feel better than knowing I'm not alone, and that I'm not the only mother that feels like she's not always at the top of her parenting game.
Rule 7: Do Something Just For You
I've noticed that the moments when I feel like I'm a complete mess are moments brought on by absolute exhaustion. When I'm well-rested, have had some "me time," and have done something for myself (and just myself) I don't feel like I'm making mistakes on a regular basis.
So, if you feel like you're not up to par, take a break. Go get a coffee or go see a movie or go take yourself out to a solo-dinner. Go out with girlfriends or lock yourself in the bathroom with a book and a bubble bath or do whatever makes you feel better about simply being you.
Rule 8: Be Kind To Yourself
This is arguably the most important rule a mom can (and should) follow.
Listen, failure happens. Mistakes happen. No one is immune to either and, honestly, life would be pretty damn boring without them. Be kind to yourself when you don't live up to this picture-perfect ideal that is nothing if not completely impossible. You're doing a wonderful job and your kid (or kids) adore you and you're the only person on the planet cut out to be your kid's mom.
Rule 9: Remember That No One Is Perfect
Supermom doesn't exist, you guys. You might think you've seen her — on Pinterest or Facebook or at the grocery store or at work or the playground or wherever — but she's a myth. No one is perfect, and neither are you.
Rule 10: Remind Yourself That, No Matter What, Your Baby Loves You
You might feel like you're failing, but try and see what your kid sees.
Your kid sees a mother who loves them relentlessly and endlessly and so damn much it physically pains her. Your kid sees someone who protects them and comforts them and cherishes them. Your kid sees a hard worker who will do whatever it takes to provide for her children. See yourself through your kid's eyes and remember that no matter how many mistakes you make or how often you feel like you're failing, your kid loves you.