As a new mom, it wasn't the punishing sleep schedule that was the hardest for me to get used to. It wasn't navigating the new collaborative effort of parenting with a partner. It wasn't even getting my head around the fact that, ever few hours for months on end, I would let a robot squeeze juice from my boobs that I would then feed to a human who come out of my vagina. (That's still incomprehensible, to be honest.) All those things carried their own challenges, sure, but the hardest thing about being a new mom was the nearly unbearable weight of worry that was suddenly pressing on me at all times.
I certainly knew that worrying constantly was part of the game when I signed on for parenthood. Moms worry, right? It's just what they do. Everyone knows that. I figured I would be an especially chill mom (because duh, of course I was annoying enough to assume I'd be cooler than most other people who did the same job I was about to start doing), but even then, I figured I would worry some. It would be totally manageable, though. Because of my chill.
I don't need to tell you that I was wrong, but I was wrong. All new parents are wrong. The first go at parenting, as far as I can tell and now that I'm five years into it, is mostly about making a lot of decisions and choices and then letting some time go by and then realizing that most of those choices were either wrong or didn't ultimately matter. Of course, I'm still on my first attempt at parenting, so I'm sure I'll realize I was wrong about that at some point, too.
Anyway, as a brand new mother I worried. About everything. It was just south of the kind of crippling anxiety that completely f*cks some new moms' first months, and even years, of parenthood, all but robbing them wholly of all the joy that also comes during that time. I was lucky, and it was never that severe for me. It was just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill annoying sense of doom that would occasionally make me shoot awake in the middle of the night, but was more often just a dull pulling at the back of my mind. What if something bad happened? What if something good didn't happen? What if I didn't know enough? What if I wasn't doing enough? You know the story.
The good news? Well, a lot of sh*t I cared so much about when my kid was fresh on this earth is now barely a concern, if I even think about it at all. So with that in mind, here are some of the ways you're probably torturing yourself as a brand new mother, and why you really, really don't need to:
You Worry About What Your Kid Eats
When it comes to food, there's a version of "clean" that means "sanitary and generally safe" and then there's "clean enough for my baby/toddler," which is a whole other level of operating room sterility that almost nothing is able to satisfactorily adhere to.
Thank god that sh*t does not last forever. I didn't have the energy to maintain those standards for a substantial amount of time, to be honest.
My daily concerns for my son have gone from detailed to an almost troubling degree — "Did that chunk of steamed organic sweet potato roll halfway off the cutting board onto the also-clean counter? Probably diseased, better not give it to him." — to sweeping but totally fine — "Did he eat some things today? Were at least a few of those things a color and did they grow out of the ground? Yes? Perfect day."
You Worry About What Your Kid Wears
As long as it is weather appropriate and clean(ish), my son can wear it. This is especially true now that he's old enough to dress himself. If what he picks out is even a close approximation of seasonally correct, I'm more than inclined to let him enjoy the moment of triumphant independence and spend an extra three minutes actually drinking my cup of coffee before it's freezing cold.
You Worry If Every Second Of Your Kid's Day Is Developmentally Enriching
Attempting to provide my kid with a solid foundation in his earliest months and years (hell, even the minutes and days were painstakingly planned in advance of his birth, to maximize their benefit) made logical sense to me, which was fortunate, since from an emotional standpoint I very likely would've been incapable of restraining myself and being laid-back about any aspect of his life.
So when my son was a baby, it was rare to see him have more than a minute or two where he wasn't engaged in some activity or exposed to some stimulus that was selected for... I don't know, some kind of advantageous property that I'm sure was convinced would make him a genius or more empathetic or impervious to cancer and sadness. I did my best! Good for me! He's pretty health and hasn't tried to set any animals on fire yet, so maybe it was all for a good reason.
Now that he's 5 it's not like I'm not concerned about providing him with a steady stream of enriching activities and steering him away from things that will burn his eyeballs and make his brain turn to warm custard. I am. But also, if we've both had an especially long day, it might be that watching three episodes of Planet Earth while cuddling on the couch is the most valuable activity he can be doing.
You Worry About Every Tiny Little Unpleasant Thing That Happens To Your Kid At School
Of course, anything my son deems worth telling me about is going to be heard and treated like the important topic it is, even if it's just about the massive fuss surrounding him forgetting his lunchbox when they went to the cafeteria and having to go back to his kindergarten class alone to get it. Such drama. But that's mostly so he feels like his interests and concerns are valid and valued in our family. Sometimes I pretend to care but I don't actually care, like every parent since the beginning of time.
But when he was a baby and toddler, I really did want to know every little thing that happened to him that day. I mean, I couldn't know and I couldn't bring myself to be annoying enough to ask for a minute-by-minute breakdown from every playgroup and preschool teacher, but goddamn, I wanted one. If anyone or anything had caused him to have some minor unpleasant emotion, I needed to know. It was so dumb. I won't even defend that impulse. It was stupid, and I'm thankful I had very little recourse to act on it.
That said, it doesn't really exist anymore. Now, it's more like, "Eh, life is hard. I've built you to be strong. You'll be OK." And honestly, that kinda sums up the big difference between having a super tiny human and a slightly less-tiny human: we cared almost too much about every little thing when they were babies and toddlers. And the reason we did that was so they would be strong and stable, physically and emotionally, so that we wouldn't have to worry so much for the rest of their lives. Man, let's allow the effort we've already put in to prove to be worth it, right? We built them to be strong, and life is hard, but they're gonna be fine. Time to relax (just a little).
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